Chief Rabbinate of Israel

The Western Wall (Kotel in Hebrew) is under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel (Hebrew: הרבנות הראשית לישראל, Ha-Rabanut Ha-Rashit Li-Yisra'el) is recognized by law[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4] 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

Further information: Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem

Rishon LeZion 1665–1842[10]

The Hakham Bashi 1842–1918[11]


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.

Mandatory Palestine


Chief Rabbis Herzog (Ashkenazi) and Uziel (Sephardi) visiting an IDF camp in the 1950s.


State of Israel


Rabbi David Lau, b. 1966, elected in 2013 as Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi


Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, b. 1952, elected in 2013 as Sephardi Chief Rabbi

Chief Rabbinate Council

Internal elections were held on September 23, 2008.[13][14]

There are five permanent members on the Chief Rabbinate Council. These are:

There are also representatives for the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities:

Ashkenazi representatives

Sephardi representatives

See also


  1. "Chief Rabbinate of Israel Law, 5740 (1980)"
  2. "Haredim Yosef and Lau elected chief rabbis of Israel". J Post. Retrieved 25 April 2016.
  3. Ministry of Religious Affairs
  4. A Free People in Our Land: Gender Equality in a Jewish State
  5. 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;, "Jerusalem—Jacob Berab and ibn Habib"
  6. Encyclopedia Judaica—"Cordovero, Gedaliah—vol. 5 col. 967
  7. Encyclopedia Judaica—"Benjamin, Baruch"—vol. 4 col. 527; "Benjamin, Israel"—vol. 4 col. 528
  8., "Jerusalem—Solomon al-Gazi's Description"
  9. Encyclopedia Judaica—"Garmison, Samuel"—vol. 7 col. 329
  10. Encyclopedia Judaica—"Rishon Le-Zion" vol. 14 col. 193;, "Jerusalem—In the Eighteenth Century" "In the Nineteenth Century" "Albert Cohn and Ludwig Frankl"
  11. Encyclopedia Judaica "Jews of Jerusalem" "Institutions"; Encyclopedia Judaica—"Israel, State of"—Religious Life and Communities—vol. 9 cols. 889–90
  12. Laredo, Abraham Isaac. Les noms des Juifs du Maroc, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Instituto "B. Arias Montano," 1978. pg. 184
  13. "Chief Rabbinate:Rabbi Elituv in First Place". 2008-09-23. Retrieved 2008-09-23.
  14. "Ashkenazi haredim lose majority in Chief Rabbinate membership vote". The Jerusalem Post. 2008-09-23. Retrieved 2008-09-23.

External links

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