Election process for J'lem chief rabbis underway

Committee for election of rabbis comes to an agreement as to which synagogues would be represented on board.

Margi 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Margi 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The nine-year saga of electing chief rabbis for Jerusalem took another turn this week, allowing the process to begin anew.
On Sunday, the committee for the election of the chief rabbis came to an agreement as to which synagogues would be represented on the selection board that will eventually choose the next chief rabbis.
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The chief rabbi position has been vacant since 2002 because of political wrangling between various religious streams in the city. In December 2005, at the behest of the municipality, it was decided to have two chief rabbis, one Sephardi and one Ashkenazi.
The committee that selected the 24 synagogues that will send representatives to the election board was made up of five delegates – one representative chosen by Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi (Shas); two representatives of the Chief Rabbinate; and two representatives of the Jerusalem Municipality.
In September, Margi said in an interview with the Hadrei Haradim website that certain “agreements” had been reached between him and Mayor Nir Barkat regarding the selection of synagogues, which may have helped lead to this week’s breakthrough.
Although the names of the 24 synagogues selected are not yet publicly available, sources within the municipality have indicated that there are enough national-religious synagogues on the list to make it possible to elect a national-religious Ashkenazi chief rabbi.
“The integration of Jerusalem synagogues in the selection of the chief rabbis is a milestone in the lengthy process that I have led to ensure that there will be a national-religious chief rabbi. I see in this decision a significant achievement for the pluralistic population of the city,” city councilor Rachel Azaria (Yerushalmim) said on Monday.
The Israel Broadcasting Authority reported that the likely candidates to be brought forward for a vote are Rabbi Aryeh Stern (Ashkenazi), the head of the Horev Synagogue in the Katamon neighborhood, and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, son of the spiritual leader of Shas Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
However, the haredi Degel HaTorah faction on the Jerusalem City Council has indicated that it may petition the High Court of Justice to halt the process due to the now probable exclusion of an Ashkenazi haredi candidate.
Agreement was reached on the list of synagogues following a protracted battle over the criteria required for a synagogue to qualify as a candidate to send a representative to the selection board, which has 48 delegates in total.
In 2010, Barkat petitioned the High Court to stop the election process because of objections to the criteria used to select synagogues, which would have likely led to an Ashkenazi haredi rabbi being elected. The petition noted that more than 60 percent of the synagogues selected to send delegates to the election board were haredi.
Barkat has argued that the city requires at least one rabbi from the national-religious stream, to ensure that all residents are fairly represented, given that the Jewish population of the city is comprised of 30 percent ultra-Orthodox residents, and 70% national-religious, traditional and secular residents, according to the mayor’s office.
The petition was accepted and the process was started again.
The final selection board for the Jerusalem chief rabbis will consist of 24 representatives from synagogues; 12 representatives from the municipality; and 12 representatives chosen by the Religious Services Ministry and Margi.
In a statement issued on Monday, Barkat repeated his message backing a national-religious candidate, saying “a chief rabbi from the Zionist sector for one of the two city rabbi positions is a necessity in a city where 70% of the Jewish population is Zionist and has its own unique needs.
“The city rabbi has a significant role in representing the city and all its citizens, involvement in issues related to the city and the management of religious affairs for the needs of the different populations in it,” he continued. “It is necessary that the chief rabbis of Israel’s capital will be democratically elected, reflecting the composition of the city’s population.”