The heated political battles in the Chief Rabbinate elections have attracted most of the public's attention recently, but what about the candidates' qualifications to serve as chief rabbis?
A Ynet inquiry reveals that only half of the nominees received their rabbinical ordination certificate after successfully completing a series of written exams, while the rest did it the easy way by taking oral tests or being granted full exemption.
In addition, all four "princes" among the candidates – the sons of former chief rabbis (Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Rabbi David Lau, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Rabbi Yaakov Shapira) – received their rabbinical certificate at the time their fathers headed the system supervising the ordination, and only one of them took a written exam on his way to gain the title of rabbi.
Chief rabbi must hold city rabbi certificate
The Chief Rabbinate's exams and ordination department grants three classes of titles: A "Yoreh Yoreh" certificate – to a recipient recognized as a teacher of the Halacha who successfully completed exams on basic halachic issues; a city rabbi certificate – to a recipient who took tests on additional issues; and a "Yadin Yadin" certificate, the most prestigious and important title, which is required for a person's appointment as a religious judge – to a person who demonstrated sufficient education and proper judgment to be able to render halachic judgments on matters of religious law as it pertains to monetary and property disputes.
In the public service, rabbinical certificates are recognized as parallel to academic degrees for salary ranking and other purposes.
In the past, the ordination process was relatively flexible, and candidates could choose between taking a written exam (relatively difficult tests with documented results) or an oral exam (known as easier and undocumented), and not necessarily official Chief Rabbinate tests.
In addition, until recently rabbis could be exempted from any test and receive an ordination certificate based on an assessment of their knowledge on rabbinical issues in general.
Over the years, supervision has been tightened and now every candidate must take a written exam, unless the Chief Rabbinate Council recognizes him as "a great Torah scholar."
A High Court petition filed by the Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah movement, through Attorney Dr. Aviad Hacohen, against the option of exempting a candidate from taking a test, has yet to be decided. The court even imposed an interim order prohibiting the Chief Rabbinate from using this authority until the court made a decision on the matter.
Although the chief rabbi also serves as president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Appeals – a position parallel to that of the Supreme Court president – he is not required to hold a "Yadin Yadin" certificate. The only condition for running for chief rabbi is a lower-level certificate, which allows its owner to serve as a city rabbi.
Oral exam for chief rabbi's son
All candidates in Wednesday's elections presented an ordination certificate and were approved by the election committee, but half of them got it the easy way, or were given opportunities which appear as a conflict of interest, at least outwardly.
Shas candidate Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, for example, was certified as a city rabbi in 1983 after taking an oral exam, although a written exam has been available since the late 1970s. Those who presented him with the ordination certificate and determined that he was worthy of it were the two chief rabbis at the time – one of whom was his father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Twenty years later it was revealed that his ordination had not been submitted to the approval of the Chief Rabbinate Council, which was required to ratify it in 2006 – without asking him to take another test.
During the term of the next chief rabbis, Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliyahu, the son of the Ashkenazi chief rabbi – Yaakov Shapira – and the son of the Sephardic chief rabbi – Shmuel Eliyahu – were ordained as city rabbis.
The former took an oral exam and was authorized shortly before the end of his father's term (and therefore has no documented results), while the latter passed both written and oral tests. Now they have both been nominated to serve as the next chief rabbis by the power of those certificates.
Rabbi David Lau was ordained as a rabbi in 1993, only one month after his father, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, took office as Ashkenazi chief rabbi. But he, as opposed to the other three "princes" in the race, passed all written exams successfully.
Some do it the hard way
Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, the chief rabbi of Kiryat Ono, was ordained as a city rabbi in 1983 after being exempted from a test on the grounds of being a "great Torah scholar." Rabbi Yehuda Deri, the chief rabbi of Beersheba and brother of Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri, took an oral exam in 1993.
Rabbi Zion Boaron, on the other hand, was ordained as a religious judge in 1982 after a series of written exams; Rabbi David Stav was recognized the same way in 1982 as suitable to serve as a city rabbi and later as a religious judge.
Rabbi Eliezer Igra, who quit the race on Monday, was ordained as a religious judge after passing a written test, and Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel was recognized the same way as a religious judge and city rabbi in 1987.
Some of the information was revealed as part of the Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah petition, which sought to stop what the movement refers to as "the lawlessness in giving out rabbinical ordination certificates in general and city rabbi certificates in particular."
According to the petitioners, it has been revealed that hundreds of rabbis – many of them relatives or associates of Chief Rabbinate officials – received their rabbinical certificates in a shortened procedure, without taking any exams at all, and sometimes through short oral exams which have produced an almost 100% success rate.