Jerusalem launches election for chief rabbi

After more than three years without a rabbi, Jerusalem launched preparations to elect a spiritual leader within three months, but legal battles and political jockeying are expected to cause serious delays. "Money and politics have delayed the election for too long," said Moshe Isaac Osdither, head of an "appointed committee" which replaced Jerusalem's religious council. The Jerusalem council, like other religious councils around the country, was disbanded after Orthodox members refused to sit with representatives of Reform Judaism. "It has been convenient for a lot of people not to have a chief rabbi in Jerusalem," said Osdither, claiming that men like Rabbi Yosef Efrati and Rabbi Binyamin Adler, who provide private kashrut supervision in the Jerusalem for those who demand more stringent attention, earn more money when there is a weak central rabbinate in Jerusalem. However, Mordechai Eisenberg, head of Fairness in Government, a watchdog that monitors religious services and the rabbinate, charged Osdither with purposely delaying the elections. "Osdither is interested in consolidating as much power as possible," said Eisenberg, a haredi attorney who lives in Bnei Brak. Eisenberg plans to petition the High Court against the election system. He argues that the "appointed committee" headed by Osdither has too much power. To elect a new rabbi in Jerusalem, an "election congress" has to be created to be made up of 30 people. The city council, the "appointed committee" and representatives of synagogues in Jerusalem each have equal representation in the congress, in this case 10 representatives each. But, argues Eisenberg, since the synagogue representatives are chosen indirectly by Osdither and the two other members of the appointed committee, the committee has too much influence over the results. "The chief rabbi of Jerusalem serves until the age of 75, and his stint can be extended to the age of 80," said Eisenberg. "Also, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, like rabbis of other big cities with large hotels and restaurants, is under tremendous economic pressures. Finally, the rabbi of Jerusalem represents the city in high level diplomatic meetings and important ceremonies. So it is of utmost importance that a serious, honest and respected rabbi is chosen for the post." Eisenberg said it would be a shame if someone without real authority is chosen. However, in a letter to Eisenberg, the Prime Minister's Office's legal department said it intends to move ahead with elections without making any changes in the election system. In the meantime, Jerusalem's kosher supervision apparatus is leaderless. In August Metzger stopped signing kosher supervision certificates at the request of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Rabbis Yosef Efrati and Binyamin Adler were supposed to take over for Metzger, but they have not. Osdither claims they refuse to do so. However, sources close to the two rabbis said that Osdither is blocking them from signing. Either way there has been no one responsible for kashrut supervision in Jerusalem since September. Kashrut certificates that have been issued in the past three months have the stamp of the Jerusalem rabbinate but lack the signature of a responsible rabbi, rendering them invalid. Rafi Yochai, head of the rabbinate's anti-fraud unit, has issued warnings to hotels and restaurants all over Jerusalem that carry these certificates saying that they will be fined between NIS 1,000 and NIS 2,000. Osdither said that Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Hacohen, who is from Bnei Brak, is responsible for kashrut supervision. Hacohen's name was mentioned by the haredi weekly Bakehila as the Prime Minister's Office's choice for chief rabbi of Jerusalem. The lucky rabbi who is chosen will earn NIS 20,000 a month. As in Tel Aviv, the city is expected to have only one chief rabbi, although one source familiar with the election process said he expected pressure would be applied for the election of both an Ashkenazi and a Sephardi chief rabbi for the city. Sources close to the election process told The Jerusalem Post that a national religious rabbi has no chance of winning. "If someone with a crocheted kippa is chosen nobody will eat in Jerusalem. It's like having a king without soldiers."