Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef made an unequivocal decision on Thursday that Shas will not cooperate with Habayit Hayehudi in the process of electing Israel's chief rabbis.
Yosef rejected the deal suggested by national religious rabbi Haim Druckman, under which Habayit Hayehudi would support the "Amar law," which would allow a presiding rabbi to remain in office for an additional term (namely, it would allow current Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Shas' preferred candidate, to serve an additional term), in exchange for Shas' support of a law allowing rabbis over the age of 70 to run for the position. The second law would benefit the national religious favorite and Habayit Hayehudi choice, Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel.
Yosef had harsh words regarding Habayit Hayehudi, telling his associates that they were responsible for "decrees of religious persecution against the haredim (ultra-Orthodox)." Yosef's associates explained that the rabbi was very angry at the religious Zionist camp and that he viewed Habayit Hayehudi as being complicit with a coalition that persecutes the Torah world. They said further that Yosef feels Habayit Hayehudi had joined forces with the haters of the Torah.
"Haredi Judaism is under attack. We mustn't cooperate with our enemies," said a senior Shas source.
Sources within Habayit Hayehudi warned that Yosef's decision not to participate in the plan would cause the haredim to lose their bid for Sephardi chief rabbi, and end up with two national religious rabbis in the chief positions. On Sunday, MK Elazar Stern (Hatnuah) is expected to bring a bill before the ministerial committee on legislation that is expected to win a large majority. The bill, if approved, would change the composition of the 150-member body that elects the chief rabbis, which is widely considered to be controlled by Shas. The new law would change the body's composition to include more women and non-haredim, which could lead them to elect a non-haredi chief Sephardi rabbi as well.
The person who stands to gain from these squabbles is Tzohar founder Rabbi David Stav, as well as Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who are set to become the two leading candidates in the race for the rabbinate. Stav has the support of most parties within the coalition. According to understandings within Habayit Hayehudi, if Rabbi Ariel is not able to run due to his age, Rabbi Stav will receive the support of the religious Zionists.