The political discontent within the haredi community – felt since the
announcement of elections earlier this month – refuses to die down, with a rebel
breakaway group threatening to challenge United Torah Judaism for the
traditional haredi vote.
Tensions have surrounded the decision by the
Degel Hatorah nonhassidic political faction of UTJ not to include Menahem Carmel
– a rabbi, businessman and former UTJ Knesset candidate – on its electoral list
for the coming elections.
Carmel was excluded because of his loyalty to
Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, a rival to the acknowledged spiritual head of the haredi
world Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, who inherited the leadership mantle following
the death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in July.
Because of this
dispute, Auerbach’s supporters, based in Jerusalem, registered a new political
party last week, named Netzah, and promised to compete with UTJ for the haredi
“We are asking for the rights we have had up until now,” said
Yishayhu Wein, editor at the new haredi daily newspaper HaPeles, established by
supporters of Auerbach earlier this year.
“Rabbi Elyashiv placed Carmel
on the number three spot for Degel Hatorah and it’s not legitimate to change
this; it’s a stab in the back for the followers of Rabbi Elyashiv,” he told The
Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Negotiations between the two sides have
reportedly taken place, although Degel Hatorah officials have denied the party
has entered into any discussions with the Jerusalem faction.
“If we don’t
get what we want, then we have no problem running on an alternate list,” Wein
said, adding that they were open to discussions.
In all likelihood,
Netzah would not pass the electoral threshold of three Knesset seats. However
any diversion of haredi votes away from UTJ could cost the party a seat in the
Degel Hatorah officials continue to downplay the significance of
the Jerusalem faction’s discontent, saying that the registration of the new
party is merely a threat to extort the Degel Hatorah leadership into
“We are going forward in a serious way,” said Wein in
response to this claim. “Anyone who thinks we’re just posturing will change
their opinion come January 22.”
Wein said it was unclear whether or not
Carmel will officially join Netzah and run on its party list, although he did
not rule out the possibility.
A Degel Hatorah source said that the
Jerusalem faction would be blamed if UTJ lost a seat, especially at a sensitive
time for the haredi community, given its battle to preserve military service
exemptions for yeshiva students and other issues crucial to the haredi
The dispute between the Shteinman and Auerbach camps runs deeper
than politics however – a point emphasized by Wein.
referred to as the Jerusalem faction, sees itself as the true successor to the
legacy of Degel Hatorah founder Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach, the trailblazing
firebrand leader of nonhassidic haredi Jewry in the 1980s and 1990s, until his
death in 2001.
Shach was a fierce opponent to haredi participation in
secular society, especially with regards army service and secular education, a
line that Elyashiv adopted.
Auerbach, the closest of the next generation
of rabbinical leaders to Elyashiv, has similarly taken up this
ultra-conservative path, and is supported by like-minded members of the haredi
Shteinman, based in Bnei Brak, nevertheless managed to
outmaneuver Auerbach during the power struggle fought between the two after
Elyashiv’s death, due to the backing of more of the senior haredi rabbinical
leadership and wider popular support from the ultra-Orthodox
Shteinman is seen as more pragmatic – relatively speaking – than
Auerbach, and in the past gave tacit support for the establishment of the haredi
IDF battalion Netzah Yehuda.
He is still nevertheless deeply
conservative, and has expressed strong opposition to a broad draft of yeshiva
students into the IDF, as well as to secular education.
Speaking with the
Post, haredi journalist Yisroel Cohen said that the outcome of the current
dispute is hard to predict, comparing the standoff to a poker game.
going to come down to who blinks first,” says Cohen.
support is not as small as the Degel Hatorah establishment makes out, but
despite their numbers they are unlikely to “go to war” and vote against United
Torah Judaism at this stage.
The longer the stalemate continues, however,
the more promises to run the Jerusalem faction is likely to make – and the
harder it will be for them to backtrack, Cohen added.