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Shas Balking on Support for Bennett’s Candidate for Chief Rabbi

"Rav Ovadia is willing to lose both chief rabbis" and not collaborate with those who "stuck a knife in our back."
Rabbi Chaim Druckman with Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett.

Rabbi Chaim Druckman with Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett.
Photo Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/FLASH90

Despite reports in the media—most notably by Arutz 7, whose owner, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, has a pony in the race—about a deal that’s been supposedly forged between Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home and Shas (See: New Chief Rabbi Appointment Pitting Bennett Against Lapid).

The deal that’s being touted by Jewish Home includes extending by another ten-year term the tenure of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, in exchange for a legislative change of the maximum age for the position. That would pave the way for Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, who is over age 70, to become Chief Rabbi.

But a senior Shas official told Kikar HaShabbat that “Rav Ovadia Yosef will not support such a deal with Jewish Home,” in light of that the party’s conduct in the last elections.

“Rav Ovadia Yosef will not give a hand to any deal with the Jewish Home, the party that caused the most damage to Haredi parties,” said the Shas official. We will not support it, even if [our refusal] would endanger the selection of the Haredi Sephardi rabbi.”

Another source in Shas declared that “Rav Ovadia is willing to lose both chief rabbis if getting them means a partnership with the ones who stuck a knife in our back and went with Yair Lapid.”

Meanwhile, Rabbi David Stav published a tortured letter in Srugim, a National Religious website, saying that should Rabbi Ariel become a candidate, he, Rabbi Stav, would remove his own candidacy. Rabbi Stav also bemoaned the personal campaign against him, launched by supporters of Rabbi Ariel.

The struggle between Rabbi Ariel and Rabbi Stav is also creating a conflict within the Jewish Home faction, between the more right wing faction, represented by Rabbi Chaim Drukman, dean of the Or Etzion yeshiva and head of the Bnei Akiva yeshivot, who support Rabbi Ariel, and the Bennett circle, including MK Ayelet Shaked and Minister Uri Orbach, who support Rabbi Stav.

Naftali Bennett is, among other government jobs, Minister of Religious services. But his deputy minister there, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, is the de-facto minister. Both men will be the final decision makers, at least on paper, regarding the appointments.

But without the support of Shas, chances are limited for Rabbi Ariel’s appointment, which will require changing the law which at this point says one must be younger than 70 when taking the mantle of Chief Rabbi. While Likud-beitenu might be persuaded to support such “personalized legislation,” in exchange for another deal, making former Foreign Minister David Levi Israel’s next president (which Liberman is pushing—Levi’s daughter is an Israel Beitenu MK).

The main reason the age-changing personalized legislation is bound to die in the water has to do with the fact that Yair Lapid’s lieutenant, Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron, supports Rabbi Stav, as do most of the faction members, and—most importantly—Lapid’s entire agenda abhors special deals that include personalized legislation and similar political tricks. And so, Yesh Atid will vote against the proposed legislation, should it come up, and their 19 votes together with the opposition votes will prevent the move.

A source close to Jewish Home told The Jewish Press that Naftali Bennett is waiting this one out, offering tacit support for Rabbi Ariel’s candidacy simply because he wouldn’t dare stand up to Rabbi Drukman and the Melamed faction inside his party. In the end, Bennett is hoping that the Rabbi Ariel proposal will collapse under its own weight, clearing the way for the appointment of the one man most secular and religious Israelis (who care) are hoping for – rabbi David Stav, the National Religious antidote to Haredi alienation.

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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