Chief Rabbinate of Israel
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel (Hebrew: הרבנות הראשית לישראל, Ha-Rabanut Ha-Rashit Li-Yisra'el) is recognized by law as the supreme rabbinic and spiritual authority for Judaism in Israel. The Chief Rabbinate Council assists the two chief rabbis, who alternate in its presidency. It has legal and administrative authority to organize religious arrangements for Israel's Jews. It also responds to halakhic questions submitted by Jewish public bodies in the Diaspora. The Council sets, guides and supervises agencies within its authority.
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel consists of two Chief Rabbis: an Ashkenazi rabbi and a Sephardi rabbi, also known as the Rishon leZion. The Chief Rabbis are elected for 10 year terms. The present Sephardi Chief Rabbi is Yitzhak Yosef and the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi is David Lau, both of whom commenced their terms in 2013.
The Rabbinate has jurisdiction over many aspects of Jewish life in Israel. Its jurisdiction includes personal status issues, such as Jewish marriages and Jewish divorce, as well as Jewish burials, conversion to Judaism, kosher laws and kosher certification, Jewish immigrants to Israel (olim), supervision of Jewish holy sites, working with various ritual baths (mikvaot) and yeshivas, and overseeing Rabbinical courts in Israel.
The Rabbinical courts are part of Israel's judicial system, and are managed by the Ministry of Religious Services. The courts have exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce of Jews and have parallel competence with district courts in matters of personal status, alimony, child support, custody, and inheritance. Religious court verdicts are implemented and enforced—as for the civil court system—by the police, bailiff's office, and other agencies.
The Chief Rabbinate headquarters are located at Beit Yahav building, 80 Yirmiyahu Street, Jerusalem. The former seat of the institution, the Heichal Shlomo building, has been serving since 1992 mainly as a museum.
All religious and personal status matters in Israel are determined by the religious authorities of the recognised confessional communities to which a person belongs. There are Jewish, Muslim and Druze communities and nine officially recognised Christian communities. The organisation is based on the Millet system employed in the Ottoman Empire. In the beginning of the 17th century the title of Rishon LeZion was given to the chief rabbi of Jerusalem. In 1842, the position of "Hakham Bashi", Chief Rabbi of Constantinople who represented the Turkish Jews before the Sultan, and the position of Rishon LeZion which at that time already represented the Old Yishuv before the Sultan, were combined into one position called Rishon LeZion.
During the period of the British Mandate of Palestine, the High Commissioner established the Orthodox Rabbinate, comprising the Rishon LeZion to which was added an Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, which it recognised collectively as the religious authority for the Jewish community. In 1921, Abraham Isaac Kook became the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi and Jacob Meir became the Sephardi Chief Rabbi.
In 1947, David Ben-Gurion and the religious parties reached an agreement, which included an understanding that matters of personal status in Israel would continue to be determined by the existing religious authorities. This arrangement has been termed the status quo agreement and has been maintained despite numerous changes of government since. Under the arrangement, the Mandate period confessional system would continue, with membership in the Jewish community being on the basis of membership of a body called "Knesset Israel", which was a voluntary organization open to Jews. There does not seem to have been any dispute at the time of who was a Jew. Jews could choose not to register with "Knesset Israel". Members of Agudath Israel, for example, chose not to register.
In 1953, rabbinical courts were established with jurisdiction over matters of marriage and divorces of all Jews in Israel, nationals and residents. (section 1) It was also provided that marriages and divorces of Jews in Israel would be conducted according to the law of the Torah. (section 2) Since 1953, the rabbinate has only approved religious marriages in Israel conducted in accordance with the Orthodox interpretation of halakha. The only exception to these arrangements was that marriages entered into abroad would be recognised in Israel as valid.
It is the Rabbinate which defines a person's Jewish status, and hence membership in the Jewish confessional community and the reach of its jurisdiction. It applies a strict halakhic interpretation as to membership of the Jewish community.
Pre-Israel religious authority
The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem
- Levi ibn Habib (b. Spain)—ruled from Jerusalem but in 1538, Rabbi Jacob Berab who came from Spain via Egypt, sought to revive the Sanhedrin, in Safed, thus making that city the competing capital of the Jewish community in Palestine. He was opposed and exiled by ibn Habib and the rabbis of Jerusalem but Safed remained the competing capital for a number of years thereafter. Berab was succeeded in Safed by Joseph Caro (b. Spain) who was ordained by him.
- David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra of the Egyptian rabbinate—ruled simultaneously in Jerusalem succeeding ibn Habib. In 1575, Moshe Trani (b. Greece) succeeded Caro in Safed.
- Moshe ben Mordechai Galante of Rome—ruled from Jerusalem
- Haim Vital—succeeded Trani in Safed but moved his rabbinate to Jerusalem which, once again, became the sole capital of Israel. In 1586, the Nahmanides Synagogue was confiscated by the Arabs and the ben Zakkai Synagogue was built in its stead.
- Bezalel Ashkenazi—first chief rabbi to preside in the ben Zakkai Synagogue
- Gedaliah Cordovero
- Yitzhak Gaon?
