Zionist rabbis tap Meir Kahana, reserves commander, as their pick for chief rabbi

Nomination seen as surprising since it knocks out hardliner favored by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich; Haredi factions yet to coalesce around nominee ahead of vote this fall

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

Rabbi Meir Kahana, in November 2022. (Halavi/ Wikimedia Commons)
Rabbi Meir Kahana, in November 2022. (Halavi/ Wikimedia Commons)

A committee of religious Zionist rabbis tapped Meir Kahana, a rabbinical judge in Ashkelon, as the movement’s candidate to serve as the next Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel.

The Makor Rishon newspaper described Kahana’s selection Sunday as a “surprise,” following speculation that the religious Zionist candidate would be Micha Halevi of Petah Tikva, who is widely seen as a hardliner to the right of Kahana.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party, congratulated Kahana, calling him a candidate of “unity” who reflects the “full diversity” of the religious Zionist community. Smotrich, a far-right politician, favored Halevi’s nomination for the position, according to Israel Hayom.

The nomination by the religious Zionist rabbinical council, which represents one of the most politically influential religious movements in Israel, is the first key endorsement in the race for the chief rabbi position.

The Haredi factions, who tend to control the majority of votes for the position, have yet to decide on their own potential nominations in the race.

A committee of 35 leading religious Zionist rabbis from various religious Zionist communities selected Kahana as the movement’s candidate during a conference at the Ramot Shapira resort and educational campus near Jerusalem.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, right, and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef attend the the ‘Yeshivas March’ against conversion and kashrut reforms, in Jerusalem, January 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Kahana, 54, has five children. He was born in Bat Yam and grew up in Bnei Brak. He is a former company commander in the Israeli paratroopers and holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in the reserves. His wife, Bruria, is a gynecologist.

The election of the Ashkenazi and Sephardic chief rabbis is scheduled to take place sometime after November 1. A council of 150 rabbis and local Chief Rabbinate representatives elect both a Sephardic chief rabbi and an Ashkenazi one.

Religious Services Minister Michael Malchieli on Thursday postponed the election of chief rabbi and the Chief Rabbinate Council from August until after the October 31 municipal elections.

In the army, Kahana interacted with Israelis from across the spectrum of society, he told Arutz 7 in an interview from April, when he announced his candidacy for chief rabbi.

Kahana’s father was an accountant who was observant religiously, but did not devote his life to religion.

“My grandfather of blessed memory was a student of the Torah and Hasidism,” Kahana told the news site. After his immigration from Romania, Kahana’s father became the head of a yeshiva in Tel Aviv, prior to his death, which took place before Kahana was born.

“My father always felt indebted to my grandfather for not carrying on his path of studying the Torah, and taking up accountancy instead,” Kahana said. “My choice of studying the Torah and the support that my parents always gave me through that journey is in a way the repayment of that debt.”

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