(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Senior national religious figure and chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, met on Sunday night with Rabbi Meir Mazuz, the spiritual patron of MK Eli Yishai’s Yahad party.
Eliyahu offered his blessings and congratulations on the formation of the political faction.
Yishai has joined up with MK Yoni Chetboun, formerly of the national-religious Bayit Yehudi party, and the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction, to lead a mixed haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and national-religious party into the Knesset.
Yishai, formerly of Shas, has said that one of the main goals of the party is to unite the two sectors under one political banner.
Eliyahu visited Mazuz at the latter’s Bnei Brak residence and welcomed the development.
“I came to the rabbi’s house to bless this historic unity between the haredi community, the national-religious community, and the community of those who fear God,” said Eliyahu.
“We have here great unity whose purpose is to guard the perfection of the Torah and respect for it, and the completeness of the Land [of Israel].”
According to a Yahad party spokesman, during the meeting the two rabbis discussed in particular the numerous pieces of legislation that were advanced during the course of the 19th Knesset dealing with matters of religion and state, which the two rabbis labeled “anti-religious.”
Eliyahu was very active in opposing various bills for reforming aspects of religious services, including a law for reforming the process of religious conversion to Judaism that was advanced in the Knesset by MK Elazar Stern, first through legislation but ultimately in a government order approved by the cabinet.
The Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group has taken a dim view of Eliyahu’s political activities, pointing out that his role as a municipal chief rabbi means he is a public appointee and civil servant and is barred from making political comments or engaging in political activities for any party.
Hiddush director and Reform Rabbi Attorney Uri Regev, pointed out that Eliyahu wrote an op-ed on the Srugim news website on January 25 calling on Yahad and Otzma to unite their electoral lists, and said that if they did not do so a left-wing government would take power “at the expense of the Land of Israel and the Torah of Israel.”
“Eliyahu’s meeting with Rabbi Mazuz was the continuation of his advocacy for a union between Yahad and Otzma Yehudit and he has now blessed that union,” Regev said.
“This is not an innocent expression of unity and solidarity since he is specifically congratulating a political party for helping work toward preserving the ‘completeness’ of the Land of Israel and is therefore taking a position on a political issue which is prohibited.
As a civil servant he is not supposed to identify with any political camp.”
Regev noted that news of the meeting was disseminated by the Yahad party itself, which was in itself an acknowledgment of the valuable political asset Eliyahu and his support constitutes for the new political faction.
Hiddush has filed complaints to the attorney-general and the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for disciplinary oversight in regard to civil servants engaging in political activity, but has yet to receive a full response from these authorities.
“The reluctance of the law enforcement authorities to enter into this contentious area is encouraging Rabbi Eliyahu and others to pursue and further expand their political involvement, to the detriment of the integrity of the civil service and the rabbinate,” said Regev.