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Monday, December 24, 2012

Pro-women's group surprisingly backs conservative candidate for chief rabbi

An advocacy group for women whose husbands refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce expressed surprising, if guarded, support Sunday for a candidate for Ashkenazi chief rabbi who is considered relatively conservative, rather than for a leader of the more liberal Tzohar rabbinical group.

Mavoi Satum said Sunday that it would consider backing Rabbi Eliezer Igra, a member of the Be'er Sheva Rabbinical Court who for the past few months has also been serving as a temporary appointee to the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem.

Igra is the most senior rabbinic court judge, or dayan, in the state system who is affiliated with the religious Zionist community, and is thought to be the preferred candidate of many rabbis from the more conservative wing of religious Zionism.

Mavoi Satum director Batya Kahana-Dror explained the group's preference for Igra over Rabbi David Stav, the chairman of Tzohar, by citing Igra's vast experience in the rabbinic court system.

"Because Rabbi Igra is a veteran dayan with extensive experience in the realm of the rabbinical courts, we would be happy to support him, on the condition that he promises to implement the acutely needed systemic changes to the [rabbinic court] system; to promulgate regulations to prevent instances of extortion and abuse in divorce cases; to apply halakhic solutions; and to closely monitor the rabbinic court rulings and the scandalous procedures being conducted there," Kahana-Dror told Haaretz.

"Unfortunately, to date the rabbis of Tzohar have yet to prove themselves in this area," she said. "Despite the vast power they hold they have avoided working toward broad solutions, such as promoting prenuptial agreements that could prevent thousands of women from being refused divorces every year."

Three contenders

While elections for chief rabbi will not be held for another six months, there are already three religious Zionist rabbis contending for the post of Ashkenazi chief rabbi: Stav, Igra and Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, the head of Mercaz Harav Yeshiva.

Whoever emerges as the front-runner will confront two other candidates with good chances of winning ultra-Orthodox support: Rabbi David Lau, the rabbi of Modi'in, and Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman, rabbi of Migdal Ha'emek.

The prospects for the next Sephardi chief rabbi are unclear, because if the Knesset amends the law to allow a chief rabbi to serve a second 10-year term, the incumbent, Shlomo Amar, is likely to run for reelection.

The religious newspaper Makor Rishon published a letter Friday that was signed by 27 rabbis who called on "our rabbis, public leaders, bearers of the burden of Torah, to work toward running a candidate who is agreed upon publicly by the entire religious Zionist public." Although Igra's name was not mentioned in the letter, the move was interpreted as support for his candidacy, since the organizers of the letter are seen as being among his supporters. Most of the signatories were from the more conservative wing of the religious Zionist public.

While Stav himself refused to comment for this report, his associates note that the letter that appeared in Makor Rishon was not a letter of support for Igra, and that at least 10 of the 27 signatories have clarified that they actually support Stav.

Meanwhile, Stav has also been collecting signatures, and last week he issued a list of supporters that included three leading religious Zionist rabbis: Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, head of Yeshivat Har Etzion; Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, the former chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces; and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the rabbi of Beit El, who is seen as a member of the conservative camp.   Aviner, however, has since withdrawn his support of Stav, saying that since he signed the letter, "Things that [Stav] said and wrote that to me seem irregular were brought to my attention."

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