Nir in the rabbis' den

Mayor Barkat may yet get a Zionist chief rabbi elected

protest (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When Nir Barkat was elected mayor of Jerusalem, he talked about long-term projects, such as his desire to hold elections for new chief rabbis in the city after almost 12 years without one. In fact, Barkat wanted to go for one chief rabbi, instead of the mandatory Ashkenazi and Sephardi rabbis.
That idea was dropped, but Barkat decided that if it had to be two rabbis, Jerusalem should have at least one Zionist chief rabbi. (For the past few decades, all chief rabbis of the capital have been haredim.) The initiative was hailed by many but at the same time was considered highly improbable.
But perhaps this sentiment will reign no longer. Following a series of intrigues, mostly at the Religious Services Ministry, Barkat, realizing that his dream was crumbling, appealed to the High Court. Last week, the three justices sent the parties to start the whole procedure from scratch – this time with full transparency and without any deal behind closed doors, hinting that otherwise a ruling would probably go in Barkat’s favor.
Deputy Mayor David Hadari (Habayit Hayehudi), Barkat’s principal ally in this project, says that in principle the whole procedure could start all over again and still come down to the same situation faced today: an electing body that will not faithfully represent all the Jewish residents of the city, 70 percent of whom are not haredi.
So what’s the big deal? This is where a particular characteristic of Barkat comes into play: the marathon runner.
Marathon runners are famous for their stamina. Similarly, Barkat, unlike the average politician, is able to plug along until he reaches his goals. A source close to the mayor confirmed that he will not surrender until the goal is reached, no matter how long it takes.
And how could this be achieved? Very simple: If the electing body reflects the true makeup of the city’s Jewish residents, things might work.
In fact, that was exactly what one of the three Supreme Court justices, Elyakim Rubinstein, said: “Not all those who attend synagogues on the High Holy Days also come during the rest of the year. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be represented in the electing body or that their needs in terms of religious matters shouldn’t be heard.”
One question still remains to be answered: Who is going to explain to Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that the fact that he is eager to see one of his sons seated as the Sephardi chief rabbi doesn’t mean the rest of the city’s residents are voiceless? To increase his son’s chances, Shas representatives at the Knesset and at the Religious Services Ministry are closing deals with the Ashkenazi haredim.
What is perhaps the strangest part is the fact that two of the High Court justices, Rubinstein and Miriam Naor, decided to submit to the third judge – Salim Joubran, a Muslim – to decide what to rule in this typical Jewish problem.