Tzohar rabbis to run for chief rabbi positions

National-religious rabbinical association begins process to present candidates to challenge haredi control of Rabbinate.

The national-religious rabbinical association Tzohar 370 (photo credit: Yossi Zliger)
The national-religious rabbinical association Tzohar 370
(photo credit: Yossi Zliger)
The national-religious rabbinical association Tzohar fired off a new round in its war with the Chief Rabbinate by announcing on Thursday that it was beginning a process to present candidates from the organization to stand in elections for the two chief rabbi positions.
The elections will take place in six months.
Tzohar has frequently taken issue with the rabbinate’s approach to the general public and founded its flagship free-of-charge marriage program to provide an alternative to what it describes as “Israel’s strict rabbinic bureaucracy.”
“Tzohar has long been trying to influence the Israeli mindset and explain that the Chief Rabbinate is a crucial junction for all Jews, secular and religious alike, and so seeks to influence the character of the institution,” the organization said on Thursday.
Having seemingly given up on its efforts to change the Chief Rabbinate from the outside, Tzohar sent a letter to hundreds of its member rabbis around the country inviting them to present their candidacy to represent Tzohar in the elections for the chief rabbis and the Council of the Chief Rabbinate.
“In order to advance our principles, Tzohar must present its own candidates,” the letter read.
An internal selection panel will examine the applicants and choose two candidates for the roles of Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis.
The chief rabbi positions have been filled by haredi rabbis for many years. The last chief rabbis to be considered national-religious were Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and Rabbis Avraham Shapira, who left office in 1993.
Until the appointment of Rabbi Michael Levy as chief rabbi of Petah Tikva earlier this year, the last national-religious rabbi elected to a municipal position was Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav in 1998 as chief rabbi of Shoham.
“The Chief Rabbinate is possibly one of the most significant government entities in Israel and has a direct impact on the lives of every man and woman in Israel from the day they’re born to the day they die,” said Tzohar executive vice president Nachman Rosenberg on Thursday.
“It is no less important to have a Chief Rabbinate which represents inclusive Zionist values than it is to have a Zionist IDF chief of staff who believes in the state.”
The chances that a Tzohar-affiliated candidate will succeed in getting appointed as chief rabbi are slim however, since the majority of the 150-member selection panel that elects the chief rabbis – comprised of representatives from the government, the Knesset and regional religious council – are haredi.
The chief rabbis’ term is 10 years and only one term may be served.
Last Friday, Tzohar launched a campaign designed to “encourage” the Chief Rabbinate to adopt “a new approach to religious leadership.”
The new campaign features bus and newspaper advertisements and argues that the Chief Rabbinate “has become increasingly aligned with anti-Zionist sectors within Israel,” and that it has alienated nonreligious and even national-religious people from the religious establishment.