Chief Rabbi Amar
Photo: Yoav Zitun

Say no to tailor-made laws for chief rabbis

Knesset's love for private bills may once again intrude upon free elections for chief rabbi. Benny Doron on why suitability aside, tailor-made laws is not the way to go

Over the years a growing trend has rooted itself within the Knesset's legislative process – the concept of "personal" bills. These are laws which are allegedly intended to determine norms but in reality the form, context and timing of these bills point to the fact that the law was made to measure for one specific person.


Use of this format goes beyond parties and ideologies and is used by the entire political spectrum. The Netanyahu Law, The Deri Law, The Yigal Amir Law, The Bishara Law, The Lapid Law, and many others.


Recently the Knesset was presented with a bill seeking to allow chief rabbis to hold their post for a second 10 year term in office. The law is mostly intended to allow the chief Sephardic rabbi the opportunity of extending his term in office which is why it has been nicknamed the Amar Law.


The same law would also enable the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Metzger to serve for an additional term, but the chances of him being reelected are slim.


A last minute deal between Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu – one which will see Shas support the Tzohar Law in exchange for support of the Amar Law – means that the process of approving the bill will go ahead full throttle when the Knesset returns from its summer recess.


This is not the first time that the Chief Rabbinate Law is amended on a personal basis. In fact, history shows us that the Rabbinate Law is one of the most personal laws that exist.


When the law first went through the legislative house in the 50s, it stated that in order to be selected as a chief rabbi the candidate needed to have active rabbinical experience.


More politics than religion

In 1955 when Rabbi Nissim was appointed to the role, there were those who claimed he lacked sufficient experience, when they opposed his appointment in the High Court, a retroactive amendment was added to the law, removing the experience clause and allowing the rabbi's term to go ahead.


And even though the law clearly stated that rabbinate elections were to be held every five years, the fact that politicians wished to extend his term meant that he continued to serve as chief rabbi for 17 years, with only one election during that entire period thanks to Knesset extensions and postponements.


Political wrangling over the chair of chief rabbi continued over the years, and eventually the law was once again amended to include a clause limiting the chief rabbi's term in office to 10 years.


It is very easy to see why Shas wishes to extend Rabbi Amar's term in office. He is considered to be a worthy and well reputed rabbi who fills his role admirably.


In fact, it isn't just Shas who would be happy to see Rabbi Amar continue in his current role, especially when taking into consideration the fact that there are few worthy candidates available to replace him.


Nonetheless, changing legislation that deals with the extension of a 10 year term in office and doing so just before the elections, when potential candidates are already getting warmed up for the campaign, leaves a bad taste.


The endless stirring over the Rabbinate Law indicates just how problematic the strong link between the religious establishment and politics really is.


History teaches us that in order to become chief rabbi a candidate must be more of a politician than a rabbi and that if chief rabbis wish to hold their posts they must maintain their political connections and adapt themselves to the whims of the politicians that crowned them.


And while there is a high probability that the candidates waiting in the wings to replace the current chief rabbi will make us miss Rabbi Amar, it is better that he not continue to serve an additional term thanks to a tailor-made law. And may the rabbi forgive us, it is nothing personal.



פרסום ראשון: 04.21.12, 07:56
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