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Haifa’s Two Chief Rabbis Reject Non-orthodox on Religious Council

The election of two non-Orthodox rabbis and a non-observant woman to the Haifa Religious Council on Wednesday opened a rift between the Labor-controlled municipality and the religious establishment which could extend to national polities.

The Religious Council is a branch of city government which provides for the religious needs of the community, but is not itself a religious body and has no say in halachic matters.

Haifa’s Ashkenazic and Sephardic chief rabbis nevertheless refused to recognize the elections of Reform Rabbi Reuven Samuels and Rabbi Bernard Ochs, a Conservative rabbi.

They said they were prepared to accept a religious woman on the council, but not Malka Ofir, who describes herself as a free-thinker.

Ofir and Samuels were elected by one-vote margins and Ochs by two votes.

They were among the 12 members of the 27-member body elected by the City Council. Twelve others are appointed by the Ministry for Religious Affairs and three by the Rabbinate.

Tova Aba’adi, an Orthodox woman candidate nominated by Mayor Arye Gurel, received 24 votes. Two religious council members abstained.

Religious circles said the election of the non-Orthodox candidates seriously undermined Vice Premier Shimon Peres’ chances to put together a coalition of his Labor Party with the religious parties to replace the present Likud-Labor unity government.

Laborite Mayor Gurel voted against the non-Orthodox candidates “because their values and beliefs are in direct contradiction and opposition to the Religious Council,” he said.

Ofir said she decided to run even though she does not feel bound by religious law because the Religious Council serves the entire community, including the non-observant.

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