(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Interior Minister and Shas Party chairman Arye Deri is seeking to weight the selection committees for regional chief rabbis in favor of the rabbinic establishment, by submitting a proposal to the Knesset Interior Committee to change the balance of the selection committees for such rabbis.
At present, the committees, which fill vacant rabbinical posts for 32 regional councils, are comprised of the chairman of the council, another public representative of the region and a delegate chosen by the Religious Services Ministry.
Deri’s proposed administrative order would mean that the selection committees would be comprised of the chairman and director-general of the regional council, two chief municipal rabbis or chief regional rabbis from towns and regions other than the region in question to be selected by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, and another public representative who is a resident of the regional council in question and is appointed by the Religious Services Ministry.
This would give a three-to-two ratio of representatives in favor of the rabbinical establishment against the representatives of the public and the regional council.
In a hearing of the Interior Committee last week, the administrative order was proposed for consideration, but MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) objected to changing the balance of power away from representation of local residents.
She insisted that, as with other public bodies, women be guaranteed fair representation on the selection committees, which automatically have reserved spots for men, since two rabbis are mandated to be on the panel.
Such representation should constitute at least 33% of all selection committees, Azaria said.
Following her objections, Interior Committee chairman Dudu Amsallem of the Likud postponed a vote on the administrative order and requested that a compromise be found and proposed by Religious Services Ministry director-general Oded Flus.
The religious-Zionist lobbying group Neemanei Torah Vaavodah (NTA), which has been active in seeking greater public representation in selecting state-appointed rabbis, including for women, welcomed Azaria’s intervention.
“We believe that local rabbis, including chief municipal rabbis and chief regional rabbis, need to have the status of public servants, and so therefore their period of service should be limited and fair representation for the general public, including women, on selection committees guaranteed, as currently exists for chief municipal rabbis in cities, a change brought about by the legal petition of attorney Assaf Ben Melech and NTA,” the organization said.
“Religious services in Israel are provided both to men and women, and perhaps to a greater extent to women because of services such as mikvaot, marriage and divorce,” Azaria said. “Therefore, it is important that women be present on the selection committees [for regional rabbis] to ensure that the elected rabbi is a rabbi that understands the needs of women.”
It has been acknowledged, however, that even if the request of fair representation for women is accepted, the control haredi political parties have over the Religious Services Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Chief Rabbinate might still allow them to draw up a new order guaranteeing their control of such selection committees.