It’s official: to be a chief rabbi in Israel you have to be Haredi. Mind you, the group in Israel that most openly and brazenly ignores the chief rabbinate (other than the Arabs) are the Haredim, who rely exclusively on their own religious court system and their own kosher supervision.
The only interest Haredim have in the chief rabbinate are the jobs.
So it turns out that the National Religious public, who actually abide by the chief rabbinate’s ruling and eat their hechsherim – is not good enough to run the thing. And secular Israelis, who barely tolerate the rabbinate and have zero interaction with Haredim – they, too, must obey Haredi rulers.
This complete defeat of the National Religious took place while Jewish Home was not only a senior member in the coalition government, but they had possession of the Ministry of Religious Services. How do you lose the vote—both votes, really—when it’s your office in charge of it?
This was an outright failure of Jewish Home and its chairman, Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett.
The Sephardi National Religious favorite, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, was not my personal choice. But his loss, 49 votes to Rabbi Yosef’s 68, is a major disappointment to many on the right. I could live with it, there was a huge leftist campaign against Rabbi Eliyahu, I could understand his loss.
But for Rabbi David Stav, head of Tzohar, an organization whose mission is to make religious services more available and palatable to the public at large in Israel, for him to have lost by 55 to 68 votes, means there were 68 voters in the body that includes 150 mayors, city rabbis, rabbinic judges and a handful of women, that the Haredi establishment was able to secure.
Now, I have no doubt in the wisdom and scholarship of both winners. I also think they would work hard to open up the rabbinate to the needs of secular Israelis, who have been greatly alienated by the public image of corruption and bureaucracy associated with the rabbinate. I’m a huge fan of Rabbi Lau’s father, former Chief Rabbi Israel Lau, and I admire the scholarship (but not the shenanigans) of Rabbi Yosef’s father, Rav Ovadia Yosef.
So, I for one, could live nicely with these two choices, although many of my National Religious friends are grimacing tonight.
But as a test of the political skills of Naftali Bennett and his Knesset team – it’s a big, fat F. And at a time when we’re going to need them the most, as the dark clouds of a Palestinian state are starting to gather above our heads – this was not fun to watch. At this point my personal confidence in Minister Naftali Bennett’s ability to throw his political weight around, twist arms, issue quiet threats, intimidate and punish the enemy, all the stuff a political representative I send to the Knesset must do – not great.
Bennett was supposed to win this one. He had the power base. How did MK Aryeh Deri and his band of merry Haredim take his lunch money so skillfully?
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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