Although the decision to hold early national elections has extended the terms of office of Israel's two chief rabbis for an additional three months, the race for the posts is in full swing.
Rabbi David Stav, a leading candidate for the position of Ashkenazi chief rabbi, has the backing of several prominent religious Zionist rabbis, including Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, chief rabbi of the Beit El settlement and head of Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva in Jerusalem; Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, founder of yeshivat hesder Har Etzion; and Rabbi Avichai Ronsky, former Israel Defense Forces Chief Rabbi and current rabbi of the Itamar settlement.
Stav, rabbi of the town of Shoham and co-founder and chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical organization, a non-profit association of religious Zionist rabbis whose goal is to present Orthodox Judaism in a way that appeals to less observant Israeli Jews, has related on several occasions that he was not sure he wanted to present his candidacy for the post of chief rabbi.
In the past, Aviner wrote of Stav: "He is a truly great Torah scholar. He has proved himself with great deeds for the sake of Torah and the nation." Aviner further praised Stav for "being able to accommodate those from all walks of life, religious Zionist or ultra-Orthodox, secular or traditional, which is something that we urgently need to learn from and is part of the great vision of the Chief Rabbinate being the top religious authority of the entire nation."
Lichtenstein also considers Stav a leading candidate and wrote: "I can see, from a deep and multifaceted personal acquaintance as well as joint work in different areas and social sectors, that Rabbi Stav has what it takes to successfully cope with the demands of this lofty position for the benefit of the entire public."
Ronsky echoed Lichtenstein's words and said: "Rabbi Stav heads the Tzohar organization, which is known among Jews throughout the world for its varied activities focused on bringing Jews closer to the Torah. I am confident, with God's help, that Rabbi Stav, with his pleasant approach, will be able to create a new reality among our people of love and respect for our Torah, which, in turn will lead to a greater desire to study and implement it."
Tzohar officials pointed out that the backing of these rabbis constitutes only a small portion of what they say is overwhelming support for the rabbi. A statement by the organization said: "We have received the support of many other religious Zionist rabbis, ultra-Orthodox rabbis, senior businessmen and heads of Zionist parties who understand that the upcoming elections for the posts of chief rabbis are critical for the maintenance of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel. If the Chief Rabbinate is not accepted as the highest Jewish religious authority for all secular, religious and traditional Jews, two different tribes will exist that will not share a common identity and culture."
Stav faces a strong challenge, mainly from ultra-Orthodox communities and political parties, who may adamantly oppose his candidacy.
The election scheduled for June 2013 will apparently only be for the position of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, since Shas is preparing legislation that will enable the current Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar to remain in office for an additional term.