Shas to PM: Uphold status quo on religion and state

Party calls on Netanyahu to clarify position on safeguarding the Jewish nature of Israel ahead of election.

January 9, 2013 03:19
3 minute read.
Shas election ad on a Tel Aviv bus, January 2013.

Shas election banner 370. (photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)

Shas leaders Arye Deri, Eli Yishai and Ariel Attias sent a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday calling on him to commit to preserving the status quo of all matters pertaining to religion and state in the country.

In addition, the troika demanded that Netanyahu, and all potential coalition partners, commit to preventing the passage of any legislation that would sanction public transportation on Shabbat; stop legislation allowing for “fictitious” conversions; and ensure that jurisdiction over marriage and divorce remain under the auspices of the rabbinical courts system.

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Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Attias, who is construction and housing minister, said: “It’s not possible to do conversions by fax, or conversions with the attitude of ‘let’s make their lives easier.’” On Tuesday, Shas launched a campaign ad which scorned the current conversion process.

In the commercial, a tall blonde woman speaking Hebrew with a thick Russian accent dials star-conversion on a fax machine while standing under a wedding canopy with her fiancé, and then immediately receives a conversion certificate.

“If the purpose of Likud and Yisrael Beytenu’s unification is to allow things like Reform conversion, we should know this up front,” Attias continued.

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The minister then insisted it was an important symbol of the Jewish state to not provide public transportation on Shabbat.

“The State of Israel is the only state of the Jewish people in the world and it needs to guard the symbols of the Jewish people.

“You can’t come and say that a symbol angers people, we don’t tell a person how to live, everyone carries out their lives however he wants to. People live in their private domains, and also in the public space, however they want.

“Public transport is the transport of the state, the state subsidizes it, it operates it, it’s a symbol. Today it’s public transport; tomorrow it will be government offices,” Attias argued.

During the last government, one of the conditions of the coalition agreement was that Shas or United Torah Judaism could veto coalition support for any bill which they claimed infringed upon the religious status quo.

One such bill that Shas nixed during the last Knesset was proposed legislation to reserve two seats for women on the committee that appoints rabbinical judges to the rabbinical courts.

One of the principle roles of the rabbinical courts is to rule on divorce proceedings, especially with regard to men who refuse to give their wives a bill of divorce, thereby preventing them from remarrying and having children.

The 10-man appointments committee is currently dominated by haredi members, however, and, as of the beginning of 2012, does not have any female members for the first time in 12 years.

Although the bill to reserve the two seats for women was approved for a first reading in Knesset by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, Shas and UTJ refused to allow the legislation to progress.

Batya Kehana-Dror, director of the Mavoi Satum women’s rights organization, said in response to Shas’s demands over the religious status quo that the coalition agreement which allowed Shas and UTJ to veto legislation on such matters had been hugely damaging and had prevented progress on all matters of religion and state.

“The status quo on matters of religion and state is essential for preserving the Jewish identity of the state, and in light of this we oppose any injury to it, and will work to thwart and prevent any attempt to harm it or undermine it,” the Shas leadership’s letter read.

The letter was signed by all three leaders with a space left empty for Netanyahu’s signature.

A spokesman for the Likud campaign refused to comment on the letter.

The “status quo” on religious affairs in Israel was agreed upon by former prime minister David Ben-Gurion in 1947, in a letter he wrote as head of the Jewish Agency to the Agudat Yisrael organization that represented the haredi community of pre-state Israel.

The letter made a number of promises to the haredi community pertaining to the preservation of religious standards after the establishment of the state, and agreed that matters of marriage and divorce come under the sole jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts; that full autonomy be granted to all sectors of society to control their own educational frameworks; that Saturday be the day of rest in Israel; and that kashrut be observed among all government bodies.

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