Chief Rabbinate Council members expected to retain seats in upcoming vote

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin decided not to run for a spot on 17-member body, with elections scheduled for September 3.

Jerusalem Chief Rabbinate 150 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem Chief Rabbinate 150
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Elections to the Chief Rabbinate Council scheduled for September 3 are essentially sewn up before a vote has been cast, with all current members eligible for reelection expected to retain their seats.
As in the elections in 2013, an agreement has been worked out between Bayit Yehudi, United Torah Judaism and Shas to back the current members of the council, and there is little chance that any new candidate will get elected.
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, who coordinates religion and state issues for Bayit Yehudi, told The Jerusalem Post that the agreement is not yet final, “but it is going in that direction.”
Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin had considered submitting his candidacy but said it seemed unlikely he would get elected and has now decided not to stand.
“It’s a very political kind of election, and there are now five nominally Zionist Orthodox rabbis who are Ashkenazi and five Sephardi, and they are staying on and will continue. The only opening would be if, God forbid, one of them retires or something similar,” Riskin told the Post.
Riskin, the founder and chancellor emeritus of the Ohr Torah Stone network of educational institutions, said he believed very strongly in the institution of the Chief Rabbinate. He said it should “represent all stripes and brands of Orthodoxy, including an Orthodoxy of compassion, an Orthodoxy closer to Beit Hillel than Beit Shammai,” and be more open on issues such as conversion.
“I thought if I could have a voice that would help express this kind of Orthodoxy, it would be very important to give voice to that and... if this was possible, I thought it might be worthwhile. But on further investigation I don’t’ think [that it will happen],” he said.
The council is the decision-making arm of the Chief Rabbinate. It is comprised of 17 members, 10 of whom are elected every five years. The other seven serve by dint of their office, including the two chief rabbis, the IDF chief rabbi and the municipal chief rabbis of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba.
The 10 elected members are selected by a 150-member electoral committee, each of whom votes for five Sephardi candidates and five Ashkenazi candidates.
The committee is comprised of 80 rabbis and 70 public representatives who are selected in various ways.
Many of the rabbis owe their positions and allegiance to political forces within the religious establishment, while the religious services minister and the chief rabbis themselves nominate 20 members of the council between them, giving the establishment even greater authority.
The 70 public representatives include mayors and chairmen of local and regional councils who often have no reason to oppose deals presented to them by the religious parties. They often face pressure from the local branches of the religious parties and even from government ministries.
Because the elections are so centrally orchestrated, there is almost never any kind of public campaign by candidates to get elected.
There are currently two legal challenges with the High Court of Justice against the process of appointing representatives to the electoral committee.
One is by Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah and the Rackman Center, which have called on the court to force the chief rabbis to include women among their representatives, though it seems unlikely the petition will be accepted.
Meanwhile, ITIM-Resources and Advocacy for Jewish Life has petitioned the court to stop chairmen of local religious councils who were appointed by the religious services minister instead of being elected from serving on the electoral committee.
A decision has yet to be made on that petition.