Bayit Yehudi hints at deal for chief rabbi elections

Political sources say agreement is in the works that would see national-religious candidate joining Rabbi Amar in post.

President Peres with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (photo credit: GPO)
President Peres with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar
(photo credit: GPO)
Speculation surrounding a possible deal between Shas and Bayit Yehudi for mutual support for each other’s chief rabbi candidates in the elections in June continue to abound, with political sources suggesting that an agreement is in the works.
Several recent events have pointed to a possible agreement between the two parties which would allow for current Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to run for a second term that Bayit Yehudi would support, in return for Shas’s support for a national-religious candidate for Ashkenazi chief rabbi.
The rumors were strengthened upon publication of the coalition agreement signed on Friday between the Likud and Bayit Yehudi, which stipulated that the government would pass two laws, one extending the current term of the two chief rabbis for four months until the elections scheduled for June, and the other allowing a chief rabbi to run for a second 10-year time, which is currently prohibited by law.
The extension of the two-serving chief rabbis’ terms was approved on Tuesday and Amar is understood to be keen to serve a second term.
The election committee for the chief rabbis is comprised of 150 people, including municipal chief rabbis, mayors and several politicians and ministers. Because many municipal chief rabbis belong to Shas, support from the political movement is important in guaranteeing election to the post.
Bayit Yehudi and party leader Naftali Bennett have made the improvement of religious services and the public image of religion a priority for the new government, a part of which is to revamp the Chief Rabbinate with a national-religious rabbi in at least one of the chief rabbi positions.
The presence of the two clauses in the coalition deal between the Likud and Bayit Yehudi is thought to be proof positive that the possibility exists that the national-religious party has agreed to support a second term for Amar, while Shas will support, or at the very least not oppose, the candidacy of Rabbi David Stav, a leading national-religious candidate and chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical association.
Freshly appointed Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan of Bayit Yehudi, who will be running the ministry, will have particular influence on the selection process since he will appoint 20 members of the selection committee.
Ben-Dahan recently appointed Rabbi Doron Danino as his chief of staff. Danino, who is Sephardi, was placed on the 20th spot on Bayit Yehudi’s Knesset electoral list, and held a warm meeting with Amar in September before the general election.
Amar blessed Danino’s campaign during the meeting, saying “May it be God’s will that the pleasantness of his approach, his fear of heaven, his good intentions and his abilities will come to fruition in the Knesset for the benefit of all the Jewish people,” the national-religious Kipa website reported at the time.
Danino said after the meeting that “every time I meet the Rishon Lezion [Sephardi Chief Rabbi] Rabbi Amar I am moved by his greatness in Torah, the breadth of his knowledge and his understanding of the Sephardi community in all its diversity.”
Asked by The Jerusalem Post if Danino would be advocating for Bayit Yehudi to support the reelection of Amar, a source within Bayit Yehudi said that “Danino is a close friend of Rav Amar. The two are in contact.”
Questioned as to whether Danino expects Amar to advocate for Shas to support Bayit Yehudi’s nomination for Ashkenazi chief rabbi, the same source said that “Rav Amar has been supportive of Danino and his opinions in the past.”
A Tzohar representative insisted that the organization was not a political party and therefore not in a position to strike political deals. The official said, however, that Tzohar “respects the moderate and reasonable rulings in Jewish law of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas’s spiritual leader, and Rabbi Amar,” and that it would be possible to work with the current Sephardi chief rabbi.
Despite this, a Shas source told the Post that the likelihood of a deal being agreed upon between the two parties was “unclear.”
There are several obstacles that will make a deal hard to reach. Foremost is the extremely rancorous relationship between Bayit Yehudi and Shas, not to mention the Ashkenazi haredi party United Torah Judaism, which have widely denounced Bennett for allying with Yesh Atid during the coalition negotiations despite the centrist party’s insistence on excluding the haredi parties from government.
Comments made by Yosef during the campaign, specifically that Bayit Yehudi was the “home of non-Jews,” insulted many in the national-religious party, and was frequently mentioned after the election by Bayit Yehudi MKs as a source of grievance.
Additionally, if Shas were to support Stav, it would lead to a serious confrontation between the Sephardi movement and UTJ, which is vehemently opposed to the Tzohar chairman and has been even more vociferous in its condemnation of Bennett.
UTJ is certainly not willing to give up control of the Ashkenazi chief rabbi post to any national-religious rabbi, let alone Stav, following the events of the coalition negotiations, and Shas may be unwilling to incur the wrath of its Ashkenazi comrades.
Additionally, Bayit Yehudi has not yet endorsed any candidate. There are two other national-religious rabbis interested in the job; Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, dean of Jerusalem’s Merkaz Harav yeshiva, and Rabbi Eliezer Igra, a rabbinical judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
Bayit Yehudi has set up a committee to choose which candidate the party will endorse that will convene after Passover. Although Stav is by far the most popular candidate among Bayit Yehudi voters, Ben-Dahan is from the more conservative Tekuma party that joined forces with Bayit Yehudi for the 2013 election and Tekuma’s rabbinic leadership does not favor Stav’s candidacy.
The national-religious movement has of late set its sights on retaking control of its former stomping-grounds in state religious institutions, such as the Chief Rabbinate, which have been under haredi dominance in recent years.
The election of a national-religious rabbi would be a big step in this direction.