MK Zevulun Kalfa
MK Zevulun Kalfa Israel news photo: Flash 90

A deal between Shas and Bayit Yehudi for the appointment of the Ashkenazi and Sephardic chief rabbis has turned into a Knesset bill, submitted by MK Zevulun Kalfa (Bayit Yehudi).

The bill removes the 70-year age limit for appointment of chief rabbis, making it possible to appoint Rabbi Yaakov Ariel.

The deal would see Rabbi Shlomo Amar continue in his current position as Sephardic chief rabbi, and Rabbi Ariel appointed as Ashkenazi rabbi, replacing Rabbi Yonah Metzger.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of Shas, has reportedly agreed to the deal.

Opposing streams within Bayit Yehudi appear to be tugging in opposite directions as regards the appointment of the next chief rabbis. Certain MKs, like MK Kalfa, support the Ariel-Amar deal, while others would like to see the more liberal Rabbi David Stav appointed.

Supporters of Rabbi Stav want to pass a law that would enlarge the body that selects chief rabbis, from about 150 people to 200 people. Most of the new members will be women and others will be public officials. The law was proposed by MK Elazar Stern, from Tzipi Livni's movement, and is sometimes referred to as the Stern Law.

Informed observers estimated that Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett thinks the Amar-Ariel deal will not pass in the Knesset, but is under heavy pressure from rabbinical circles to support it. According to this analysis, he may opt to throw his weight behind it, just to show the rabbis that he has tried to honor their requests – and then, after it fails, push forward with the law that would add women to the appointing body, thus paving the way for Rabbi Stav's selection.

Traditionalist rabbis are vehemently opposed to the Stern Law. They are concerned that it will lead, in the future, to the appointment of rabbis from the Conservative and Reform streams.