Just hours before ministers were set to vote on a bill that could pave the way for the appointment of Israel’s next chief rabbis, the bill’s sponsor MK Zvulun Kalfa (Jewish Home party) realized that it did not have the support necessary to pass and removed it from the agenda.
The bill would allow candidates over the age of 70 to run for the position of chief rabbi, and thus pave the way for Yaakov Ariel, currently the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, to announce his candidacy. Kalfa’s amendment, dubbed the Amar-Ariel Bill, would also allow chief rabbis to serve more than one 10-year term, thus enabling current Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar to remain in his position. Incumbent Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger has not expressed a desire to continue in his post.
Kalfa had struck a deal with the Sephardi religious party Shas, which agreed to support the bill if it included a provision that would allow Amar to stay in office.
Ariel, 76, is a respected figure in the religious Zionist community, and many religious leaders believe that he would be a more acceptable candidate among the ultra-Orthodox than candidate David Stav, who’s perceived as being more liberal.
On Saturday night, dozens of senior rabbis gathered at the home of former MK Rabbi Haim Druckman in the southern town of Merkaz Shapira in a last-ditch effort to convince Stav to withdraw his candidacy “out of respect for the rabbinate and unity of the [religious Zionist] camp.”
Druckman has appealed to Stav several times in recent months to pull out of race, and while Stav has refused, last month he reportedly told Druckman that if the bill enabling Ariel to run was passed, he would in fact step down.
Stav is one of the founders of Tzohar, an organization that believes in making Judaism more accessible to all Israelis, religious and secular alike. Ariel, who’s perceived as being more conservative, is also a member of Tzohar.
Saturday night’s meeting at Druckman’s home was attended by several prominent rabbis from the religious Zionist community, including Elyakim Levanon, Yaakov Shapira, and Eliezer Igra, himself a candidate for the chief rabbi position.