Ultra-Orthodox Judaism Declares War on Netanyahu
In the morning hours of May 2, 2013, Jerusalem Time, the political news everybody had predicted since the elections in January was announced. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party announced that Arieh Deri is returning to lead the political party. Deri has recently announced his intentions to stand against the ultra-secular government leading Israel while Minister of Finances Yair Lapid made unprecedented antireligious declarations in the Knesset. Jewish-Wars are in the air.
Shas was founded in 1984 by dissident members of Agudat Israel. In the last elections, the party won 11 seats (out of 120) in the Knesset, the same it had in the previous one. Yet, it lost its place in Netanyahu’s secular coalition; this is seen by Shas as a disaster since its educational system depends heavily on its being part of the government.
Netanyahu’s Cowboys Government; Lapid on the right Cowboy Wild
Since its foundation, the party has been under the ideological leadership of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. He was born in 1920 in Iraq. In 1973, he was elected Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, a post that he held for seven years. He is widely recognized as a prominent Talmudic scholar and leading Halakhic (Talmudic Law) authority. Both Shas and Yosef are considered a threat by the secular segments of society.
A Rabbi threatens Israel?
At first, Yosef looks as the epitome of the unholy alliance between Jewish Ultra-Orthodoxy and Zionists; created in the 19th century, this alliance allowed the foundation of the State of Israel. After all, he was the first prominent rabbi to proclaim himself “Zionist.”*
Yet, two other parts of his doctrine transform him into undesirable in the eyes of Jewish secularists. First, he opposes a secular state. Yosef opposes bringing civil actions to Israeli courts because they decide outcomes by applying Israeli law rather than Jewish-Halakha. Rejecting the legal system equals rejecting the foundations of the State of Israel, and thus discloses the party’s intention of founding a future Halakhic state, based on the Talmud.
Second, he is promoting a cultural unification of the various Jewish liturgical traditions. This is extremely important; he preaches the unification of all traditions according to the “Shulchan Aruch” published by Yosef Karo in 1563. The name means “Set Table” and is the most extensive Code of Jewish Law. It generally follows Sephardi traditions. Shortly afterwards, Rabbi Moses Isserles published his notes to the “set table,” usually known as “mappah” (tablecloth). The combination is an acceptable way of solving liturgical discrepancies among the bulk of Jews, namely Sephardic and Ashkenazi. This scares the State to death; as often analyzed in this website, Israel favors policies of “Divide and Rule.” Unification of Jewish traditions is a real threat to the Humanist-fanatic state.
Shas Elections Poster Featuring Avigdor Lieberman, note the “kipah” skullcap Knowing the people involved, one can’t but laugh at the sting. Shas is an Israeli ultra-orthodox religious political party representing Sephardic and Mizrahi Haredi Jews; Avigdor Lieberman represents Russian immigrants, occupies the second place in the Likud Beiteinu list after Netanyahu and is ultra-secular. He is what Shas-voters will call in a derogative manner a “hyrax-eater.” The latter are not kosher; thus this equals to calling him a pagan. He is unlikely to put a kipah upon his head unless threatened with a weapon; in that case, he wouldn’t be smiling the way he does in the poster. Text reads: “Only a strong Shas will prevent assimilation.”
Since the late 1980s, Shas has been targeted by the State of Israel as an undesirable party. Since its views are legal, the State adopted a different tactic: entrapment. In the Zionist Paradise, entrapment is the State’s favorite way of achieving revenge, its highest value. Shas got political prominence thanks to a charismatic follower of Ovadia Yosef. Aryeh Deri became the political leader of Shas and a government minister at the age of 24. His becoming prime minister in the near future seemed a fact. Alas, in 2000, he was entrapped in a bribe affair and sent to jail. He was replaced by Eli Yishai, who lacks the charisma of Deri. Shas strength deteriorated. Other leaders of the party were framed using similar tactics; nobody had warned them that the State uses illegitimate means.
In late 2012, Deri decided to return to politics, and was placed second on Shas’ list behind Eli Yishai. Regardless of the situation, Deri makes smart decisions. Shas campaign is not centering on his return despite its being the main news of this campaign but in the evils of the secular state. On December 27, 2012, Aryeh Deri said about Likud, “once the party of the people, it has turned into an arrogant and haughty party that represents Russians and whites,” and cost Netanyahu’s party valuable votes. Lieberman with a “kipah,” Netanyahu as a leader obtuse to social needs. “Revenge” is the word, “religious war” is the reality.
