The Shas party has created poverty by encouraging men who would otherwise join
the workforce to study Torah indefinitely, Deputy Religious Services Minister
Rabbi Eli Ben- Dahan has said.
Ben-Dahan made the comments in an
interview with The Jerusalem Post
earlier this week in reference to Bayit
Yehudi’s success in the development towns of Sderot and Kiryat Malachi during
the October 22 local elections; his party’s mayoral candidates were elected in
“In truth, I don’t think Shas has improved the situation of the
development towns,” said Ben-Dahan. “What have they done? They caused more
people to go and study Torah, stay for years in yeshiva, and they have created
more poor people and more poverty.
“They convinced people who would
naturally have gone to work to study Torah, and you see today many people in
the development towns who have dedicated their lives to Torah but they cannot
The deputy minister continued on to say that it was
only the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who, due to his the “greatness in Torah” and
charisma, was able to get non-haredi but traditional Sephardi voters to vote for
“The halo surrounding him created a situation which drew these
people to him and to Shas, simple people, brought desire to learn Torah, to
encourage people, connected them more.”
Ben-Dahan noted that Bayit Yehudi
is seeking as “an important party goal” to target voters in this demographic who
may be willing to switch their allegiance from Shas to other political parties
now that Yosef has died.
It is widely believed that many of the
traditional but non-haredi Shas voters will abandon the party now that the
revered rabbi is no longer around to exhort them to vote Shas.
Nissim Ze’ev denounced Ben-Dahan’s remarks and said it was not Torah study that
was impoverishing people but the economic policies of the
Speaking to the Post, Ze’ev argued that extremely high
percentages of working people are in poverty because of low wages and cannot
sustain themselves even when two spouses work, and that poverty in development
towns is unrelated to the issue of study in yeshiva.
“This is a totally
blinkered mindset [of Ben-Dahan] to say that Torah study is causing poverty;
where is his faith?” questioned Ze’ev, and again pointed to Israel’s high rate
of working poor and its lowly status on the issue compared with other members of
the OECD grouping of developed countries.
The MK also attacked the
government’s religious policies and denounced plans for civil
“They demand from Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas] that he recognize this country as a Jewish state, but they’re
uprooting Judaism within it.
We’ll be more non-Jewish than the rest of
the world with what they’re doing,” Ze’ev declared.
some of the pressing issues facing the ministry which he is seeking to
In particular, he said that he is seeking to introduce
disciplinary procedures for municipal city rabbis.
Currently, election to
the position of chief municipal rabbi is a lifetime appointment until the age of
75, and there is effectively no process or possibility to dismiss or discipline
“I am not prepared to accept the situation as it is today that a
chief municipal rabbi can do whatever he wants and no one can say anything to
him about it,” said the deputy minister.
Municipal rabbis and local
religious councils have frequently been criticized for being unwelcoming and
inattentive to the general public and for refusing to adhere to the law on
Some chief municipal rabbis have refused to register for
marriage converts who converted through the state conversion
Another common phenomenon is that of municipal rabbis referring
someone who needs to clarify his Jewish status to private organizations instead
of the state rabbinical courts.
Ben-Dahan said that he was drawing up
such a bill but would consult with the Chief Rabbinate before submitting it to
He added, however, that he did not see any choice other than
to advance legislation.
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