Who is fit to be chief rabbi of Jerusalem?

There is grave concern that instead of the necessary attributes for those fit to serve as Jerusalem’s chief rabbis, the selection will instead be based upon political deals and ulterior motives.

ULTRA-ORTHODOX MEN walk past soldiers at the Kotel in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
ULTRA-ORTHODOX MEN walk past soldiers at the Kotel in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Today, chief rabbis will be elected for the City of Jerusalem.
There is grave concern that instead of the necessary attributes for those fit to serve as Jerusalem’s chief rabbis, the selection will instead be based upon political deals and ulterior motives.
Three core principles should guide the selection beyond any other intellectual or religious criteria: 1) Loyalty to the principles of democracy, separation of powers, rule of law and gender equality; 2) Affinity and respect for the entirety of the Jewish people, including its diverse ethnic groups and religious streams; 3) Valuing the equality of all people, whether Jewish or gentile, in the spirit of “Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of God]” (Pirkei Avot 3:14).
It is imperative that the considerations of the electoral body focus on examining the ways in which the candidates [18 altogether!] would conduct the rabbinate, in light of these three core principles. Regrettably, a public hearing for the candidates is not part of the election process. Jerusalem deserves rabbinic leadership that represents the best of contemporary Judaism and values of the State of Israel.
Let me offer some highly disturbing examples (naturally, these standards should be applied to all the candidates): Candidate Rabbi Shlomo Amar holds that the laws of the State of Israel fall into the category of “gentile and pagan law,” are a manifestation of Satan (“sitra achra”), and that so long as Israel is not ruled by Torah law it (and Jerusalem!) does not deserve to be called a “City of Justice.”
He maintains that the state civil courts are “gentile courts,” and even worse. In his desire to force halacha on the State of Israel he does not hesitate to use the language we have just recited in our High Holy Day prayers: “All evil will be consumed in smoke, when You remove the evil kingdom from the earth.”
It is necessary to elect chief rabbis who, even as they differ from secular Jews and other religious streams in Judaism, can relate to them with respect and comradery. That is not the case, for instance, with Rabbi Amar. His approach denies Jewish legitimacy to the majority of the Jewish people. In this spirit, he announced that a Jew should not attend High Holy Day prayers at all, rather than set foot in a Reform synagogue. He couldn’t care less that the majority of contemporary Diaspora Jewry that affiliates with Reform or Conservative synagogues, and the majority of Jewish leaders and donors laboring on behalf of Israel and Jerusalem come from these denominations.
Rabbi Amar’s reaction to the decision of the state and the Supreme Court to grant limited recognition to liberal rabbis was to declare war on non-Orthodox Judaism (“uprooters and destroyers of Judaism,” “God’s enemies,” “wicked ones,” etc.). In a city whose name stems from “Shalom” (peace), aspiring to unite world Jewry in its support, serving as the capital of the Jewish people, a rabbi antagonistic toward the majority of Diaspora Jewry does not merit to become chief rabbi.
It is necessary to elect chief rabbis who have internalized the principle of the equality of all humanity, as created in God’s image, and who respect people of other faiths and their entitlement to full equality.
Therefore, for instance, it is intolerable that Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu (or other candidates who may share his views) be selected, since he has repeatedly, according to media reports, expressed hate-mongering and inciting views towards Arabs, such as: “when it comes to Arabs… norms of violence have become the ideology,” “agricultural thievery among Arabs is an ideology,” “Arabs treat women according to social norms that permit violence towards them,” “expelling Arabs from Jewish neighborhoods is part of the strategy” etc., along with halachic rulings prohibiting the sale or rental of homes to Arabs.
He preaches for a change in government, and the establishment (“by the people”) of a kingdom with a clear religious and security agenda: “the kingdom we dream of knows how to be victorious over its enemies.... It does not leave the wounded bleeding on the field to plan the next war... this kingdom openly states that it desires the Temple...even if it will have to wipe out the mosques on the holy mount.”
In reacting to a terror incident, he offered a religious prescription for deterring the enemy: “revenge, revenge, revenge... what is needed is a horrific revenge... I’m referring to the state… God is the ultimate decisor, and He said ‘take revenge upon the gentiles.’ He is the One who summoned Pharaoh and his army to the Red Sea in order to drown them, not in order bring the Israelites out of Egypt, but only to exact revenge. Only so that ‘they will be struck with fear and awe’ and that the residents of Canaan ‘will become like stone.’” Rabbi Eliyahu labeled all those who protested his pronouncements “the Rule of Law gang.”
Thank God we live in an era of democracy and respect for individual liberties. A person may choose to believe in these contemptible views, but they would not be fitting for the position of chief rabbi of Israel’s capital. These objectionable positions on democracy and the institutions of the state, the Jewish people, and regarding people of other faiths and their rights, are thankfully not mandated by halacha, and many in the rabbinate do not share them.
The political battles and the “deals” associated with the elections for city rabbis and the chief rabbinate cheapen democracy, erode respect for the institution of the rabbinate and damage the soul of Judaism. It is no surprise, therefore, that Hiddush’s polling and many other studies show that trust in the established Israeli rabbinate is today at a record low.
Many rabbis deserve to serve our city, and it is hoped that the electoral body will honor the capital of Israel and the esteem in which it is held among Jewish communities and the nations of the world by electing fitting chief rabbis. Ones who are loyal to the spirit of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, whose Jewish paths are guided by respect for its democratic institutions, its legislature and civil judiciary, who embrace the Jewish people and its multi-faceted streams, movements and communities, and who celebrate the multifaith character of Jerusalem.
The author is a rabbi and head of Hiddush-Freedom of Religion for Israel.