In the latest allegations of election impropriety leveled against the haredi Shas party, Shas's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has been accused of illegally cursing people who do not support the party.
Missives written in Yosef's hand were distributed to Shas voters, proclaiming "Cursed be those for they did not come to the aid of God; Cursed be he who does not fulfill the word of this Torah to do them. I make a halaha [Jewish law] that one must vote and influence Shas."
Shortly after details of the missive were revealed, Shas Chairman Eli Yishai was quick to deny that Yosef had intended the message as a threat.
"I never deny the things that the Rabbi says, but rather I explain his intent, because there are those who don't understand his Biblical and Talmudic language," Yishai explained. "He does not in any sense curse those who do not vote Shas. The rabbi speaks the word of Living God."
Legislation passed following the 1996 elections prohibits 'lobbying to vote or not to vote via oath, curse, excommunication, promise to bless, or by giving amulets.'
On Friday, the outspoken spiritual leader fended off criticism for a quote attributed to him in the haredi newspaper Bakehila, in which he allegedly said that "anyone who votes for Kadima will fall backwards into Hell."
Former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri said that he had discussed the matter with the rabbi, and reiterated in the rabbi's name that had Yosef made such a statement he never would deny it afterwards.
The newspaper Bakehila said in response that the statement is an exact quote taken from a recording made of the interview. The rabbi, famous for previous incendiary comments against Arabs, secular Jews and African-Americans, was interviewed a few days earlier by haredi journalists. In other articles citing the interview, the quote was phrased differently than in the Bakehila version, and did not use the word "hell."
Earlier this year, Supreme Court Justice Dorit Beinish, head of the central elections committee, instructed Shas to withdraw an election ad in which Yosef offered a blessing of happiness and well-being to anyone who voted for his party.
In the 1996 elections, Shas's representation in the Knesset jumped from six mandates to 10 thanks to the amulets of the late kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri. Before the amulets were given out, polls showed Shas would receive no more than four mandates.
After the election, MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) drafted legislation, ratified by the Knesset, that prohibited the use of amulets or other religious objects to influence voters.
In 1999, Justice Eliahu Mazza, head of the Central Elections Committee, ruled yesterday on a complaint by Shas that Meretz's distribution of hamsas - hand-shaped good luck charms - with prayers for the home was a violation of the election laws. The hamsa was signed by Meretz MK Ran Cohen in areas with public housing, a population which Cohen aims to attract after initiating the Public Housing Law.
Mazza ruled that the item 'is indeed an amulet' and thus is a violation of the law, and noted that 'especially Meretz should show sensitivity to using such outlawed means.' Since Meretz's attorney said the distribution had halted and promised not to repeat the violation, Shas accepted Mazza's request not to issue an injunction against Meretz.