Metzger: I won’t seek 2nd term, unless rabbis tell me to

Chief rabbis return from visit to Spain's Jewish community; Metzger says rabbinic court will be formed there to help women seeking divorces.

311_Amar and Metzger at Joseph's Tomb (photo credit: Courtesy)
311_Amar and Metzger at Joseph's Tomb
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger has confirmed that he would not seek a second term as chief rabbi, unless ordered to do so by senior rabbis.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night, he relayed details from a trip to Spain he took alongside Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar last week, noting the importance and benefits to the rapport between the two rabbis.
Metzger also confirmed a weekend report in haredi newspaper Bakehila, where he was quoted as saying that even if the recently proposed bill to enable chief rabbis to contend for another term passes in the Knesset – something he doubts will happen – he still would not seek another 10-year stint in the position. He made sure to add that if senior rabbis – such as those who helped him attain the position of chief rabbi – ordered him to seek a second term, he would have to heed to them, despite the fact that he had prepared to step down after holding the position for a decade when his term ends in 2013.
Metzger and Amar spent a few days in Spain last week as guests of the Federación de Comunidades Judías de España, to boost the morale of the Jewish community and help with the establishment of institutions such as rabbinic courts and kashrut supervision systems. They also used their sway to try to help Jewish women whose husbands are refusing to give them a Jewish divorce, through a unique collaboration with the civil court system there.
“A Jewish community is developing in Spain, mostly stemming from Morocco, but including many of Ashkenazi origin, too,” Metzger said. “Spain is the only Spanish-speaking country in the European Union, so all those fearful of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or with security fears from Mexico and Guatemala – are seeking a safe haven, where the language will be less of an obstacle.
“The community that was emptied in the Spanish Expulsion [of the Jews in 1942] is undergoing a resurgence.”
Metzger cited the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1975 as the point in modern history when Jews became more free to express their religion, and said that Spain’s joining the European Union in 1986 and the ensuing economic development brought many Jews to the country.
“Jews always went to where they could make a living, and the country has developed greatly. The combination of antiquity and modernity in Spain, and the fact that its language is Spanish, drew many Jews in seek of a community to there,” he said.
“Up until recently, the Jewish federation – the umbrella organization of the Jewish communities in the various cities – was controlled by people with a more pluralistic orientation. A month ago the leadership changed and assumed a more Orthodox orientation. As part of their desire to regenerate the Jewish institutions in an Orthodox spirit, the federation held a conference with the secular and rabbinic heads of the communities, as well as the chief rabbis,” Metzger said.
“The first decision reached was to form a rabbinic court, which will be recognized by the state. The importance of such a move would be to help women whose husbands refuse to give them Jewish divorces, even after they already divorced in a civilian court there,” Metzger said. “In Israel, the rabbinate has the power to impose sanctions on recalcitrant husbands, by freezing their bank accounts, preventing them from leaving the country, and even imprisoning them.”
Since in Jewish law a man has to want to divorce his wife for the agreement to be valid, “there are many cases of personal vendettas – a man can threaten his wife that if she doesn’t give him more money, or custody over the children – he won’t give her the ‘get’ the Jewish divorce agreement. Many women from around the world ask for our help, but our hands our bound out of Israel, and we have no civilian authority in Spain,” Metzger said.
“We proposed to the Spanish authorities – representatives of the Justice and Religious Affairs ministries – that the Spanish civil court not approve a Jewish divorce before the rabbinic court inform it that the Jewish divorce took place. That could prevent husbands from feeling the liberty to make their wives miserable.”
The Spanish officials seemed receptive to the suggestion, Metzger said. “If it proposal is accepted, it could be a true revolution and serve as a model for other countries.”
Metzger also noted the efforts to strengthen the local kashrut supervision mechanisms, rather than be dependent on large suppliers from abroad, a move that would not only reduce the price of kosher products – and thus encourage more people to eat kosher – but also strengthen the local communities, which would profit from the revenues.
A spokesman for Amar wouldn’t comment on what the chief Sephardi rabbi intended to do if the bill to enable the chief rabbis to extend their term passed. Speculation is that the bill, put forth by Kadima MKs and largely supported in a preliminary hearing, was the initiative of people from Amar’s vicinity, who wish to keep him in power, at a time when the spiritual and political leadership of Shas is liable to change as President of the Shas Council of Torah Sages Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 90, becomes less active.
Before Metzger’s recent announcement there were rumors he did not intend to contend for a second term, but rather for the position of a city rabbi, such as that of Haifa, where current Chief Rabbi She’ar-Yashuv Cohen recently told the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office he would step down from any public position, lest he face legal action for his alleged role in a corruption ring, in which thousands of police, Prisons Service personnel and soldiers allegedly received wage increases based on falsified documents that certified them as rabbis.
Metzger on Saturday night told the Post there were many positions he could fill after being chief rabbi, including some abroad.