Selection of new chief rabbis postponed until after municipal elections

Religious Services Minister Michael Malchieli cites fear the municipal voting could appear to taint the process

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Religious Services Minister Michael Malchieli arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Religious Services Minister Michael Malchieli arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Elections for the Chief Rabbinate, which were due to be held in August, have been postponed until after the municipal elections on October 31, Religious Services Minister Michael Malchieli said.

Malchieli announced the postponement in a letter his office sent Thursday to Carmit Yulis, the deputy attorney general for civil affairs. He cited concerns the municipal voting 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 Israel.

They also pick the Chief Rabbinate Council, which the chief rabbis head.

The elections to the rabbinate have been postponed in the past by several months, most recently in 2013, due to various circumstances.

The current postponement comes amid a tense race for the positions of chief rabbi.

Rabbi David Yosef, the brother of the incumbent Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, is vying for that position with Beersheba Chief Rabbi Yehuda Deri, whose brother is Aryeh Deri, chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. The Yosefs’ father is the late Sephardic chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a founder of Shas and the party’s longtime spiritual leader.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, right, and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, left, on September 19, 2016. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Malchieli is a member of Shas and, according to the Haaretz daily, the postponement could benefit Yehuda Deri’s bid.

In his letter, Malchieli added that there was no concrete fear of foul play that would taint the elections for the rabbinate. The minister said the move was to avoid the appearance of such a situation.

In the race for the Ashkenazi chief rabbi position, a favorite candidate of many from the influential religious Zionist stream is Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Micha Halevi. But others in that stream and beyond prefer a more liberal candidate than Halevi, who is widely seen as a hardliner.

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