Could Jerusalem's 11-year wait for a chief rabbi finally be over?

New elections have been held up due to legal wrangling over how to elect candidates.

Slihot at the Western Wall. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Slihot at the Western Wall.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The deadline for submitting candidates for the positions of Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis of Jerusalem falls on Tuesday, while a petition of the High Court of Justice filed against the process is scheduled to be heard on the same day.
The city has been without chief rabbis for more than a decade, following the deaths of the previous holders of the posts in 2002 and 2003.
Elections have been held up for more than 11 years due to legal wrangling over how to fill the positions, but at the end of August, the vote was finally set for October 21.
New terms for the election of chief municipal rabbis around the country stipulate that an electoral body of 48 members be established, in which the municipal authority be given 24 representatives according to the strength of the political parties on the city council; 12 delegates are nominated from local synagogues; and 12 delegates nominated by the religious services minister.
The United Torah Judaism party in Jerusalem, with the support of Shas, has petitioned the High Court of Justice against this arrangement however, claiming that it gives too much power to the religious services minister.
The High Court has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday but in so doing decided not to issue an injunction against the electoral process which has continued a pace, leading to the impression that the court will not now invalidate the election procedures.
Rabbi Aryeh Stern, a prominent and respected figure in the national-religious community, remains the leading candidate for the Ashkenazi position, although his official qualifications for the position were cast into doubt last month.
Members of his campaign team have said that they are quietly confident that the five-member electoral committee which will convene on Tuesday to give final approval to all candidates will approve Stern’s candidacy.
The other candidate for the Ashkenazi position is Rabbi Eliyahu Schlesinger, who serves as municipal rabbi for the capital’s Gilo neighborhood.
He will be supported by the haredi parties, but his chances are thought to be slim should Stern’s candidacy be approved.
The battle for the position of Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem is the major outstanding question.
Former national Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar is considering submitting his candidacy, but his desire to wield political influence has led to a prolonged delay on any decision to run for the Jerusalem position.
Speculation has been unceasing since Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef died a year ago that Amar would like to act as the guiding influence of a political party, something which would be illegal should he be elected as chief rabbi of Jerusalem.
Shas chairman Arye Deri is thought to be keen on getting Amar to run as the party’s candidate, despite his long-running feud with the rabbi, in order to neutralize his political threat.
Should a deal with Amar not be secured, it is thought that Rabbi David Yosef, the son of Ovadia Yosef, will be presented as the Shas candidate.
David Yosef is one of the four members of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, a role he would have to leave should he become a candidate for Jerusalem chief rabbi.
Former Shas MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, who rebelled from the movement, has submitted his candidacy for the job. He would require strong support from the non-haredi bloc in the Jerusalem City Council to win the election.
Rabbi Mordechai Toledano, a son-in-law of Ovadia Yosef, has also submitted his candidacy for the position.