The Jewish community in Ottoman Palestine was represented by its chief rabbi, called the Hakham Rashi or Rishon Le Tziyyon (the First in Zion), who was a Sephardi. The Orthodox Ashkenazim in Ottoman Palestine, who never formed a unified community, resented Sephardi preeminence. The secular European Jews who began to arrive in large numbers after 1882 ignored the constraints of the millet system and the standing of the chief rabbi and his council as best they could.
Under their League of Nations Mandate over Palestine, the British retained this system of religious courts (the Jewish Agency became the political representative of the Yishuv as a whole). In recognition of the growing numerical preponderance of Ashkenazim, however, the British recommended the formation of a joint chief rabbinate, one Sephardi and one Ashkenazi, and a joint chief rabbinical council. This system was implemented in 1921, together with a hierarchical court structure composed of local courts, regional appellate courts, and the joint Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem.
After the British drove the Turks out of Palestine, the religious courts continued without major change. As the position of Chakham Bashi was vacant, Sir Herbert Samuel, the first high commissioner, appointed a commission to make proposals for establishing a supreme religious authority. The committee recognized the influx of Ashkenazic Jews, who by now outnumbered the Sephardim, and proposed a joint Chief Rabbinate and Chief Rabbinical Council to be selected by a special assembly. In February 1921 the assembly elected Rabbi Avraham Y. Kook as Ashkenazic chief rabbi and Rabbi Yaakov Meir as Sephardic chief rabbi. A hierarchical court structureólocal rabbinical tribunals, an appellate court, and the Joint Supreme Court in Jerusalemówas established. These rabbinical courts were given exclusive jurisdiction in matters of marriage, divorce, alimony, confirmation of wills, and jurisdiction in any other matter of personal status (for example, maintenance, guardianship, legitimation, adoption of minors, and so on) where the parties to the action gave their consent. The Natore Karta and the Agudat Israel objected to this arrangement and vehemently insisted on their own separate rabbinical authorities. These objections were ultimately recognized by the Religious Communities Organization Ordinance, which provided for the overall secular and religious framework of the Jewish Community in Palestine while permitting any Jew to opt out of the Community.
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