'Chief rabbi electing process tainted'

Barkat threatens to figh

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat warned in a letter to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz on Tuesday that he will petition the High Court of Justice against an election process likely to lead to the appointment of two haredi chief rabbis of Jerusalem. On Sunday, a special five-man committee, including three haredi members from the Chief Rabbinate, the rabbinic courts and the Religious Services Ministry, upheld an election process that brought about a clear majority for haredi interests on the body that is to elect the chief rabbis. Barkat and Aryeh Bin-Nun, a secular Jerusalem city council member, the other two members of the five-man committee, voted against but were overruled. As a result, the electoral body controlled by haredi members will elect two chief rabbis of Jerusalem - one Sephardi and one Ashkenazi. "It is essential that a chief rabbi of Jerusalem come from a mainstream Judaism in a city where 70 percent of the Jewish population is not haredi," Barkat said in the letter to Mazuz. "It is, therefore, important that one of the two chief rabbis elected belong to the religious Zionist stream of Judaism." "The chief rabbi has an important role as representative of the city and its citizens. He must be a figure engaged in issues connected to all segments of the city's population and understand the needs of the entire population that receives religious services," Barkat continued. "It is only proper that the chief rabbis of the capital be chosen in a democratic way that reflects the population. "Therefore, I am pushing for the creation of an electoral body... that represents the true makeup of the city: 70% general population, 30% haredi. If this balance is not maintained I will petition the High Court." In a press release, Barkat's spokesman also accused Religious Services Minister Ya'acov Margi (Shas) of taking advantage of his powers to influence the vote to ensure that both chief rabbis would be haredi. However, Israel Pat, legal adviser in the Religious Services Ministry, told The Jerusalem Post that the entire electoral process was managed in accordance with the law. "Now Barkat and [Jerusalem Municipality legal adviser Yossi] Havilio realize they are going to fail to ensure the election of an Orthodox Zionist rabbi. They are trying to delay the elections by resorting to legal tactics." The argument between Margi, who is representing haredi interests, and Barkat, who has the backing of the national-religious faction in the city council along with a coalition of secular and moderate religious groups, is over the technicalities of the election process. In dispute is the process that brought about the creation of a 24-man body that represents Jerusalem's synagogues. This is half of the 48-person electoral body responsible for choosing the two rabbis. Presently, the 24-man body is made up of 19 haredi representatives and five religious Zionists. David Hadari, a national-religious representative, said the synagogues represented on the body were chosen to give disproportional representation to haredi congregations. "We demand a repeat of the process to ensure a more balanced composition of the electoral body," he said. Haredi sources said that the vast majority of synagogue-goers in Jerusalem were haredi. And these individuals deserved a disproportional influence over the outcome of the vote since they were most directly affected. In the past there were rumors that Barkat would succeed in striking a deal with Shas representatives in the city council, under which Barkat's coalition would support Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, to become Sephardi chief rabbi. In exchange, Shas would put its support behind a Zionist candidate for the Ashkenazi post. However, Shas opted to join forces with the Ashkenazi haredi leadership. Some of the names mentioned as possible Ashkenazi haredi candidates include Rabbi Yosef Efrati, who is close to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the preeminent halachic authority for Ashkenazi haredi Jewry. Another potential candidate is Netanya's Rabbi Moshe Haim Lau, son of Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.