Rabbi Dov Lior
Rabbi Dov LiorUri Lenz/Flash 90

Rabbi Dov Lior has stepped down from his position as chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba, located adjacent to Hevron in Judea, in a surprising announcement to the religious council that comes after 37 years serving in the post.

After the rabbi steps down, the Religious Affairs Ministry is to decide on a replacement to serve as chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba.

An aide to the rabbi confirmed that Rabbi Lior would be stepping down, speaking on Sunday to Kikar Hashabat and saying "the rabbi has reached 80 and therefore decided to leave his post and move to Jerusalem."

"The rabbi doesn't intend to serve in a public position in Jerusalem and not even in a private position (of a community rabbi), but rather intends to continue dealing with halakhic (Jewish legal) questions from people and giving them answers," added the aide.

Rabbi Lior is to move to the Beit Orot neighborhood of Jerusalem, located east of the Old City and to the north of the Mount of Olives, immediately after Hanukkah in December. He bought property in the neighborhood two years ago.

The rabbi has been a strong leader in the religious Zionist community, issuing a Halakhic ruling in 2008 forbidding renting a house to Arabs in Israel or employing Arab workers according to Jewish law, given the Arabs' status of enmity and occupation of the land of Israel.

While he backed the Tekuma Knesset party for many years, in the 2013 elections he split from the group after it joined with Jewish Home, instead throwing his weight behind the Otzma Leyisrael party that did not pass the threshold for making it into the Knesset.

Rabbi Lior has recently been very critical of a new Conversion Bill by the leftist Hatnua party, a bill from which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently withdrew his support in what is considered to be a political move ahead of possible early elections.

The bill threatened to remove Chief Rabbinate supervision of conversions to Judaism, prompting rabbis outside Israel to warn that they would not be able to accept an Israeli conversion.

Speaking in a rabbinical conference last month on the bill, Rabbi Lior was quoted by Srugim as saying "many years ago (Yitzhak) Rabin's government fell due to a desecration of the Shabbat in bringing American planes. In this case of the Conversion Bill, that problem is much larger."

In December 1976, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin broke apart his coalition with the Mafdal religious Zionist party over tensions, after an IAF ceremony at an airbase welcoming the arrival of the first three F-15 fighter jets to Israel desecrated the Sabbath.

"While the Shabbat desecration was a one time incident, the Conversion Bill in its current formation harms the essence and holiness of the nation of Israel for generations," warned Rabbi Lior. "People will need to use genealogy books to know whom they can marry."

"They brought complete non-Jews to Israel on the Right of Return Law, and now instead of solving the source of the problem, they are trying to change conversion," added the rabbi.

Rabbi Lior's move to the Mount of Olives - one of the focal points for anti-Jewish violence by Arab extremists - comes just days after it was revealed that Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) was considering a move to the City of David in the Silwan neighborhood, in solidarity with embattled Jewish residents there.