Habayit Hayehudi is likely to back Rabbi Yaakov Ariel for the position of chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel. Ariel, who currently serves as the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, is considered a prominent figure in the religious Zionist community.
Sources privy to the party's efforts on his behalf told Israel Hayom that the other religious Zionist rabbis vying for the position have been told that if Ariel agrees to run, they are expected to withdraw from the race.
The terms in office for Israel's two chief rabbis, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar, were set to end in January but were extended by three months beyond the general elections. Ariel, 76, vied for the position of chief rabbi in 2003 but lost to Metzger.
Rabbi Haim Druckman, who is venerated as the spiritual leader of the religious Zionist sector, has endorsed Ariel. Druckman — Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett's spiritual patron — has reportedly been asked to weigh in on the matter in an attempt to help Bennett decide between his three leading candidates: rabbis Eliezer Igra, David Stav and Yaakov Shapira.
The endorsement comes against the backdrop of internal clashes between the nationalist-haredi stream, which is considered more devout; and the more liberal religious stream, over the identity of the new chief Ashkenazi rabbi.
Ariel's nomination represents a compromise, as he is both a known halachic authority whose rulings are acceptable in the more conservative circles, and he serves and the halachic authority of the Tzohar rabbinical organization, which is popular among secular Israelis.
'New legislation required'
Israel's two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi, are elected once every 10 years by a special committee appointed by the Chief Rabbinate. The committee, which comprises 150 members, includes 80 chief municipal rabbis, religious judges, the chief military rabbi and several mayors, council heads and Knesset members.
Habayit Hayehudi has been scrambling to present a candidate, raising concerns that it may lose the spot to one of the haredi candidates, such as Rabbi David Lau, the chief rabbi of Modiin and son of former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.
One of the problems that may hinder Ariel's nomination is his age, as according to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel Law, candidates vying for the position of chief rabbi cannot be older than 70.
Sources in Habayit Hayehudi told Israel Hayom, "We have a lot of ground to cover before Ariel can be named chief rabbi," but stressed that "if the notion wasn't applicable it wouldn't be pursued."
The party, however, maintains that if Shas is willing to push for a second term for Amar despite the law, it will push for a change in legislation to facilitate Ariel's nomination. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the heads of the various Knesset factions would have to approve the amendment, as well.
Such a move would also require the support of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. "Rabbi Yosef agreed to support Rabbi Ariel when he ran against Rabbi Metzger in the past, but then decided to give in to the haredim. Rabbi Yosef believes Rabbi Ariel is a worthy man," a Shas source told Israel Hayom.
Druckman told Israel Hayom, "Rabbi Ariel is a cut above the rest and he is most worthy of the position of chief rabbi." As for the potential problem in his nomination, Druckman said, "We are aware of this issue and we trust that we can resolve it. I have no doubt this [nomination] will come to fruition."
Ariel, however, told Israel Hayom he learned of his potential nomination from the media.
"An agreed-upon religious Zionist candidate will increase the chances that for the first time in a long time a rabbi representing this sector will be elected," said Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Habayit Hayehudi).
A source in Amar's office said, "The rabbi is a man of Torah and Halachah and he does not comment on such matters."