(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rabbi Meir Mazuz, the spiritual patron and guide of MK Eli Yishai’s new Yachad Ha’am Itanu party, on Sunday struck back at Rabbi Shalom Cohen, the most senior rabbinic figure in the Shas movement, who labeled Yishai’s new faction “a toilet” over the weekend.
Mazuz, the dean of the Kise Rahamim Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, responded that Cohen was not a man of the people and was detached from the daily life of the average man.
“Rabbi Shalom Cohen, he should be well, is a great Torah scholar, a righteous man and a great intellectual, but he does not come down to the people and, therefore, he does not understand the common people,” Mazuz said while speaking at his yeshiva.
“Rabbi Ovadia [Yosef] understood the common people and was able to draw them close to Judaism and gladden them, but Rabbi Shalom [Cohen] learns Torah the whole time and so he goes in the exact way of Torah.”
Cohen is widely considered to be on the hardline of the haredi rabbinic leadership and frequently has issued vitriolic denunciations of his perceived opponents and against a non-haredi lifestyle and philosophy.
He has never held public office and served most of his career as a rabbi in yeshiva and a yeshiva dean, not as a halachic arbiter dealing with the questions of Jewish law that are brought to senior rabbis for a ruling.
Mazuz seemingly referenced one of Cohen’s recent outbursts in which he said during a prayer service at the Western Wall for the welfare of IDF soldiers during Operation Protective Edge that Israel did not need an army because “It is God almighty who fights for Israel.”
In his address on Sunday, Mazuz said Yachad Ha’am Itanu had been established so people who might vote for a religious party would have a new address to which to turn.
“But when they say to bless the soldiers, then [he] says that we don’t rely on soldiers. But you have come to bless them, what does this mean? We don’t rely on the soldiers? What have we come here for? Hundreds of thousands of people could be lost. This is why the new party was created... Together means the tribes of Israel will unite instead of going to the parties which hate the Torah...”
Much of Shas’s electoral strength in the past was derived from the popular appeal of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who served as the party’s spiritual guide throughout it’s existence and was much loved by the Sephardi community, including many who were religiously traditional although not haredi and voted Shas because of their loyalty to Yosef.
The absence of a leader in the mold of Yosef, who died last year, has been cited frequently as one of the most difficult obstacles facing Shas in its efforts to retain its political strength with religiously traditional voters likely to abandon the party for less religiously hardline, more Zionistic political factions.
Separately, posters were publicized in haredi neighborhoods over the weekend declaring that haredi men should not enlist in the IDF even if they are not studying in yeshiva, signed by leading Sephardi rabbis including Mazuz and Cohen.
However, a spokesperson for Mazuz said the declaration was entirely incorrect.
“I have spoken personally with the rosh yeshiva [Rabbi Mazuz] on this issue and he said that [haredi] youths who are not on the benches of the study halls are obligated and even commanded to enlist, and anyone who does not do so harms the Torah world and the yeshiva students,” Mazuz’s spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post.
Haredi rabbinic and political leaders frequently are adamantly opposed to stopping any yeshiva student continuing his religious studies but have said that if a haredi man wishes to stop his studies at an appropriate age he can enlist if he so wishes.
The position outlined in the posters is a hardline opinion in keeping with the more radical elements of the haredi rabbinic leadership.