Who are the most influential rabbis in Israel? According to Channel 10, it is the group of “Lithuanian” rabbis led by Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the 99-year-old dean of the Bnei Brak yeshiva world.
The term “Lithuanian,” when applied to the hareidi religious world, generally refers to the community of high-level yeshivas in Bnei Brak, Jerusalem, and elsewhere, including the Ponevezh Yeshiva, Mirrer Yeshiva, and others - as opposed to the hassidic-Ashkenazic stream.
Influential, in this case, means being a leader who is taken very seriously by members of the group in question. While the stereotypical view is that hassidim – the other segment of the hareidi religious community – are loyal to their leaders, known as rebbes, the reality is that there are many subgroups among hassidic groups, as well as many localized loyalties. Thus, even in a large group like Gerrer hassidim there could be numerous leaders, although all will owe their allegiance to the Gerrer Rebbe. But in terms of direct influence on the lives of members, the Lithuanian rabbis, led by Rabbi Shteinman, are the most influential. Also very important in the community, said the report, is Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.
Until perhaps a few years – or even months – ago discerning who the top rabbinic leader was would have been more difficult, but with the passing of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, long-latent leadership issues are emerging, as the Sephardic religious Zionist and hareidi communities – and subgroups among them – begin to splinter along various ideological and social divides. Some have coalesced behind Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, Chief Sephardic Rabbi and a son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, but his leadership is far from being as widely accepted as his father's was. Other leaders have emerged across a spectrum of observance level, loyalty to various halachic points of view, attitudes to Zionism, and so on.
In the religious-Zionist community, loyalties tend to be more widely divided, and there is no real single leader – or even ideological group – that commands the loyalties of the large majority of the community. Nevertheless, several dominant groups, surrounding Rabbi Dov Lior and Rabbi Zvi Tau, have emerged.
The prospects for the emergence of a dominant figure in the near term of the stature of Ovadia Yosef, former Chief Rabbis Shlomo Goren, Mordechai Eliyahu, or Avraham Shapira, is unlikely, Channel 10 believes.