For the first time in two decades, candidates from the Religious Zionist community are top contenders for the position of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, and in recent days, several notable rabbinical leaders have joined the effort to promote Rabbi Yaakov Shapira of the flagship Zionist Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav and others to promote Rabbi David Stav, Chairman of the Tzohar organization.
Adding their backing to Rabbi Stav for the post this week were two influential Rabbinical figures – Rabbi Nachum Rabinovich, head of the Maale Adumim Yeshiva, and Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, head of the Tzomet Institute, known for developing halakhically-sound devices for use on Shabbat in hospitals and other institutions. The latter's support is seen as especially significant, as the Tzomet Institute works closely with Hareidi rabbinical leaders in developing modern communication and medical devices that can be used on Shabbat without violating halakhic rules against labor on Shabbat.
As head of Tzohar, Rabbi Stav is responsible for a large network of activists whose goal is to assist secular Israelis to utilize religious services and embrace Jewish life. Among the organization's many programs is supplying rabbis without charge to marry secular couples in a proper halachic manner, and organizing prayer services on Yom Kippur and Purim for secular Israelis, as does Bnei Akiva.
In a letter expressing support for Rabbi Stav. Rabbi Rabinovich wrote that the Tzohar organization is “one of the most important developments in Israeli society in recent years. The members of Tzohar selflessly and without fear present the joy of Torah to the people.” In his letter, Rabbi Rosen wrote that based on Rabbi Stav's experience, background, and beliefs, he is the candidate most likely to make positive changes in the Chief Rabbinate.
Rabbi Shapira is considered a brilliant Torah scholar and has the backing of religious Zionist rabbinic leaders. He is a member of the Chief Rabbinical Council of Israel where he is in a close relationship with hareidi rabbis and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Merkaz Harav Yeshiva has educated many of the foremost rabbinic deans, public servants and IDF officers of the religious Zionist community and sees the Chief Rabbinate as a central part of Zionist ideology.
The last Chief Rabbi who was specifically aligned with the National Religious community was Harav Avraham Shapira z”tl, who was the head of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva for decades. He was Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi from 1983 through 1993 and was the father of Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, who sees his candidacy as a mission in returning the Chief Rabbinate to the days when all sectors of the Israeli population identified with it..