JERUSALEM (Feb. 21)
After a campaign marred by mudslinging and allegations of romantic misconduct, the nation’s two new chief rabbis were elected Sunday for 10-year terms.
A 150-member council, made up of both rabbis and secular political leaders, elected Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau of Tel Aviv as Ashkenazic chief rabbi and Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron of Haifa as Sephardic chief rabbi.
Lau’s victory to succeed Rabbi Avraham Shapira as Ashkenazic chief rabbi came following newspaper stories claiming Lau had engaged in improper relationships with women other than his wife.
Lau, a father of eight and a child Holocaust survivor, adamantly denied the womanizing allegations. He even filed a libel suit against one woman who claimed he had once tried to kiss her more than 10 years ago, when he was chief rabbi of Netanya, a position he held for nine years.
Lau was elected Tel Aviv Ashkenazic rabbi in August 1988, by a panel that for the first time included four women members.
The unprecedented dirty campaign that culminated Sunday prompted some Israelis to renew their calls to altogether abolish the state-sponsored institution of the Chief Rabbinate.
In the elections, Lau won 71 of the 142 valid votes cast in the battle for the Ashkenazic post and Bakshi-Doron 82 for the Sephardic one.
Rabbi Simcha Kook of Rehovot took second place with 46 votes and Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen of Haifa garnered 25 votes.
In the contest for the Sephardic post, Bakshi-Doron won 82 votes, with Rabbi Haim David Halevi of Tel Aviv coming second with 37 ballots and Rabbi Reuven Abergil of Beersheba collecting 24 votes.
The full 150-member electoral college comprises 80 rabbis and rabbinical court judges, and 70 political and public figures, including mayors, chairmen of religious councils and Knesset members.
VOTE SEEN AS TRIUMPH FOR SHAS
Leaders of Shas, the Orthodox Sephardic party, greeted Bakshi-Doron’s triumph as a major achievement for their party.
After the results were announced, Bakshi-Doron paid his respects to his aged mother and then led a jubilant crowd to the Jerusalem home of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual mentor of the Shas party.
Bakshi-Doron regards himself as one of the most prominent and loyal disciples of Yosef, who himself served as Sephardic chief rabbi from 1973 to 1983.
Within Shas, Bakshi-Doron’s victory is seen as a sort of victory by Yosef against the present incumbent, Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, and against the politicians who pushed for the law, passed in the early 1980s, that limited the tenure of the chief rabbis to a single term of 10 years.
The law brought to an end Yosef’s own term of office. Until then, chief rabbis could be re-elected, and generally were.
Among the Labor Party, key party figures said they now expected Shas Knesset members to line up solidly behind the Labor Party candidate for president of the state, Ezer Weizman, in exchange for the support Labor members of the electoral college had given Bakshi-Doron in the chief rabbinate elections.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met with the Labor members of the electoral college last week and instructed them to vote for Bakshi-Doron.
“I don’t know much about rabbis. But I do know about keeping agreements with partners,” Rabin said.
As for Lau, the new Ashkenazic chief rabbi said in his victory address that he “forgave and absolved everyone” involved in the mudslinging against him during the election campaign.