Rabbi A. Stern
Rabbi A. SternIsrael news photo

Rabbi Aryeh Stern, head of the Halakha Berurah Institute in Jerusalem and associated with Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav Kook, is the religious-Zionist candidate for Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. No date has yet been set for the election.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat phoned Rabbi Stern to congratulate him shortly after the results of the vote became known. Barkat has come out strongly in favor of a religious-Zionist candidate for the position of Chief Rabbi.

Unity: A Smart Strategic Move

Facing stiff competition from the hareidi-religious camp, the religious-Zionist sector made sure to arrange for the official selection of one agreed-upon candidate. Some 60 leading rabbis from around the country, representing different shades of the religious-Zionist sector, comprised the electoral body.

In Thursday's vote, some 35 rabbis took part, giving Rabbi Stern a narrow one-vote margin of victory over Rabbi Yosef Carmel, the head of the Eretz Hemda Kollel. Other candidates received far fewer votes. A second vote was then taken, choosing Rabbi Stern unanimously.

Cooperation with the Sephardic Camp

The religious-Zionist public will not be fielding a candidate for the position of Sephardic Chief Rabbi, as part of a "deal" with the Sephardic public, led by Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. Under the arrangement, the religious-Zionist public is to support the Shas candidate for Sephardic Rabbi – probably one of the Talmudic scholar sons of Rabbi Ovadiah – while the Shas camp is to back the religious-Zionist candidate.

A source close to the voting said that both Mayor Barkat and Rabbi Yosef realize the significance of having an agreed-upon candidate chosen by the religious-Zionist camp, and "this can be expected to contribute to their support for Rabbi Stern."

"I am of the opinion that a Chief Rabbi from the Zionist sector is critical in a city where 70% of the population is not hareidi, and has unique needs of its own," Mayor Barkat has said.

The hareidi-religious camp is likely to field Rabbi Yitzchak David Grossman of Migdal HaEmek as its candidate, though are others are in the running as well. 

Rabbi Stern Speaks

Asked what would be the main challenges he would face if elected as Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Stern told Israel National News, "The challenge is to present a warm and loving rabbinate that is understanding of the public, and at the same time to provide both practical and spiritual leadership. For instance, the weak kashrut supervision in the city is a problem specifically for the religious-Zionist public, which wishes to be led by the Rabbinate and not by private hareidi rabbinical courts. This is something that must be improved.  At the same time, there must be a central rabbinic leadership, which I would hope to lead with the help of the many strong rabbinic forces in the city, such as the rabbis of Har Homa, Pisgat Ze'ev, Gilo, Ramot and other neighborhoods.  The public must be able to feel confident that it has a central, agreed-upon leadership. We are in a generation of the Ingathering of the Exiles, and new winds are blowing, and we have to know which of them are acceptable, and to which we must say no."

Rabbi Stern, 65, married with seven children, studied in the Yishuv Yeshiva in Tel Aviv during his high school years, and later in Merkaz HaRav Kook. Together with Rabbi Yochanan Fried, he started – and heads until today – the Halakha Berurah Institute, where scholars trace the development of Jewish Law and connect it with the relevant sugyot (passages) of the Talmud. This, in accordance with a plan proposed by Rabbi A. I. Kook to publish the entire Talmud with the relevant Jewish Law rulings and how they relate to the 2,000-year-old rabbinic discussions.

The institute was originally housed in the building known as Beit HaRav – where Rabbi Kook lived and where the yeshiva originally started. When the yeshiva moved to its present location in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, it was followed soon after by Halacha Brurah. Rabbis Stern and Fried then promised Rabbi Kook's son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, who was Dean of the yeshiva, that they would make sure to continue disseminating his father's teachings from the original building. Today, Beit HaRav houses a major educational complex, including a museum and classes, for the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook.

Rabbi Stern headed the Yeshiva High School in Rehovot for a year, helped found the Merhavim Institute, has taught in several hesder yeshivot, and serves as rabbi of a Jerusalem congregation.

Six Years Without a Rabbi

Jerusalem has not had a Chief Rabbi since 2003, when Rabbi Shalom Mashash died in office after serving as the city's Chief Sephardic Rabbi for 25 years. Rabbi Yitzchak Kulitz was the city's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi from 1983 until 2001; he resigned because of illness, and died the next year.