Rabbinate (Chief) of Israel

   The origins of the institution of the chief rabbinate of Israel date back to when Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire. According to Ottoman regulations, the sultan would appoint one eminent Turkish rabbi as chief rabbi of the Jews of the Ottoman Empire, which included Palestine. Residing in Constantinople and bearing the title Hakham (Haham) Bashi (literally, "chief sage"), he was the official spokesman of the Jewish community to the authorities, and by firman (the Sultan's command), he exercised broad authority over all the religious activities and spiritual concerns of members of the Jewish community throughout the Ottoman Empire. The Hakham Bashi of Jerusalem had the title Rishon Le Zion (First in Zion). The Rishon Le Zion gradually came to assume authority over all the religious affairs of the Jews of Palestine. The post of Hakham Bashi was always held by a rabbi of the Sephardi (see ORIENTAL JEWS) community in Jerusalem, which originally constituted the majority of the Yishuv.
   Sir Herbert Samuel, the first high commissioner for Palestine, appointed a commission headed by Norman Bentwich, then legal secretary of the mandatory government, which recommended the establishment of an electoral college of 100 members to choose two chief rabbis and a Council of the Chief Rabbinate. In 1921, the electoral college met in Jerusalem, and it elected Rabbis Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook and Yaakov Meir as chief rabbis and presidents of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate of Palestine. The mandatory government accepted the newly organized Chief Rabbinate of Palestine as exercising sole jurisdiction in matters of personal status. The office of Hakham Bashi was abolished, and the judgments of the chief rabbinate were enforced by the civil courts. The powers of the chief rabbinate were redefined in the 1928 regulations of Knesset Yisrael, which divided its authority between an Ashkenazi chief rabbi and a Sephardi chief rabbi. Membership in the Chief Rabbinate Council was also equally divided between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities. On 12 January 1936, new elections were held, and Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog was chosen Ashkenazi chief rabbi and Rabbi Meir reelected Sephardi chief rabbi. As Rabbi Meir was ill, Rabbi Ben Zion Meir Hay Uziel was elected his acting representative. In 1945, Chief Rabbis Herzog and Uziel were reelected.
   After the independence of Israel, the first elections for the Council of the Chief Rabbinate were held in March 1955. Chief Rabbi Her-zog was reelected, and Rabbi Yitzhak Rahamim Nissim was chosen to replace Rabbi Uziel, who had died in 1953. Ashkenazi chief rabbis have included Kook, Herzog, Issar Yehuda Unterman, Shlomo Goren, Avraham Elkana Kahana-Shapiro, Yisrael Meir Lau, and Yonah Metzger (since 2002). Sephardi chief rabbis have included Meir, Uziel, Nissim, Ovadia Yosef, Mordechai Eliyahu, Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, and Shlomo Amar (since 2002).
   The rabbinate deals with all matters of personal status, matrimony, and burial among the Jews of Israel and regulates the public observance of Kashrut (dietary laws) and the Sabbath. The Conservative and Progressive/Reform Jewish Movements are not represented in the chief rabbinate, and their rabbis are not recognized for purposes of performing various rituals governed by law, such as marriage and conversions.
   See also Halacha.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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