Thursday, July 18, 2013

Israel Approaches Chief Rabbinate Elections Amid Flood of Legal Charges and Personal Bitterness

Haaretz today profiles the 6 candidates running for the position of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi and the 4 running to become the next Sephardi Chief Rabbi in Israel. Elections are scheduled for July 24. The chief rabbis are elected by a 150-person Special Election Committee that includes municipal rabbis, religious court judges, mayors, council heads, the IDF chief rabbi, and several Knesset members. (Jewish Press.) The two Chief Rabbis make up the Chief Rabbinate that has legal authority in the country over many Jewish religious and personal status issues, as well as over Israel's Rabbinical Courts. The Chief Rabbis are elected for 10 year terms. This year's election has been filled with political and legal intrigue, as well as bitter personal campaigning.  Here are just a few examples:

On the Sephardi slate, Yitzhak Yosef, son of the current Sephardi Chief Rabbi, won his father's endorsement only after his brother (whom his father preferred) was interrogated by police on  suspicion of breach of trust, conflict of interests and inappropriate conduct. The candidacy of Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu is being challenged before Israel's High Court of Justice because he has made a series of allegedly racist anti-Arab statements and religious rulings over the years. Israel's Attorney General has urged Eliyahu to step down as a candidate.

On the Ashkenazi side, much of the focus is on the candidacy of David Stav, a moderate religious Zionist rabbi who is supported by the Habayit Hayehudi party which is an important component of Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government. Currently both Chief Rabbi positions are held by non-Zionist haredi rabbis who staunchly oppose Stav.  As reported by Arutz Sheva earlier this week, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, a senior member of the Council of Sages of the Sephardic Shas party, in a sermon over the weekend delivered in the presence of Shas party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, referred to religious Zionist rabbis as "Amalek."  That reference is a particularly volatile one because of the Biblical command to annihilate the Amalekites. Meanwhile the current Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, is under investigation by the police on charges of fraud, money laundering and accepting bribes. (See prior posting.) As reported by JTA, Metzger has suspended himself from the presidency of the  Chief Rabbinate Council and from his position as a Rabbinical High Court judge while the investigation is under way.