Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu enters race for Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem

Chief Rabbi David Lau recuses himself from any involvement in electoral procedures as brother enters race as well.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu
The race for the positions of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem took on Byzantine levels of complexity in the late hours of Tuesday night, with two notable figures throwing their hats in the ring at the last moment.
The controversial chief municipal rabbi of Safed Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a senior figure in the conservative wing of the national-religious movement, submitted his candidacy shortly before the deadline at midnight for the Sephardi position.
And Rabbi Moshe Haim Lau, brother of Chief Rabbi David Lau, entered the race for the Ashkenazi role.
In an extraordinary turn of events, Eliyahu has been given the tacit backing of the haredi United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, with Shas not running an official candidate.
Well-placed political sources told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night that Shas had agreed to back Eliyahu, most likely due to a belief that it would be hard to get a candidate of its own elected who is backed only by the haredi parties.
The leading candidate until Tuesday night was former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who, although considered a haredi figure, gained the backing of both Bayit Yehudi and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
But since Eliyahu is from the national-religious community and enjoys strong support from a large constituency within the sector, including senior politicians in Bayit Yehudi, it is unclear if the party will stand by its backing for Amar.
Additionally, Eliyahu has personal relationships with Barkat and with Bayit Yehudi’s Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan.
Aryeh King, who heads the United Jerusalem list in the Jerusalem Municipal Council, is also thought to support Eliyahu.
However, one Bayit Yehudi source said they thought it unlikely Bayit Yehudi would switch its candidate at this stage.
Eliyahu has long been rumored to be interested in the job. The rabbi has, however, a long record of controversial comments, particularly in reference to Israeli Arabs.
The other dramatic development on Tuesday night was the decision of Rabbi Moshe Haim Lau, brother of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, to run for Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem.
Moshe Haim currently serves in a state-paid position as a neighborhood rabbi in Netanya.
Following Moshe Haim’s decision to run, Chief Rabbi David Lau announced that he would be recusing himself from all deliberations and processes relating to the election.
Stern, a leading figure and highly respected rabbinic authority, has long been the approved candidate for the national-religious community in Jerusalem and for Bayit Yehudi, but his qualification to serve as a chief municipal rabbi was obtained through oral not written examination by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate in 2009.
The practice of giving such qualifications without the candidate passing written exams was suspended by the High Court of Justice in December 2012 following a petition by the national-religious lobbying group Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah which claimed that such ordination is open to nepotism and has been used to bestow lucrative positions on those with connections to the rabbinate.
NTA says that hundreds of rabbis were awarded qualification to serve as a municipal chief rabbi by the Chief Rabbinate in this way.
To avert a final ruling by the High Court, the Chief Rabbinate promised to all but end such ordination in January 2014, as reported by the Post.
On Monday, Deputy Attorney- General Erez Kaminitz sent a letter to Chief Rabbi David Lau, who serves as president of the 16-man Council of the Chief Rabbinate, in which he said the council “must deliberate and reach a decision regarding Rabbi Arye Stern,” and that this should be done no later than Sunday, October 12, since the elections are scheduled for October 21.
Since the council is not scheduled to convene until next month, Kaminitz said Lau could call the 16 members by phone in order to ask them individually whether or not they will ratify Stern’s qualification to serve as chief municipal rabbi.
In a separate letter to Lau, the deputy attorney-general said that its legal opinion was that the qualification to serve as a chief municipal rabbi Stern received in 2009 merely requires a form of renewal and that the rabbi does not need to gain such qualification from scratch.
A source close to the chief rabbinate told the Post said that a telephone poll of the rabbis of the Chief Rabbinate’s council was complicated and that he believed several rabbis would refuse to deliberate such an issue by phone.
Other members of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate could also be disqualified from the decision on Stern’s qualifications.
Former national Ashkenazi chief rabbi and current chief municipal rabbi of Tel Aviv Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is a member of the council, will be disqualified since Moshe Haim is his son.
National Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Chief Rabbi of Holon Rabbi Avraham Yosef could also be disqualified since their brotherin- law Rabbi Mordechai Toledanu is running for the position of Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem.