Yosef lobbied members of the electoral committee for the Council of the Chief Rabbinate to vote in favor of his close associate and politically agreed list of rabbis.

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef
Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef at the Western Wall. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has summoned and met with several rabbis in recent weeks to ask them not to run for a place on the Chief Rabbinate Council, an action that could constitute interference in an election to a state body and possibly constitute a criminal violation.

In addition, Yosef met with members of the 150-person electoral committee which elects the council of Chief Rabbi of Nesher, Yitzhak Levi, a close associate and pupil of Yosef’s, another action which violates established ethics regulations for judges and rabbinical judges.

The chief rabbi lobbied the members of the committee not only for the election of Levi, but also for a list of candidates, all of whom are currently serving and who Bayit Yehudi, Shas and United Torah Judaism parties have agreed should be reelected to the council, activity which similarly violates ethics regulations.

Elections for the Chief Rabbinate Council are scheduled for September 5.

The council is the executive arm of the Chief Rabbinate and is empowered to make critical decisions regarding Jewish life in Israel over major issues pertaining to marriage and divorce, kashrut, and other key concerns.

It comprises 17 members, 10 of whom are elected every five years. The other seven serve because of their respective important positions, including the two chief rabbis, the IDF chief rabbi and the municipal chief rabbis of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba.

The 10 elected members are selected by a 150-member electoral committee, each of whom votes for five Sephardi candidates and five Ashkenazi candidates.

The committee comprises 80 rabbis and 70 public representatives who are selected in various ways.

The Movement for Fairness in Government, a good-governance NGO, filed a complaint this week to the Attorney-General’s Office, alleging that Yosef requested from at least three prominent rabbis not to run in the election.

The Jerusalem Post confirmed with one of these rabbis, who requested not to be named, that he had indeed been summoned to the offices of Chief Rabbi Yosef for the purposes of entreating him to withdraw his candidacy.

In addition, a municipal chief rabbi and member of the electoral committee for the Chief Rabbinate Council, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed to the Post that he had met with Yosef privately at the chief rabbi’s request during a rabbinical conference in Kibbutz Lavi this week, where the chief rabbi made clear that he would like the committee member to vote for Rabbi Yitzhak Levi of Nesher.

The committee member said that Yosef had met privately with numerous other members of the electoral committee at the conference to make similar requests, and had also distributed copies of one of his books to the rabbis he met with there.

Several other sources also reported that Yosef held a series of private meetings with numerous rabbis at the conference, including members of the electoral committee, and that he had distributed copies of his book there.

YOSEF HAS already been upbraided for his interference in rabbinical elections in favor of Rabbi Yitzhak Levi. Levi is just 38 years old, and was elected as municipal chief rabbi of Nesher in 2017.

The elections were a dead heat with another candidate, and Yosef then summoned all the members of that electoral committee to private meetings with him to ask them to vote for Levi in the second round. Levi was subsequently elected chief rabbi of Nesher.

Following a complaint, the Ombudsman of the Israeli Judiciary Judge Eliezer Rivlin ruled that Yosef’s intervention had been illegitimate and had violated ethics regulations for rabbinical judges to intervene in elections or political matters.

Yosef was, at the time and until last month, the president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court and a serving rabbinical judge on the court. On July 29, Yosef and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau switched jobs, so that Lau is now president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court and Yosef is president of the Chief Rabbinate Council.

Yosef remains, however, a serving rabbinical judge and head of judicial panels in the Supreme Rabbinical Court.

Attorney Mordechai Eisenberg of the Movement for Fairness in Government argued in his complaint to the Attorney-General’s Office that Yosef’s actions constitute a breach of trust and the improper use of his influence, due to the fact that the rabbis he has lobbied to vote for Levi and for the list of other candidates are subject to him in the rabbinate hierarchy, and in need of his assistance regarding matters relating to their roles as municipal and regional chief rabbis.

Eisenberg told the Post that Yosef’s requests to several rabbis not to run for election could even violate Israel’s election laws, since he is essentially limiting the field of candidates through his influence and by the power of his position as a senior public official.

The Movement for Fairness in Government also issued a complaint regarding a senior adviser to Religious Services Minister David Azoulay, as the adviser has taken an active role in requesting that certain rabbis not run for the council. The adviser also lobbied members of the electoral committee to vote in favor of the list agreed between Bayit Yehudi, Shas, and UTJ.

“My heart hurts when I see many rabbis in Israel acting like a group of evil-doers, [people] with vested interests who have joined with bad people and special interests,” said Eisenberg. “How is there no shame for the theft of the Chief Rabbinate?”

IN LIGHT of these apparent irregularities, Eisenberg and his organization requested that the attorney-general open an investigation or carry out a preliminary examination of the issue, and to postpone the election until the matter has been clarified.

The complaint also demanded that the attorney-general instruct the senior adviser in the religious services ministry to desist from his lobbying.

A spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate said in a partial response that Yosef frequently meets privately with rabbis at rabbinical conferences, as it is an opportune time to discuss various issues with them and to give them a blessing.

The spokesman said that Yosef distributed copies of his book to many rabbis at the conference and not just those who are on the electoral committee.

No response to a request for comment regarding Yosef’s plea that certain rabbis not run for election to the council was received by press time, nor was a response received regarding Yosef’s lobbying of the members of the electoral committee.

The Attorney-General’s Office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post