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Praise, contempt follow chief rabbi election

Bennett, Netanyahu laud victories of Yosef and Lau; head of religious freedom group pans dynastic succession as corrupt

Former Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (C) seen with his son Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (L) and and Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, on the eve of Yitzhak Yosef's victory as the new Sephardic Chief Rabbi, at Rabbi Ovadia's family home in Jerusalem, on July 24, 2013. (Photo by FLASH90)
Former Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (C) seen with his son Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (L) and and Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, on the eve of Yitzhak Yosef's victory as the new Sephardic Chief Rabbi, at Rabbi Ovadia's family home in Jerusalem, on July 24, 2013. (Photo by FLASH90)

Politicians and religious leaders alike rushed to congratulate rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, the newly elected chief rabbis of Israel, on Wednesday night.

Yitzhak Yosef, the son of Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef, was chosen as the next Sephardi chief rabbi, and Rabbi David Lau, the son of former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, was picked as the head of the Ashkenazi rabbinate.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with the rabbis and congratulated them on their successes in the election. “This is the time to act to strengthen the unity of the Jewish people, and to increase the love of Israel,” he said.

Both candidates are seen as mainstream figures unlikely to rock the boat of the rabbinate or the Knesset. Lau beat out Rabbi David Stav, a professed free thinker with goals of pushing Israel’s rabbinate into the 21st century and Yosef won against Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a hardliner supported by the national religious.

Stav, who was seen as a candidate who would try to reform the Rabbinate from the inside, commended Lau and Yosef and wished them luck in “reforming the rabbinate.” He called on them “to succeed in reconnecting it to the general Israeli public.”

Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, who backed Stav in the race, extolled Lau and Yosef’s victories and exhorted them “to act and bring the hearts of the Jewish people close.”

“Next time there will be one chief rabbi of Israel,” Bennett said, “just like there is one chief of staff and one president of Israel.”

MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) was quoted in the ultra-Orthodox Kikar Hashabbat website saying that the election results “again prove that despite the reformist occupation of the justice system and the evil government, the people chose rabbis supported by the [rabbinic] greats of Israel. Their power is greater than all the horrific propaganda against Jewish law.”

The rabbis were selected in a complex and opaque process by a committee made up of 150 rabbis, mayors, religious functionaries, and government appointees.

MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) said that despite Stav’s defeat in the secret ballot election, he still stands besides by his faith in Stav’s “great future in strengthening Judaism in Israel and the Diaspora.”

Stern, who suggested adding 40 more women to the electors of the chief rabbi, lashed out at the Jewish Home party which scuppered his motion. “I advise MK Ayelet Shaked and the members of her party to veto the results of the chief rabbinate elections” because of their veto of his proposal, he said.

Rabbi Uri Regev, head of Freedom of Religion for Israel, had less kind words in response to the victory of Lau and Yosef, both ultra-Orthodox candidates, which he said “shows an unprecedented, low standing of this corrupt institution.”

“The skullduggery, nepotism, and defamation that accompanied these elections prove that there are few government bodies that muster as much disdain towards Judaism and distances Jewish Israelis from their religion as the Chief Rabbinate,” Regev, of the Reform movement, said in a statement. “The fact that both rabbis represent the non-Zionist Haredi community and are both the sons of former chief rabbis only intensifies the utter embarrassment of these results.”

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