It began long before Rabbi Elyashiv passed away, with two main candidates Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Steinman and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach both in the running for the rabbi's biggest legacy – the leadership of a generation.
Rabbi Steinman, 98, is the leading candidate as he was already crowned joint-heir to Rabbi Elazar Shach over 10 years ago. At the time, he stood aside and let Rabbi Elyashiv take the crown but is now once again expected to take center stage.
In the last few months, before Rabbi Elyashiv was hospitalized, Rabbi Steinman was already filling in and his supporters have recently taken control of the Lithuanian-haredi newspaper Yated Ne'eman.
The second candidate, Rabbi Auerbach, head of the Ma'alot HaTorah Yeshiva is the eldest son of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, another leader of the haredi sect and considered one of the most renowned rabis of his generation. Auerbach stands at the head of the camp that opposes Rabbi Steinman on various internal matters.
Moderate versus conservative
Rabbi Auerbach's advantages include his close relationship to Rabbi Elyashiv, both of the Jerusalemite faction, while Rabbi Steinamn is of the Bnei Brak faction (a more conservative, rigid outlook) that tags him as Rabbi Shach's successor. His opponent is seen as a "compromiser".
And while many see Rabbi Auerbach as the authority on matters concerning the haredi outlook (often more so than Rabbi Steinman) it would seem that the public is voting with their feet and that the entire Lithuanian leadership is in the latter's hands. The relative youth of Rabbi Auerbach (in his late 70s) will also affect the vote.
It is believed that even Rabbi Auerbach's supporters have made peace with Rabbi Steinman's leadership and the real battle is for who will follow Steinman as leader of the sect.
Rabbi Auerbach's supporters fear that once the 'center of operations' is moved to Bnei Brak, then the chances of a third candidate, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, to inherit the prestigious position someday increase. This is why they are trying to keep Rabbi Auerbach in the public consciousness as a worthy candidate.
As one of the leaders of United Torah Judaism, Rabbi Steinman is a member of the Council of Torah Sages of the Lithuanian sect of the party.
A major point of resistance against Rabbi Steinman is that he cooperated with the initiators of the Tal Law on supporting the establishment of the Nahal Haredi and his relatively moderate and pragmatic view of various issues that are considered the spirit of haredi Judaism in Israel – State and religion, secular-religious relations and his towards the academia and employment.
And yet it is unlikely that there will be any major opposition to his sole-leadership. In any case, the opposition will most likely not be able to present a viable alternative.
A major contribution to solidifying Steinman's place is the new 'regime' at the Yated Ne'eman newspaper. Under orders received from Steinman himself, American-haredi businessman Shimon Glick has taken over the newspaper and has thus managed to conquer one of the haredi public's powerhouses.
Rabbi Auerbach's supporters have established a new newspaper, but the joining between the senior rabbi from Bnei Brak and the legendary journal will likely create an unbeatable combination.