The divide in the non-hassidic haredi world has reached crisis point following
the appointment of Bnei Brak Mayor Yaakov Asher to the No. 3 spot on the Degel
Hatorah party electoral list.
The decision, taken by Degel’s Council of
Torah Sages on Monday night, has angered a rebel group within the non-hassidic
“Lithuanian” community known as the “Jerusalem Faction,” which declared on
Wednesday that it will now definitely be running in the elections with the
group’s newly established party, Netzach.
The Jerusalem Faction had been
demanding that a candidate loyal to them be granted the No. 3
Yeshayahu Wein, a senior figure in the faction, told The Jerusalem
on Wednesday that Netzach would be presenting its list of candidates to the
electoral commission on Thursday night and, barring any last minute
developments, would be contesting the coming election.
Asked whether the
faction was concerned about damaging the political strength of the
ultra-Orthodox community by running with a new party, Wein said the question
should be addressed to the mainstream Degel Hatorah leaders.
“If they are
willing to forgo the votes of the members of the haredi community loyal to
[Netzach rabbinic leader] Rabbi [Shmuel] Auerbach then that’s their decision
which they are responsible for,” Wein said.
He added that Auerbach was
fully behind the decision for Netzach to contest the election.
There is a
concern within the haredi community that the Netzach party, although not strong
enough to pass the electoral threshold and enter the Knesset, could both divert
a significant number of votes away from Degel Hatorah and cause a sizable number
of haredi voters to simply not vote at all.
If these numbers are high
enough, United Torah Judaism, the Knesset faction comprising Degel and the
hassidic haredi party Agudat Yisrael, could lose a seat in the
Wein conceded it was still possible that a compromise could be
found “at the last moment” but said the offer would have to be very convincing
to dissuade them from running.
Despite the posturing, it is unclear if
Netzach will indeed run. There is a difference of agreement with the Jerusalem
Faction itself whether to contest the coming general election or to wait for the
municipal election due at the end of 2013 to strike their first political blow –
in which they will have a better chance of electoral success.
Netzach will be presenting its electoral list on Thursday, it is possible that
the party is taking this step simply to keep its options open, since Thursday is
the final deadline for presenting a party list.
But the head of the
mainstream “Bnei Brak Faction” and acknowledged leader of the non-hassidic
haredi world, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, has refused up until now to respond
in any way to the demands of the Jerusalem Faction.
According to haredi
journalist Yisroel Cohen, who writes for the Kikar Hashabbat haredi news
website, it is extremely unlikely that Shteinman will compromise at all at this
stage bearing in mind the hardline stance he has shown thus far throughout this
“Asher is Rabbi Shteinman’s man and despite all their
noise, they have ended up without anything at all,” Cohen said.
that the Jerusalem Faction’s main goal is not necessarily the third spot on the
Degel list, since it is improbable that UTJ will receive the requisite number of
votes to elect the third-placed Degel candidate, but instead is seeking
recognition as a real and substantive movement with the Lithuanian haredi
A source within the Degel political party echoed this notion.
Degel’s utter refusal to grant any recognition or legitimacy to the Jerusalem
Faction and Netzach extends to its policy regarding public comments on the
issue, in that it totally refuses to officially comment on questions about the
And the very fact that Shteinman has proved so unwilling to
compromise with the Jerusalem Faction is a possible indicator of the relative
strength of the mainstream Degel leadership over its rivals.
Cohen, most voters in the haredi community would not go against the political
instructions of Shteinman because of the very fact that he is the acknowledged
gadol hador, the outstanding Torah scholar of the generation.
unofficially bestowed title carries great religious weight within the haredi
community, and disobeying the directives of the gadol hador would be distasteful
for many members of the ultra-Orthodox public on religious and philosophical
The immediate cause of the dispute was the Jerusalem Faction’s
demand that businessman and Auerbach loyalist Menahem Carmel keep the third spot
on Degel’s electoral list, which he held in the last election.
roots of the argument are deeper and reflect the dissatisfaction of Auerbach and
his supporters in the Jerusalem Faction, with his failure to gain acceptance as
the new spiritual leader of the Lithuanian community following the death of
former leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv back in July.
loyalists see the rabbi as the true continuation of the vision and philosophy of
Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach, the firebrand leader of the Lithuanian world in the
1980s and 1990s who founded Degel Hatorah and advocated an uncompromising stance
against the state regarding all matters relating to the haredi
Despite this, the actual philosophical and political
differences between the Jerusalem and Bnei Brak factions are slim, although
Shteinman has proven slightly less rejectionist in the past towards the state
than has Auerbach.