ITIM petitions to depoliticize election for Chief Rabbinate Council

Jerusalem chief rabbinate 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem chief rabbinate 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A petition has been filed by the ITIM religious services and lobbying group and the Neemanei Torah VaAvodah organization to the High Court of Justice to block the coming elections for the Council of the Chief Rabbinate until some of the political appointees of the Religious Services minister are removed from the body electing the council.
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate is a 17-man panel, 10 of whom are up for election, and is the decision-making organ of the Chief Rabbinate having broad powers.
The elections to the council are extremely politicized and the process highly managed, so that in 2013 all ten rabbis who were on the previous council were reelected in line with a deal worked out between Bayit Yehudi, United Torah Judaism, Shas and the two chief rabbis.
ITIM along with the Ne’emanei Torah VaAvodah organization which co-authored the petition argue in their legal motion that the current method in which the electoral body is chosen skews it towards political appointees of the religious services minister and that this situation must be rectified. 
Out of the 17 rabbis of the council, 10 are elected every five years by a 150-member electoral body including 80 municipal rabbis and 70 public representatives. The elections this year are scheduled to take place on September 3.
Among those 70 public representatives are 10 delegates officially appointed by the Religious Services minister.
In addition, 18 chairmen of local religious councils which run religious services in municipal and regional jurisdictions are also appointed to the electoral body.
Local religious councils are supposed to be comprised of several members with an elected chairman, who are nominated in equal numbers by the local municipal authority and the Religious Services Ministry.
However, both sides have veto power over the other’s representatives which often deadlocks the process when the parties fail to cooperate.
In such a situation the Religious Services minister is authorized to appoint a salaried chairman and deputy to fulfill the council’s functions. These appointees may in effect serve for an indefinite number of terms.
Currently, two-thirds of all the local religious councils are chaired by an appointee of the religious services minister, and not by a chairman elected by a full complement of the council’s members.
ITIM’s petition argues that the appointed chairmen are likely to be politically close with the minister and therefore should be disqualified from being nominated to the electoral body for the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, since they are more likely to do his bidding and not consider the concerns and needs of the general public.
The group further charges that the Religious Services minister’s ability to nominate both the chairmen of local religious councils – who he may have personally appointed to that role – as well as his own representatives to the electoral body gives him undue power in the process for electing the new members of the council.
“In today’s environment in which more than 80% of Israelis express a lack of confidence in the religious establishment, the notion of adding more power to political appointees who don’t represent the public is absurd,” said Farber.
“Instead of pushing for a principled approach that would democratize the religious establishment, the religious establishment is widening the gulf between themselves and the Israeli body politic.”