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Chief Rabbis Renew Hassle

The smoldering differences between Israel’s Sephardic and Ashkenazic chief rabbis flared anew here last night when Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef accused his Ashkenazic counterpart, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, of bias and discrimination in the appointment of rabbinical court judges and other appointments. Rabbi Yosef addressed a meeting of Sephardic rabbis and judges at which a new body–the Sephardic Rabbinical Convention–was founded.

Rabbi Goren’s office promptly denied the allegations of bias and sharply criticized the new organization on grounds that it divided the community and imperiled national unity.

Rabbi Yosef alleged that Rabbi Goren used personal loyalty to himself as the criterion of rabbinical appointments rather than scholarship and leadership capabilities. But he refused to elaborate or give specifics in order to “protect the honor of the rabbinate and the public.” But he warned, “The condition of the rabbinate is very serious and will deteriorate to a dangerous level unless we face the issue head on.” For that reason he called on his Sephardic colleagues to unite in a non-partisan effort to establish complete equality between Sephardic and Ashkenazic rabbis and judges.

Rabbi Yosef complained that Rabbi Goren had accused him of associating with extremists. “Yet when people come to him with complicated problems, he refers them to me to solve them,” Rabbi Yosef said. He said he had already settled 200 cases involving “agunot”–war widows whose husbands were not declared officially dead.

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