JERUSALEM (Jul. 19)
A bill postponing the forthcoming Chief Rabbinate elections from Aug. 11 to Aug. 31 passed its first reading in the Knesset today. The measure which asks the government to extend the terms of the incumbent Chief Rabbis for an additional 20 days was submitted by Dr. Zerach Warhaftig, the Minister for Religious Affairs, who said the measure was necessitated solely for technical reasons because the elections committee could not complete its preparations in time for the Aug. 11 election date.
The fact that Dr. Warhaftig is ill with the flu and came to the Knesset from his sick bed apparently saved him from much of the bitter criticism leveled by opposition parties at his administration of religious affairs. Only Uri Avneri of the Haolam Hazeh faction voted in opposition to the extension bill. Gahal abstained.
The debate that preceded the vote was relatively tame. Several MKs charged that the Chief Rabbinate elections were “fixed” by the Labor Party in order to assure the election of Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren who is challenging the incumbent Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, Isser Yehuda Unterman. Menahem Yedid of Gahal charged behind the scenes manipulations. Menahem Porush of the right-wing Orthodox Agudat Israel faction accused Goren of having made a “deal” with Premier Golda Meir to resolve pressing problems of personal status and would thus be a “conditional Chief Rabbi.”
Rabbi Kalman Kahana of the Poalei Agudat Israel said it was a serious error to have appointed Labor MK Mordechai Surkis as chairman of the elections committee because Surkis was “a political personality who makes no pretension of being (religiously) observant.” Surkis who took the rostrum to defend his appointment noted that the chairman’s position was purely administrative and bereft of any power to influence the elections.