Bitter Contest Expected in Rabbinate Elections

The Chief Rabbinate elections to be held Oct. 15 was shaping up today as a bitter contest in which die-hard conservatives will be opposed by candidates considered relatively liberal within the Orthodox religious spectrum. The 150-man electoral college that will vote for the candidates for Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis and for members of the Chief Rabbinate Council, was finally completed today after weeks of haggling.

Dr. Zerach Warhaftig, the Minister for Religious Affairs, announced today the appointment of the 10 rabbis which, according to Israeli law, are the appointees of the religious ministry, subject to Cabinet approval. Dr. Warhaftig reportedly sat up until late last night with Justice Minister Yaacov Shimshon Shapiro to complete the list. Shapiro, designated to represent the Cabinet on the matter, reportedly insisted on the inclusion of the Histadrut and Labor Party Rabbi Menachem Hacohen. An agreement was finally reached through the intercession of Premier Golda Meir and the final list was rushed to the printers to be officially gazetted.

Of the 10 rabbis appointed by Dr. Warhaftig, seven are said to be confirmed supporters of Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, regarded as a moderate. None are committed to the incumbent Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman who has the support of conservative elements. But of 24 rabbis named by an electoral assembly of their colleagues from small townships, 12 are for Rabbi Unterman, eight for Rabbi Goren and four are uncommitted.

The election picture was complicated yesterday when Tel Aviv’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, announced his candidacy in opposition to the incumbent Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim who was hitherto unchallenged. Rabbi Yosef, like Rabbi Goren, is regarded as one of Israel’s more “enlightened” rabbis. His enlightenment is measured by his recent ruling that slacks tailored for women are more permissible than mini-skirts according to halacha, religious law. Most other rabbis solidly oppose women wearing pants.

The rabbinate electoral college consists of 70 rabbis and religious lay leaders, 70 mayors, heads of district councils and local religious councils and the 10 rabbis named by the government. The Unterman camp was reportedly unhappy over Dr. Warhaftig’s appointments which it considers stacked in favor of Rabbi Goren whose candidacy is supported by the Labor Party and the National Religious Party. Some Unterman supporters have called for a rabbinical boycott of the elections on grounds that the electoral college was rigged by the government.

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