- Israel Benjamin
- Jacob Zemah (b. Portugal)
- Samuel Garmison (b. Greece)
- Moshe ben Yonatan Galante
- Moshe ibn Habib who came from Greece, a descendant of Levi ibn Habib
- Moshe Hayun
- Avraham Yitzhaki (b. Greece)
- Benjamin Maali
- Elazar Nahum (b. Turkey)
- Nissim Mizrahi
- Yitzhak Rapaport
- Israel Algazy served until 1756
- Raphael Meyuchas ben Shmuel served 1756–1791
- Haim ben Asher
- Yom Tov Algazy—during whose reign, the French armies of Napoleon invaded Palestine. served until 1802
- Moshe Yosef Mordechai Meyuchas served 1802–1805
- Yaakov Aish of the Maghreb
- Yaakov Coral
- Yosef Hazzan (b. Turkey)
- Yom Tov Danon
- Shlomo Suzin—in 1831, Palestine was briefly conquered by Egypt under Muhammad Ali.
- Yonah Navon—Palestine returned to the Ottoman Empire.
- Yehuda Navon
- Avraham Haim Gaggin (b. Turkey)
- Yitzhak Kovo
- Chaim Nissim Abulafia (b. 1795, Tiberias; d. 1860, Jerusalem)
- Haim Hazzan (b. Turkey)
- Avraham Ashkenazi (b. Greece)
- Raphael Panigel (b. Bulgaria)
- Yaakov Shaul Elyashar
- Yaakov Meir
- Eliyahu Moshe Panigel
- Nahman Batito
- Nissim Danon—In 1917, Palestine was occupied by the British. Danon was succeeded as chief rabbi after World War I by Haim Moshe Eliashar who assumed the title of Acting Chief Rabbi.
- Further information: Semikhah
The Chief Rabbinate confers Semikhah (or Semicha, i.e., Rabbinic ordination); "Semikhah from the Rabbanut" is considered amongst the most prestigious of contemporary ordinations. It is granted once the candidate has passed a series of six written tests on specified subjects (Shabbat; Marriage; Family purity and Mikvaot; Kashrut; Aveilut). Additional Semichot—with similar testing requirements—are granted for "Rabbi of the City" (בעל כושר לרבנות שכונה; other relevant areas of Orach Chayim, Yoreh De'ah and Even Ha'ezer) and to Dayanim (laws dealt with in Choshen Mishpat).
List of Chief Rabbis
The current system of a chief rabbinate tied to the workings of the secular state was introduced under British rule, but also had its roots under Turkish Ottoman rule. In Israel there were pre-independence Chief Rabbis and subsequent Chief Rabbis officially sanctioned by the State of Israel.
State of Israel
- Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog (1949–1959)
- Isser Yehuda Unterman (1964–1973)
- Shlomo Goren (1973–1983)
- Avraham Shapira (1983–1993)
- Yisrael Meir Lau (1993–2003)
- Yona Metzger (2003–2013)
- David Lau (2013–present)
- Benzion Uziel (1948–1954)
- Yitzhak Nissim (1955–1973)
- Ovadia Yosef (1973–1983)
- Mordechai Eliyahu (1983–1993)
- Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron (1993–2003)
- Shlomo Amar (2003–2013)
- Yitzhak Yosef (2013–present)
Chief Rabbinate Council
There are five permanent members on the Chief Rabbinate Council. These are:
- The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi (Yona Metzger)
- The Sephardi Chief Rabbi (Shlomo Amar)
- Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv (Yisrael Meir Lau)
- Chief Rabbi of Haifa (Shlomo Chelouche)
- Chief Rabbi of Beersheba (Yehuda Deri)
There are also representatives for the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities:
- "Chief Rabbinate of Israel Law, 5740 (1980)"
- "Haredim Yosef and Lau elected chief rabbis of Israel". J Post. Retrieved 25 April 2016.
- Ministry of Religious Affairs
- A Free People in Our Land: Gender Equality in a Jewish State
- Encyclopedia Judaica—"Levi ben Habib"—vol. 11 col. 99; "Berab, Jacob"—vol. 4 cols. 582–4; "Caro, Joseph"—vol. 5 col. 194; "Galante, Moses (I)"—vol. 7 col. 260; "Ashkenazi, Bezalel"—vol. 3 col. 723; jewishencyclopedia.com, "Jerusalem—Jacob Berab and ibn Habib"
- Encyclopedia Judaica—"Cordovero, Gedaliah—vol. 5 col. 967
- Encyclopedia Judaica—"Benjamin, Baruch"—vol. 4 col. 527; "Benjamin, Israel"—vol. 4 col. 528
- http://jewishencyclopedia.com, "Jerusalem—Solomon al-Gazi's Description"
- Encyclopedia Judaica—"Garmison, Samuel"—vol. 7 col. 329
- Encyclopedia Judaica—"Rishon Le-Zion" vol. 14 col. 193; jewishencyclopedia.com, "Jerusalem—In the Eighteenth Century" "In the Nineteenth Century" "Albert Cohn and Ludwig Frankl"
- Encyclopedia Judaica "Jews of Jerusalem" "Institutions"; Encyclopedia Judaica—"Israel, State of"—Religious Life and Communities—vol. 9 cols. 889–90
- Laredo, Abraham Isaac. Les noms des Juifs du Maroc, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Instituto "B. Arias Montano," 1978. pg. 184
- "Chief Rabbinate:Rabbi Elituv in First Place". 2008-09-23. Retrieved 2008-09-23.
- "Ashkenazi haredim lose majority in Chief Rabbinate membership vote". The Jerusalem Post. 2008-09-23. Retrieved 2008-09-23.