What is the Stern Law, Anyway?

A detailed look at the bill for changing the body that selects chief rabbis.

Gil Ronen ,

MK Elazar Stern
MK Elazar Stern
Arutz Sheva

The Stern Law, named for MK Elazar Stern of Tzipi Livni's Hatnua party, would change the makeup of the body that elects Israel's chief rabbis, and includes other changes that are seen as promoting the appointment of Rabbi David Stav as the next Head Ashkenazi rabbi, and religiously liberal rabbis in general.

The bill's first articles determine that the justice minister is the minister in charge of appointing state rabbis, including municipal rabbis, and that this minister is also the one with whom the chief rabbis must consult regarding the appointment of 10 members of the electing body. The law originally defined the religions minister as the one who is in charge of these matters, and this was later amended to the prime minister.

The present justice minister is the secular Tzipi Livni, who chairs Stern's party.

Another change makes it impossible for rabbis who are respected or even world-renowned Torah scholars, but who are not serving in an official state capacity from being appointed as chief rabbis.

The bill determines that the assembly that elects the chief rabbi will be made up of 200 members, 105 of whom will be rabbis and 95 public representatives. This is a change from the present situation, in which there are 150 members, of whom 80 are rabbis and 70 are public representatives.

Hillel Gershuni, who teaches Talmud at Hebrew University, notes in his blog, "Stern changes the proportions so that the rabbis have only a slim advantage, and also widens the body, so that he can add more of 'the right people' to it.”

Another change regards the representation of rabbis of agricultural communities. The present law calls for eight rabbis from moshav-type communities. The new law calls for 10 moshav rabbis and another 10 kibbutz rabbis. Gershuni points to the fact that kibbutzim are leftist almost by definition.

Another section calls for 10 rabbis to be appointed by the (justice) minister, in consultation with the government and chief rabbis. These are “another 10 near-automatic votes for Rabbi Stav,” Gershuni notes.

When it comes to representation of municipal religious councils, Stern's law opts for reduction, instead of expansion. Their number is diminshed  from 18 to 8. Gershuni says this is a well crafted move designed to reduce Shas's influence in the assembly, since the hareidi party is very powerful in the municipal religious councils. However, that is not necessarily going to be the case now that Bayit Yehudi has the Religious Affairs Ministry.

Instead of two ministers, the bill calls for four ministers to be members of the assembly – preferably women. Gershuni notes that the female ministers currently in the government are all in favor of the relatively religiously-liberal Stav.

Instead of 5 MKs, the bill calls for 12 MKs to be appointed – 8 of them women.

In addition, 12 representatives of the public are to be appointed – 8 of them women.

Twelve more women are to be appointed “from women's organizations that operate in fields having to do with the roles of the chief rabbis.” Gershuni calls this “a whitewashed name for organizations that usually operate against the Chief Rabbinate, such as Kolech, Mavoi Satum etc.” These groups are usually funded by ultra-leftist funds like the New Israel Fund.

In addition, 12 female rabbinical advocates (toanot) or female lawyers are to be appointed. “Again,” says Gershuni, “it is clear from what side of the map they will hail from.”