Analysis: The wrong rabbi for the job

None of the electors who voted for Rabbi Yona Metzger in the Chief Rabbinate elections three years ago thought they were voting for the most learned or righteous candidate. Metzger, who had never served in a senior capacity before, owed his elevation to political maneuvering among the religious parties and the senior haredi rabbis' wish to finally control the Zionist Chief Rabbinate. After his shock victory, Metzger rushed to the home of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the 93-year-old leader of the Lithuanian haredim and probably the most influential rabbi in the country. He knew exactly where his bread was buttered. Former loyalists of the rabbinate blamed Elyashiv for supporting the inexperienced and unpopular Metzger to bring the once proud institute into disrepute. After Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz called Monday for Metzger's resignation, it seems that Elyashiv and his cohorts achieved overkill. Their candidate was so wrong for the job that he's finally disqualified himself. A neighborhood rabbi who had never run a kashrut department, dealt with delicate questions of marriage or divorce or sat as a judge in a rabbinical court, was suddenly propelled into the seat of greats such as Shlomo Goren and Ovadia Yosef. They also ruffled feathers in their time and enraged the press and politicians who called for their resignation, but how incompetent does a public servant have to be to stay at the most fancy hotels in Jerusalem for free, when so many people are out to get him? Never mind the sagaciousness you'd expect from a chief rabbi, how about some basic common sense? People have been eulogizing the Chief Rabbinate for years, especially since Metzger got the job, and Monday's announcement by Mazuz might indeed seem to be its death knell. But it might turn out to be a new lease on life for the battered institution. The religious parties held out for years against demands to cancel the ridiculously outdated duality of Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis. Now by default, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar remains the sole chief, and it's hard to imagine anyone rushing to appoint Metzger's replacement. Soft-spoken Amar can suddenly come out of media-loving Metzger's shadow and assert himself as the sensible and independent-minded rabbi that few today know he is. If anyone can reconnect the rabbinate to Israeli society, it's the rabbi of humble origins who managed to weather the terrific scandal when his wayward son kidnapped the unsuitable suitor his sister met on the Internet. Like most Israelis, he had to overcome a dysfunctional family and his children know how to use a computer much better than he does.