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Israel Supreme Court Validates Board Nominating Chief Rabbis

By a vote of two to one, the Supreme Court of Israel today validated the nominations board which is to name candidates for election of Israel’s Chief Rabbis. The Sephardic Chief Rabbi, the Incumbent Rabbi Itzhak Nissim, is to succeed himself. But there has still been no nomination for the Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazic community to succeed the late Chief Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog.

Today’s panel of three justices ruled, two to one, that the nominating board may function even if only three of its eight members are present. The board must consist of four members named by the Government, and four others named by the Chief Rabbinate. Three of the Chief Rabbinate’s nominees to that board have withdrawn their names on instructions of the Chief Rabbinate.

Justice Moshe Silberg ruled on behalf of the majority of the panel today that the five members may function on the nominating board but, in view of the division on the panel, a new panel of five justices should hold a hearing of the entire dispute. As a consequence, the chief rabbinate elections, previously scheduled for October 21, will have to be postponed. In addition to Justice Silberg, the two other members of the Supreme Court panel that sat today were Justices Alfred Witkon and Chaim Cohen.

All three justices agreed that the Rabbinical Council had no power to dismiss one of the four members of the nominating board previously appointed by the Chief Rabbinate. This member, Amram Aburavia, refused to withdraw on orders of the Rabbinate. Two of the justices held that the Rabbinate had withdrawn its members of the nominating board only for the purpose of paralyzing the board’s activities.

The court expressed regret that the rules for electing chief rabbis have not been altered by Israel. Those rules, deemed by the court as “anachronistic,” were established years ago by the British mandatory power. The court also deplored the rift between Rabbi Yaacov Toledano, Minister for Religious Affairs, and the Rabbinical Council, and the fact that neither Rabbi Toledano nor the Council participated in the Supreme Court’s hearings on the dispute.

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