Battle over Knesset bill to create one chief rabbi of Israel

David Lau, Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi

David Lau, Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi

Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, David Lau, has angrily rejected a proposed Knesset bill that would combine the separate Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbi positions into a single role.

Rabbi Lau argued that Israel should not break from tradition and that it was still necessary to maintain “two rabbis of an equal standing, like in the times of the Tannaim Abtalion and Shmaya”.

He said: “The workload for the chief rabbis is heavy already. There is no justification for such a move, which will just harm the rabbinate's ability to deliver religious services.”

Some weeks prior to Rabbi Lau’s statement, Justice Minister and head of negotiations with the Palestinians Tzipi Livni spoke out firmly in favour of having only one Chief Rabbi for Israel.

“Israel has one prime minister, one president, one Supreme Court president, and one chief of staff – it is time for one rabbi for one nation.

“It is time for Israel to have one chief rabbi who will unite all the separate segments of Israeli society, a rabbinate that will provide services to all ethnicities of Israel instead of a country that preserves official – and antiquated – separation of ethnicities,” said Ms Livni.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett agreed with Ms Livni. He said: “It's a move that symbolises unity in the nation.”

“Today, when Ashkenazi marry Sephardi, there is no reason for two chief rabbis. Just like there is one chief rabbi in the IDF, and there are no separated positions for Ashkenazi and Sephardi in any sector, there is no reason that things will be different for the role of chief rabbi,” he added.

The main sponsors of the bill in the Knesset, Moshe Feiglin of Likud and Charedi Rabbi Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid, said their plan “carries a message of unity” and would end the principle of separation that exists in the diaspora.

Last updated: 11:08am, December 3 2013