Speculation roils chief rabbi race

A new-old candidate, former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, is said to be considering a comeback

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau (photo credit: Flash90)
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau (photo credit: Flash90)

The race for the post of chief rabbi has become the subject of intense speculation in recent days, with several new names added to the list of candidates.

The newest candidate to be floated is not new at all — Yisrael Meir Lau, who served as chief rabbi from 1993 to 2003. On Thursday morning, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily quoted sources “close to the rabbi” as saying he was interested in returning to the job.

Lau, who has a high public profile, sits on the line between the ultra-Orthodox and the religious Zionist camps and would be unlikely to institute significant changes in the rabbinate. That means he could win the support of the ultra-Orthodox officials who control many of the levers of the rabbinic bureaucracy and much of the chief rabbi selection committee.

Another new candidate is Yaakov Ariel, the rabbi of Ramat Gan. Ariel is now being pushed as a “consensus” candidate by several prominent religious Zionist rabbis.

To reach the post, both Ariel and Lau would require legislation raising the maximum age for a chief rabbi, currently set at 70.

The new candidacies threaten those of other rabbis already in the race. From the religious Zionist camp, the most prominent of them is David Stav, who is calling for a reform of the rabbinate and has won the support of the Yesh Atid party, Likud’s senior partner in the current coalition government.

Another is Eliezer Igra, a respected religious court judge. 

Lau’s son David Lau the rabbi of Modiin, is also a candidate, and would be unlikely to run against his father.

The speculation underlines the unpredictable nature of the race. The chief rabbi is selected in a complex and opaque process by a committee made up of 150 rabbis, mayors, religious functionaries, and government appointees. No date for a vote has been officially set, but the decision is expected in June.

The final result could be any of the candidates currently being touted — or someone else entirely, put forward and selected in quiet deal-making among politicians and rabbinic bureaucrats.

The conjecture has focused almost entirely on the post of Ashkenazi chief rabbi. A Sephardic chief rabbi is set to be selected at the same time, but the current rabbi, Shlomo Amar, hopes to remain in his job for another term. That, too, would require new Knesset legislation.

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