Rabbi David Stav speaking at Knesset 370.
(photo credit: Avi Friedman)
Rabbi David Stav, the newly minted Bayit Yehudi candidate for Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, held a press conference at his home in Shoham on Monday and spoke to the media for the first time in months about his troubled campaign for the post.
Speaking about the fierce struggle within the national religious rabbinic world over who to nominate as the movement’s candidate, Stav said that “recent times had been tough” in reference to the strong and vehement opposition that he faced from the conservative wing of the national-religious leadership.
Asked if he believed the recent months of political plots and intrigue had damaged the standing of the chief rabbinate, Stav said that damage had been done, but asserted that the public would be able to discern “between good and bad, between the principle and that which is of secondary importance.”
Some of the leading national-religious rabbis vigorously pursued a deal through which Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, a leading national-religious figure, would be selected as Bayit Yehudi’s candidate but this plan fell through due to political obstacles.
Stav said during the press conference that although he felt “unworthy” to inherit the seat of chief rabbis of the past such as Rabbis Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliyahu, he believed himself to be the best suited of the current candidates for the job.
“When we examine the experience that I bring to the system, authorized as a rabbinical judge, experience as rabbi of the local religious council for Shoham and also for the Bnei Darom town, the head of a hesder
yeshiva, head of an organization of 600 rabbis [Tzohar] and 400 female volunteers, I don't think the alternative candidates can claim a similar record,” said Stav.
He insisted that the decisions of the chief rabbinate on the matters under its jurisdiction in coming years would shape the future of Israeli society, and the Jewish people in Israel and abroad.
Stav pointed to the issues of marriage and the growing numbers of people marrying in civil ceremonies abroad; the importance of helping immigrants from the former Soviet Union to prove their Jewish identity; and of making the process of conversion more accessible and user friendly as some of the major issues that need to be addressed by the chief rabbinate.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people who want their children to marry according to Jewish law but they need us to help them prove their Jewish identity. We need to help them. Many don’t marry because of bureaucratic problems, because they think the divorce process wont allow them to separate with dignity.
Stav insisted that he would not “be lenient [on implementing] Jewish law” but would seek to “reduce the bureaucracy” of religious services. As someone dedicated to Jewish law, he said he would not recognise non-Orthodox conversions.
“Millions of people want to be proud about their Jewish identity and want to connect to their past,” Stav said. “This is our task. The chief rabbinate must be an institution that unites all sectors in our society, not one that divides us,” he continued.
A date for the election of new chief rabbis has still not been set and was supposed to take place this month. Now that Bayit Yehudi, which holds the Ministry for Religious Services, has officially endorsed Stav it is likely that the process for setting an election date will be expedited.