The Knesset voted overnight Monday to postpone the elections for the Chief Rabbinate and extend the tenure of the serving rabbis until April 2024.
The bill proposing the postponement of the elections, which were originally planned for August, passed its second and third (final) reading in a 52-29 vote.
Religious Services Minister Michael Malkieli had pushed for the move, citing concerns that municipal voting, set for October, could interfere with the rabbinical elections, in which a council of 150 people — most of them rabbis affiliated with local offices of the rabbinate and their employees — select an Ashkenazi and a Sephardic chief rabbi of the country.
The postponement comes amid a tense race for the 10-year positions. The move was initiated by Malkieli, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. According to reports, while the official reason for the delay was the proximity to the upcoming municipal elections, Shas’s leadership has yet to decide on a candidate to endorse. Malkieli denied this in a letter explaining his decision to the deputy attorney general for civil affairs.
Rabbi David Yosef, the brother of incumbent Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, is vying for that position against Beersheba Chief Rabbi Yehuda Deri, whose brother is Aryeh Deri, chairman of Shas. The Yosefs’ father is the late Sephardic chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a founder of Shas and the party’s longtime spiritual leader.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, Deri is hoping to reach a compromise and appoint one of the two candidates as Jerusalem’s chief rabbi.
In the race for the Ashkenazi chief rabbi position, a favorite candidate of many from the influential Religious Zionist community is Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Micha Halevi. But others in that community and beyond prefer a more liberal candidate than Halevi, who is widely seen as a hardliner.
The election will also determine the makeup of the Chief Rabbinate Council, which is headed by the chief rabbis. The council serves as the main authority on Jewish law for the government and for providers of religious services in the country.