Who’s your rabbi?

Under Barkat’s watch, into his second term, Jerusalem has remained without a chief rabbi, let alone two.

NIR BARKAT (photo credit: 3HH-99-N/)
(photo credit: 3HH-99-N/)
There hasn’t been a chief rabbi in Jerusalem for more than a decade, despite the fact that at one time the city boasted both Sephardi and Ashkenazi religious leaders.
Following the recent elections for the country’s chief rabbis, however, everybody began to worry about the spiritual situation of Jerusalem’s Jewish residents, left for such a long time without any shepherd to enlighten them, whether in Yiddish or Ladino.
Many years ago, when Nir Barkat was still in the opposition at City Hall, he loudly proclaimed that when he was mayor, he would ensure that any chief rabbi would be a Zionist. He went even further, declaring that there was no need for two chief rabbis for the different ethnicities, that we are all Jews and Israelis and therefore the ritual separation between Ashkenazim and Sephardim should stop and Jerusalem should lead the way by having only one chief rabbi.
Under Barkat’s watch, into his second term, Jerusalem has remained without a chief rabbi, let alone two.
Bureaucracy, internal intrigues and political games have, so far, preempted any move, but now it seems that we are closer to the goal than ever.
If nothing unexpected takes place, within a few weeks Jerusalem will once again have two chief rabbis to show us the way. The jostling has begun, with old rivalries and intrigues resurfacing and emotions running high.
Barkat still insists that there should be at least one Zionist chief rabbi, and he doesn’t really care if he is Sephardi or Ashkenazi, as long as his kippa is a crocheted one.
One of the candidates, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, (Sephardi) is national religious. He is the chief rabbi of Safed, well known for his halachic rulings regarding not renting homes to Arab-Israelis or foreign workers. These have earned him the dubious honor of being called “the most racist rabbi” serving the state. One would suppose that the mayor could easily have disregarded him, as there is no shortage of candidates.
But the word at Safra Square is that Barkat – who badly needed the support of the religious Zionist community in the recent mayoral elections – obtained a generous contribution from the widow of the late state chief rabbi, Mordechai Eliyahu, the father of the current candidate.
Now Barkat cannot easily overlook that gesture and let the family’s son down.
Even if Barkat decides to reject Eliyahu, who else is there to support? The leading candidate on the Sephardi side is haredi, one of the sons of the late Ovadia Yosef.
So the only Zionist hope is from the Ashkenazi side. The best candidate, in Barkat’s eyes, might be Rabbi Yitzhak Stern. But Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Eli Ben- Dahan is supporting another, less liberal candidate and is pushing to delay the vote for a few months.
Why? Because by then, Stern will be over 70 years old and will not be eligible to be a candidate. •