Since Deri returned, Shas had been led by a troika. Yishai, Deri, and Atias (see picture above) had an equal weight on political decisions despite Yishai formally keeping remaining head of the party. Following their failure to increase power in the elections and their remaining out of Netanyahu’s government, Yishai’s fate was set. A journalist described their recent relations as “they were stabbing each other occasionally with short knives; now they are using axes.” Deri will be from now head of the party, Atias will lead the list in the Knesset, and Yishai was demoted to be the director of the party’s educational system (in Israel, education is defined by “streams,” like secular, socialist, Ultra-Orthodox, Arabic, and others). Deri is in a desperate quest to save the party.
“I don’t keep the Sabbath”
In the last days of April, Netanyahu’s government faced a vote of no confidence due to its proposed budget. This is a regular festival that follows every attempt of the government to pass a budget. In fact, the government passes two laws. One contains the budget proper and is called the Budget Law. The second is known as the “Arrangements Law” (Hok HaHesderim), though its formal name is “Economic Policy Law;” this highly controversial law “fixes” existing laws so that the budget would be legal. This farce is what happens in countries without a Constitution. This year the festival was different since the Ultra-Orthodox parties, including Shas, voted against the government.
The festival became a scandal, when an Ultra-Orthodox Member of the Knesset, shout towards the Minister of Finances Lapid “you update your Facebook status during the Sabbath.” Regardless most of them being proud “hyrax-eaters,” government ministers had always been carefull to keep at least an external image of being good Jews. Lapid shocked everybody by saying, while giving a formal speech on the State Budget, “I don’t keep the Sabbath.”
The event was so shocking that it was defined using Judges 15:8 “And he smote them hip and thigh.” The English translation is rather soft. The original Hebrew is better translated as: “he hit their legs on their thighs;” this is an idiom used to denote a complete victory. The new budget cuts a significant percentage of the State allowance to Ultra-Orthodox families. Moreover, later this year there are Chief Rabbi’s elections. Yosef’s favorite candidate, Shlomo Amar, requires a change of legislation since he already holds the title. Yet, Netanyahu’s coalition opposes the change.
The Ultra-Orthodox waked up. They understood that the situation is serious. In recent months, there were talks that Deri would run for mayor of Jerusalem in the October municipal elections. Not any more. Rabbi Yosef called an urgent meeting of the religious leadership of Shas. Deri was said to have met with him privately and having exhorted the rabbi to reach a decision on the leadership. Today’s answer was clear, Rabbi Yosef decided to “Restore the Crown to its Old State”* by returning Deri to the leadership.
If Netanyhau’s government survives, the Ultra-Orthodoxy will need to take a painful decision. One option would be to “secularize,” accepting draft to the IDF and joining the outrageous educational system of the State. The other option would be to create an autonomic enclave within the State based upon help from the Ultra-Orthodox communities of Europe and the USA, which are extremely wealthy. This second option is probably the path to be favored.
* “Restoring the Crown to its Old State” (“Leahzir Atara LeYoshna”) was the party’s slogan during its first years; it’s an excellent summary of his views. It means restoring the pride of Mizrahi Jews, which suffer from discrimination in Israel; it also means rejecting Kabbalah wherever it contradicts earlier writings; in other words, he isn’t a mystic. Yosef holds a Halakhically ambivalent view towards Zionism, considering it “Atchalta D’Geula” (“Redemption’s Beginning” in Aramaic). In 2010, Rabbi Yosef and Shas’ “Moetzet Chachamei HaTorah” (Council of Torah-Sages) approved the party’s membership in the World Zionist Organization, transforming it into the first Zionist-Haredi party in Israel. Yet, that’s only due to political interests. In an interview, Yosef said, “What is a Zionist? By our understanding, a Zionist is a person who loves Zion and practices the commandment of settling the land. Whenever I am overseas, I encourage Aliyah [immigration to Israel]. In what way are they more Zionist than us?”
Roi Tov is a graduate—among others—of Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition to his memoir, Tov is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular Physics and other scientific journals. He won various travel writing and photography awards.
In his writings, he tries to reveal life in Israel as a Christian Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer—from human rights violations to the use of an extensive network of underground agents. He was recognized first as a refugee and subsequently as political prisoner of Bolivia.