J'lem mayor presses for Zionist chief rabbi for city

Barkat: Candidate needs to "embrace all elements of capital's diverse populace."

By MATTHEW WAGNER
June 22, 2009 21:36
3 minute read.
J'lem mayor presses for Zionist chief rabbi for city

barkat naughty boy 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced Sunday night that he would back a "Zionist" candidate to serve as Jerusalem's chief rabbi. "I believe that a chief rabbi, like a mayor, should be able to embrace all elements of Jerusalem's diverse populace and connect the entire Jewish people to Jerusalem, including secular Israelis who love Jerusalem and who serve in the army," said Barkat in an emotionally charged speech at the municipality building. "I am convinced that choosing a Zionist chief rabbi is a necessity in a city in which 70% of the population is not haredi and has special needs. That is the right thing to do - to appoint a Zionist rabbi alongside a haredi rabbi." Barkat was one of a list of speakers that included MK Nachman Shai (Kadima), Chairman of Tzohar Rabbis Rafi Freuerstein, Rector of Sha'arei Mishpat College Dr. Aviad Ha'cohen, and Chairman of Panim L'Hitchadshut Yehudit Meir Yoffe. The evening was organized by Ne'emanei Torah Ve'Avodah, an organization of moderate Orthodox youths. Barkat has a great deal of influence over the election of the chief rabbis of Jerusalem - one Sephardi and one Ashkenazi. But he will need the support of Shas's Religious Affairs Minister Ya'acov Margi - who also has extensive influence over the election process - and Shas's four representatives in the municipality. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas spiritual mentor, has already called to support his son Yitzhak as the Sephardi candidate for chief rabbi, according to Eli Simhayov, one of Shas's representatives in the municipality. Yosef's unequivocal support for his son - which automatically results in the enlistment of Shas's vast network of political clout - makes it highly unlikely that any other Sephardi candidate will be chosen as chief Sephardi rabbi of Jerusalem. The real competition will be for the Ashkenazi slot. Religious Zionists will be pitted against the haredi Ashkenazi community. Yitzhak Pindruss, a representative of the haredi Degal Hatorah Party in the municipality said in response to Barkat's announcement that he did not understand what Barkat meant by "Zionist." "I am a Zionist too, as far as I am concerned," said Pindruss. "What they want is someone with a crocheted kippa. But we are going to fight it." In an attempt to exploit the vagueness of the term "Zionist," haredi politicians pointed to vaunted popular haredi rabbis such as Rabbi Yitzhak Grossman, Chief Rabbi of Migdal Ha'emek, who was honored with the lighting of the first torch during Israel's 60th Independence Day celebrations. Known as the "disco rabbi" Grossman was successful in religious outreach with secular youths in Migdal Ha'emek. However, Barkat has made it clear that he wants a rabbi who served in the army and raises his children to serve in the army. Rachel Azariya, a member of the Jerusalem Municipality who organized Sunday evening's rally, said that another criterion for being considered "Zionist" is seeing the creation of the Jewish state as an event with religious significance. "A Zionist rabbi recites the Hallel prayer on Independence Day," said Azariya, who added that the ideal Zionist rabbi should also be moderate in his view regarding gender issues and relations with Arabs. She said that Rabbi Ya'acov Shapira, Head of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, was passed over due to his extreme views. Shapira called on IDF soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate Jewish homes during the Gaza Disengagement. Rabbi Yosef Carmel, Director of the Eretz Hemda Institute, which trains religious Zionist Rabbinical Judges, is a leading Barkat candidate for chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Jerusalem. Azariya said that the present campaign to appoint a Zionist chief rabbi to Jerusalem, if successful, will mark a significant turning point in haredi control over Israel's rabbinate. "We need a moderate voice in the rabbinate that will contrast the extreme views expressed recently on issues such as conversions and the Sabbatical year," said Azariya. A special panel of three senior rabbis will appoint the Zionist rabbinic candidate: Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan Ya'acov Ariel, Head of the Gush Etzion Yeshiva Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein and Head of the Or Etzion Yeshiva Rabbi Haim Druckman. Attorney Mordechai Eisenberg, Head of the Movement for Fairness in Government, a watchdog group that specializes in Religion-State issues, said that it was "outrageous" that the Sephardi candidate had already been decided in a way that bypassed free, open elections. "Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who is perfectly qualified for the job, will nevertheless be tainted by the fact that he was elected as a result of political jockeying and not on the basis of his rabbinical skills," he said. Eisenberg also doubted the justification for two chief rabbis - Sephardi and Ashkenazi. "There is no other state position that chooses candidates on the basis of their ethnicity," added Eisenberg. "And appointing two rabbis with identical responibilities creates unneccesary conflicts."

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