Election process for J'lem chief rabbis nears end

After nearly 10 years without a municipal rabbi, Jerusalem may get new Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis soon.

Jerusalem's old city 370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Jerusalem's old city 370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
After nearly 10 years without a municipal rabbi, Jerusalem might be on its way to electing new Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis, following developments on Tuesday.
The selection committee for choosing representatives to the body that elects Jerusalem’s chief rabbis convened today to discuss appeals made against the selection process, and announced that all had been rejected – paving the way for an election date to be set.
Municipal chief rabbis are chosen in indirect elections by a selection board of several dozen representatives.
Of the board members, 25 percent are selected from the city council, another 25% are drawn from the local religious council and the remaining 50% are representatives from city synagogues.
In the capital, the final selection board for the Jerusalem chief rabbis will consist of 24 representatives from synagogues; 12 representatives from the municipality; and 12 representatives chosen by Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi.
The selection committee, which chooses the synagogues that will send representatives to the selection board, is comprised of five delegates – a representative chosen by Margi; two representatives of the Chief Rabbinate; and two representatives of the Jerusalem Municipality.
Back in January, the committee approved a list of synagogue delegates to the selection board with a preponderance of nationalreligious communities represented, arousing the ire of Jerusalem’s haredi community.
A protracted battle has been waged over the criteria required for a synagogue to qualify as a candidate to send a representative to the selection board, because these representatives hold so much influence over the selection of the chief rabbis.
In September, Margi said in an interview that certain “agreements” had been reached between him and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat regarding the selection of synagogues, which led to the January breakthrough determining which synagogues could send delegates to the board.
Barkat has fought hard to make the selection process more favorable to the national-religious community.
In 2010, he petitioned the High Court of Justice to stop the election process because of objections to the criteria used to choose synagogues, which would have likely led to a haredi man being elected to the position of Ashkenazi chief rabbi. The petition noted that more than 60% of the synagogues chosen were ultra-Orthodox.
Barkat also advanced the selection of synagogues on a geographic basis through communal administrations, in order to represent a broader cross section of the city.
Haredi political activists sought to have synagogue representatives selected on the basis of the size of the individual synagogue, which in the haredi community can often be very large.
On Tuesday, the selection committee rejected the appeals made against the list of synagogues chosen in January in a four-hour debate, thereby ending all of the procedures required before the election is held.
According to a statement from the Jerusalem Municipality, the election date will be set next week.
“This is an important step in the selection of a national- religious rabbi,” said Barkat. “One Zionist rabbi from the two chief rabbis of the city is absolutely necessary in a city in which 70% of the Jewish population is not haredi.”
The mayor said the chief rabbis have “an important task in representing the city and its residents, relating to the management of religious affairs” and the needs of its different communities.
“It is fitting that the chief rabbis of the capital, Jerusalem, should be elected in a democratic manner which represents the composition of the city,” Barkat added.
The haredi Degel Hatorah faction on the Jerusalem City Council indicated after the January decision that it was considering a petition to the High Court of Justice to halt the process – due to the new likelihood that there would be no haredi candidate for the Ashkenazi rabbinate.
Haredi city council members could not be reached for comment on Tuesday’s developments.