In a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, the rabbis swore allegiance to the State of Israel and committed to provide fair justice in their role as members of the Supreme Rabbinical Court. The ceremony was attended by President Shimon Peres, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan.
Peres said to the chief rabbis: "Am Yisrael needs you today, perhaps more than ever. It is eager to meet the luminous face of the Jewish tradition. It is eager for a clear path of prophecy ethics… It prays for an honorable and valued rabbinate which would bring a great spirit to everyday and eternal values, and to have you bring people together, respect the other, and bring about the Ten Commandments."
"A great privilege has befallen upon you to bring brothers closer together – religious and non-religious," he added, "to remove boundaries of suspicion and alienation, to issue rulings with sensitivity and with truth and justice, and guide the rabbinical justice system in the spirit of Beit Hillel."
Referring to their family affiliation as sons of former chief rabbis, the president asked them "to follow the way of love of the Torah and the people who have walked this path, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, to answer the stream of life and meet new challenges that rise with the changes of time."
Peres added that "the rabbinate must use the Torah to make justice and aid the building of the country," and noted that he does not share the stance which sees a contradiction between Judaism and the values of democracy, since "democracy was born in a Jewish cradle."
As a new year greeting, Peres wished that "we will be blessed with a rabbinate that would act towards uniting the people, a rabbinate with neshama."
Who wasn't there?
It was noted that the two outgoing chief rabbis were absent from the State ceremony: Yona Metzger, whose term ended on suspicion of criminal acts and a police investigation against him, and Shlomo Amar, who attempted to thwart the appointment of elected rabbi Yitzhak Yosef. Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett was also absent from the ceremony, after failing to appoint his nominees for the chief rabbis posts.
New Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said in his speech that the previous time in which he visited the President's Residence he was a young boy, over 40 years ago, when his father swore allegiance to the State with his entry to the very same position.
He repeated the words of his father at the time, and committed to do the same: To not abuse justice, and not hinder the lives of Jewish converts and others in his role as rabbi or judge.
Rabbi Yosef said he sees himself as a rabbi of the entire Israeli people, and turned to journalists: "I know there are sources that run media campaigns against the rabbinate and the Jewish courts. Allow us a chance to improve the rabbinate's status."
New Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau said that "our role as rabbis is to bring forth the legacy and illuminate the light of Judaism to all of Israel," and committed to uniting the people. In addition, he swore to turn every stone in the Jewish bookcase in order to find answers to complex halachic questions – both private and public – which stand on the rabbinate and courts tables, and said that from now on, any personal halachic distress of any man or woman in Israel, is a problem of his own as well.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni called on the rabbis to positively affect communities who feel distant from the rabbinate – secularists, women, atheists of Israeli seed and non-Orthodox Jews. She added that she believes in their ability of the elect-rabbis to be a "healing and fresh breath of air" by bringing about Judaism that brings people together and does not only provide "a list of prohibitions."