Rabbi Ratzon Arusi has announced that he is dropping out of the race for Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel. His withdrawal means six candidates remain in the race, three for the post of Chief Sephardi Rabbi and three for the post of Chief Ashkenazi rabbi.
Earlier in the day, Rabbi Arusi had expressed confidence about his chances to win. “I may have entered the race late, without political backing, but I am getting increasing support… Many on the selection board have called to say they support me,” he told Arutz Sheva.
However, shortly before the polls opened Wednesday afternoon he decided not to run. He told his supporters, “I will continue to act on behalf of Judaism and the Rabbinate wherever I can. It is not the position that matters, but the goal. We will keep consecrating the name of Heaven, and bringing the nation of Israel closer to Torah.”
Rabbi Arusi was one of three hareidi candidates for the post of Sephardi Chief Rabbi, along with Rabbi Yitzchak Yoseph and Rabbi Tzion Boaron. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, currently Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, is the only Religious-Zionist candidate running for that post.
Two other rabbis, Rabbi Eliyahu Aberjil and Rabbi Yehuda Deri, previously dropped out of the race for Chief Sephardi Rabbi as well. The two are believed to have withdrawn their candidacies at the request of renowned Torah scholar Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who is the spiritual leader of the Shas movement. It is not yet known why Rabbi Arusi decided to withdraw his candidacy.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is backing his son Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef in the race.
The race for Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi also saw a late withdrawal. On Monday, Rabbi Eliezer Igra withdrew his candidacy, leaving Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, Rabbi David Stav and Rabbi David Lau to compete for the position. Rabbis Shapira and Stav are both from the Religious-Zionist camp, with Rabbi Lau as the sole hareidi candidate.
Competition this year has been far fiercer than in previous competitions. Analysts have attributed this to a number of factors, including widespread dissatisfaction at the current system, as well as the prospect of an end to more than a decade of hareidi dominance, as a result of the resurgence of the Religious-Zionist Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party - and the sometimes vitriolic backlash this has provoked from certain corners of the hareidi establishment.