A group of 12 senior rabbis convened at the former home of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the late leader of the Jerusalem Faction, at the end of his shiva mourning period on Sunday night.
The convening of this new body, formally titled the Council of Sages of the Torah World, is being presented as a seamless and preplanned progression of leadership within the faction.
The Jerusalem Faction is a hardline political splinter group within the Ashkenazi non-hassidic Haredi community.
According to sources within the faction, of the 12 rabbis who were present on Sunday night there are four who will dominate the leadership of the movement.
In particular, Rabbi Tzvi Friedman, a prominent rabbinical judge and halachic authority from Bnei Brak, and Rabbi Baruch Shmuel Hacohen Deutsch, a yeshiva dean from the Kol Torah Yeshiva in Bayit Vagan in Jerusalem, will likely be the address for day-to-day decisions and policies.
Both Friedman and Deutsch were close associates of Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach, the revered Haredi leader and founder of the mainstream political party Degel Hatorah.
The Jerusalem Faction has frequently claimed that it and Auerbach are the legitimate heirs of Shach’s path, and therefore the close ties these rabbis had with the party’s founder are important elements in bolstering the faction’s legitimacy.
At the same time, Rabbi Yisrael Yitzhak Kalmanovitz, a prominent radical from Bnei Brak, and Rabbi Azriel Auerbach, the brother of Shmuel Auerbach and communal rabbi in Bayit Vagan, will serve as ideological leaders of the new council and determine its broader direction, the source said.
Kalmanovitz, however, is not a formal member of the council and has not publicly stated why he has declined to be named as a member.
ACCORDING TO the lengthy statement signed by the rabbis of the council following Sunday night’s meeting, Auerbach himself had decided to create a council of Torah sages shortly before his death and had invited the 12 rabbis, who are now members of the new body, to a meeting at his Jerusalem home scheduled for last week.
The source noted that Auerbach underwent a medical procedure to put a stent in his heart in January, and that he had therefore decided to begin creating a group that would share in the leadership of the movement along with him.
The statement, replete with dire warnings of the threats to “the Torah world” and Haredi Judaism, said that Auerbach had created the new council to strengthen the movement “and to stand strong against everyone who is seeking to wipe us out.”
In particular, the rabbis said that the issues at the top of Auerbach’s agenda were threats to the Haredi education system, referring to the government’s introduction of core curriculum studies, “the establishment of targets and quotas and the hunt for precious souls,” referring to the potential conscription of Haredi yeshiva students to the IDF, and “the harassment of Jewish girls who are threatened by the army.”
This last aspect refers to a new campaign embarked upon by the faction, in which it erroneously claims that the IDF is seeking to forcibly draft religious women to the IDF. These claims are based on the real efforts by the army to prevent any non-religious woman, who falsely claims to be religious, from having the ability to receive an exemption from IDF service.
“Therefore we have come to fulfill his pure will for which he gave his life... to stand with strength in the face of all the decrees of the regime and the terrible plots to undermine the fortresses of Torah and to change the community of those who tremble before God, which we must stand against with all force, and reject any apathy and complacency,” averred the rabbis in their declaration.
“We have to stand with greater strength for everything which our rabbi [Auerbach] bequeathed to us...and to give up [our] lives over the uprooting of religion.”
The statement also praised the Hapeles newspaper, which serves as the mouthpiece of the Jerusalem Faction and as one of the key components of Auerbach’s movement, and praised the Committee for Saving the Torah World, the body which organizes and coordinates the Jerusalem Faction’s many anti-enlistment protests.
Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Haim Epstein, who is a member of the Bnei Torah political party that represents the Jerusalem Faction, said that the appointment of the new Council of Sages of the Torah World represents a true continuation of Auerbach’s hardline and uncompromising path.
“A Torah scroll can be burnt but the Torah itself is never destroyed,” said Epstein comparing this idea with the death of Auerbach but the continuation of his hardline beliefs.
“His path has been set and cast. Yes, it will be difficult to get accustomed to the new situation, but ultimately we are prepared, and there will be no change in the direction he set out for us,” said Epstein.