Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Elected by Panel That Included Four Women

Rabbi Yisrael Lau, for the past nine years chief rabbi of Netanya, was elected Tel Aviv’s seventh Ashkenazic chief rabbi Sunday by a 30-member electoral panel that for the first time included four women members.

Lau’s election ended a hard-fought campaign by the local religious council to prevent the four women from participating in the vote.

The election of a new chief rabbi was delayed for two years, following the death of Rabbi Yedidya Frankel, because of the Labor Alignment’s insistence on having women members on the electoral panel.

One of the appointees, lawyer Haviva Aviguy, sued the city with assistance from NA’AMAT, the women’s Labor Zionist organization, and won. The religious council was compelled to give in to a Supreme Court ruling in May that barring women from the panel-which has no religious functions-was discriminatory.

The electoral panel includes 10 City Council representatives, 10 religious council representatives and 10 representatives of the city’s synagogues. Of these, 21 members voted for Lau and five voted for his only competitor, Or Akiva Chief Rabbi Menahem Haham. One ballot was spoiled, two panel members were abroad and the remaining vote could not immediately be accounted for.

Several of the rabbis entered the hall to cast their ballots only after the women members had voted and had left the room.

Lau, regarded as a liberal in philosophy, indicated after his election that the largely secular character of Tel Aviv would not be changed, and cafes and cinemas would remain open on Friday nights.

“I am no Don Quixote, and I won’t attempt to tilt against windmills,” he said. “In the long run I will attempt to influence people using explanation and education.”

He added, “Tel Aviv is no ordinary city-it needs some Judaism.”

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