JERUSALEM (Feb. 3)
Elections for Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi, held once every 10 years, have been thrown into disarray by articles in the press linking the leading candidate to women other than his wife.
A petition demanding that the elections be postponed pending full examination of the accusations has been forwarded to the state attorney general by a Jerusalem resident who some claim is acting in collusion with rival candidates for the post.
At the center of the storm is Tel Aviv’s chief rabbi, Yisrael Lau, who was expected to be elected the top Ashkenazic rabbi in the country. But damaging charges about the rabbi’s personal life, first printed in the Tel Aviv weekly Ha’ir, have started to erode his support.
Two important rabbinical figures have expressed their reservations about Lau’s qualifications for the position. The current occupant of the post, Rabbi Avraham Shapira, said the election should be postponed until the issue is fully investigated.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren, a former chief rabbi of Israel, said Lau in effect disqualifies himself if he does not sue the newspaper for libel.
The whole scandal is also mixed up in the politics for electing the new chief rabbi. Reports said that Leon Katsch, the Jerusalem man who petitioned the attorney general, was acting in consort with one of two rival candidates for the post: Haifa’s chief rabbi, Haifa Shear Yashuv Cohen, and Rabbi Simcha Kook of Rehovot.
Katsch, who claimed to be acting independently out of concern for the dignity of the office, said through his lawyer that he would also appeal to Israel’s High Court of Justice if his petition to the attorney general fails.
Goren also remarked to the media that the other candidates, Cohen and Kook, are unsuitable for the post because they are insufficiently learned in Talmud and Jewish law, or halacha.
The scandal has renewed calls within Israel’s Masorti movement — Israel’s Conservative movement — to dissolve entirely the institution of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel “in view of the present wave of ugly accusations.”
Rabbi Philip Spectre, executive director of the Masorti movement, called on the Knesset to debate the issue of whether to dissolve the rabbinate.
“There is no foundation whatsoever in the Jewish tradition for a chief rabbinate,” he said in a statement.