Israel needs only one chief rabbi, lawmaker says

Likud MK proposes bill that would stop ‘perpetuating the difference’ between Ashkenazim and Sephardim; Yesh Atid MK wants a top woman elected too

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Moshe Feiglin (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Moshe Feiglin (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel must abolish the dual leadership of its rabbinate and limit itself to a single chief rabbi for both Ashkenazim and Sephardim, MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) said Thursday, asserting that the time had come to stop perpetuating the distinctions between Jews of different backgrounds.

“The meaning of the proposal is that there will no longer be a division between an Ashkenazi rabbi and a Sephardi rabbi,” he explained.

Since 1921, Israel has always had two chief rabbis, one representing Jews of Ashkenazi descent and the other representing Sephardi Jews. During their terms, the two alternate holding the presidency of the high rabbinical court.

According to a bill proposed by Feiglin, instead of naming two chief rabbis, the public selection committee would elect one chief rabbi and a separate rabbi to preside over the rabbinical court

“Most of the MKs I’ve spoken to responded positively” to the idea, Feiglin  said, noting that Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) had already added his name to the bill.

The division between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi religious leadership has enabled Jews the world over to adhere to their religious traditions over 2,000 years of exile, Feiglin wrote in his explanation. However, he said, “now that the Jewish nation has returned to its land, our goal is to promote the unification of the people and to make the Torah magnificent and indivisible.”

Past traditions are important, but Jews must set their sights on a united future, Feiglin added.

“Perpetuating the difference between communities” is an idea whose time has gone, he said, adding that his bill “allows the rabbinical world to be part of the revolution the Israeli nation is undergoing,” as it coalesces into a single people.

Meanwhile, MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) proposed that a women versed in Jewish law be elected alongside the chief rabbis. The woman’s job “will be to explain to women and families the Jewish tradition passed on for generations,” Lavie explained in a Facebook post.

In addition to knowledge of Jewish law, such a woman would also need good people skills, Lavie wrote, suggesting that it should be someone with training in psychology or social work.

“The election of chief rabbis isn’t only the interest of Orthodox people,” but rather affects everyone, she said, calling for the selection of “worthy [rabbis] who show understanding and sensitivity toward the entire Israeli public, its problems and its needs.”

Lavie said she supported in principle Feiglin’s idea of a single chief rabbi, but warned that such a plan must be introduced gradually if were to achieve its goal of unifying Israelis rather than dividing them.

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