Rabbinate council opposes idea of one chief rabbi

Bayit Yehudi blocks portion of bill for municipal rabbi reforms, claiming it's not well thought out and was not coordinated with the party.

Inauguration of new chief rabbis 370 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Inauguration of new chief rabbis 370
(photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate publicly opposed legislation to unite the posts of Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbi, as well those of municipal chief rabbis, on Monday, saying it would harm religious services and Judaism.
A bill calling for just one chief rabbi – instead of the current two – was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in November and a separate bill for having one chief municipal rabbi in cities where there are currently both an Ashkenazi and Sephardi one was approved on Sunday.
“There is no overlap between the work of the two [chief] rabbis and the distinction between [their tasks] is not limited to the leadership of Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardi Jews,” the Council of the Chief Rabbinate said in a statement to the press.
The council noted that the Chief Rabbinate employs a rotation system in which one chief rabbi serves as president of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate for five years, while the other serves as the president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court for five years. At the end of the first five-year period the two rabbis switch positions.
Currently, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau serves as president of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef serves as the president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
The council said even in the current situation there exists a heavy burden of work on the two chief rabbis, “and there is no justification to a process which at the end of the day will harm [the provision of] religious services.”
The proposed law suggests that one chief rabbi preside over the council, and a separate position be created for president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, which would not have the rank of chief rabbi. The council said on Monday it was important these two positions be on the same footing in terms of political status.
In addition, the council also expressed its “strong opposition” to the abolition of dual chief rabbi positions in municipal jurisdictions, which was proposed in a bill approved for a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday.
At present, there are 34 cities and regional jurisdictions in which both an Ashkenazi and a Sephardi chief rabbi serve. Hatnua MK Elazar Stern, who proposed the bill, has argued that having two chief rabbis on an ethnic basis is anachronistic and an unnecessary financial burden on the local religious council which pays their salaries.
The council noted that the retroactive enforcement of the bill, which would not renew the term of any municipal rabbi in a city with two once his 10-year term ends, was “not fitting.”
On Monday, Bayit Yehudi blocked this particular reform, claiming it was not well thought out and was not coordinated with the party.
In response, a Hatnua source said “Last time I checked, [party leader Naftali] Bennett was not the prime minister, and this behavior undermines the work of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation and the desire of people who want a more inclusive and welcoming form of Judaism.”
A similar spat between the two parties occurred earlier this year, when Bayit Yehudi blocked Stern’s bill to enlarge the electoral committee for selecting the chief rabbis and Hatnua blocked some of Bayit Yehudi’s key reforms to the provision of religious services in return.
The rabbinate council also announced on Monday that it was seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to remonstrate against what it described as “a wave of anti religious legislation in recent months.”
The council said it would explain to the prime minister that the Chief Rabbinate should be allowed to express its position on all issues of religion and state and that the government take into consideration its stance. In addition, it was announced that a steering committee would be established to liaise with members of Knesset on all issues of religion and state.
Much of the new legislation on religion and state has been proposed by the national- religious Bayit Yehudi Party, in particular Deputy Religious Services Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan.
It is Ben-Dahan who advanced the proposal to have just one national chief rabbi, in addition to promoting legislation abolishing marriage registration districts, stipulating disciplinary procedures for employees of local religious councils and other reforms.
Despite this, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who, like Ben-Dahan, comes from the Tekuma party, which is a party of the Bayit Yehudi Knesset faction, has publicly opposed much of this legislation.
Ariel met with Yosef on Sunday and said he, “together with the rabbi, felt deep concern for the increasing trend of anti-religious legislation that is eroding the status quo [on religion and state].”
Ariel said he would do everything “to ensure that all legislation of this nature be done with through agreement and not coercively.”