The Chief Rabbinate race is getting complicated: Religious Zionism officials fear that the multiple number of candidates on the movement's behalf for the position of Israel's
chief rabbi will decrease the chances for the election of a "Zionist" rabbi, and are racking their brains in an attempt to find an agreed-upon candidate.
Yet now that the suitable person appears to have been found, and all it takes is a small amendment to the law that will allow him to run, another prominent rabbi – who is not national-religious – may join the race and disrupt the plans.
Currently, there are four candidates for the position of Israel's Ashkenazi chief rabbi – Rabbis David Lau,
Eliezer Igra, David Stav
and Yaakov Shapira. The battle is focused on this post, as a bill allowing Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar
to seek a second term is likely to be approved by the Knesset.
Although Lau is the chief rabbi of the secular city of Modiin and serves as a captain in the reserve forces, he is seen as acceptable by the ultra-Orthodox public. Shapira, who has not served in the army, has been labeled as "Zionist" along with Stav and Igra.
In order to increase the chances for the election of a national-religious rabbi and prevent the votes of Religious Zionism supporters from splitting between the different candidates, movement officials expect two of the three nominees to quit the race.
As an agreed-upon candidate has yet to be selected, Rabbi Chaim Druckman, one of the Religious Zionism camp's leaders, and members of the Habayit Hayehudi party, came up with a new idea in recent weeks – to nominate Ramat Gan's Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel,
who is accepted by different streams of Religious Zionism, thus forcing the other candidates to withdraw from the race.
Rabbi Ariel himself has yet to publicly accept the calls to join the race, especially in light of the failure in the 2003 elections – when the haredim supported Rabbi Yona Metzger
in order to prevent the election of a religious Zionist rabbi at his level.
Nonetheless, the move's initiators are working to amend the law restricting the age of chief rabbi candidates to 70, as Rabbi Ariel is 75 years old.
Rabbi Igra was the first candidate to declare, in a conversation with Ynet, that he would withdraw from the race to clear the way for Rabbi Ariel. He called on Rabbis Stav and Shapira to do the same.
Sources in the Tzohar organization,
which is led by Rabbi Stav and whose president is Rabbi Ariel, clarified that they would support the initiative too if it were legally and politically possible and would stop rabbis who are not affiliated with the Religious Zionism movement from running.
The scenario Tzohar was implying to, which the move's initiators are concerned about, is that Tel Aviv's Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau
will decide to seek a second term as Israel's chief rabbi, as the amendment to the law allowing Rabbi Ariel to run candidacy will pave his way back to the Chief Rabbinate.
Rabbi Lau is known to have great political power, including within the body electing the chief rabbis, and estimates are that if he decides to run – he will win.
"Rabbi Lau is not interested in commenting on this issue at this time," the office of Tel Aviv's chief rabbi said in a statement Wednesday evening. Yet sources close to the rabbi did not rule out the possibility that he would join the race.
Although Rabbi Lau is a national figure who is popular among the Israeli public and also serves as the chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Rabbi Druckman and Habayit Hayehudi do not define him as "Zionist."
This poses a great dilemma for the Religious Zionism movement: Presenting Rabbi Yaakov Ariel as an agreed-upon candidate in order to improve the chances for a national-religious chief rabbi, creates a "risk" that Rabbi Israel Lau will eventually be elected.
The more optimistic Religious Zionism members believe that Rabbi Israel Lau will only leave his comfortable position in Tel Aviv to enter the President's Residence after Shimon Peres, and not in favor of the Chief Rabbinate.
The vagueness on Rabbi Lau's part, they say, is aimed at undermining the move for the election of Rabbi Ariel so as not to hurt the chances of his son, Rabbi David Lau, to be elected as chief rabbi.