United Torah Judaism still united, officials insist
Despite speculation of “historic splits,” Ashkenazi haredi party says it is set to run in elections largely unchanged from previous polls.
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
Despite numerous rumors and media speculation of “historic splits,” the
Ashkenazi haredi party United Torah Judaism says it is set to run in Knesset
elections largely unchanged from previous polls.
With election fever
firmly setting in, one report in haredi weekly magazine Mishpacha on Thursday
claimed that the Belz Hassidim, currently represented in UTJ by MK Yisrael
Eichler, are willing to defect to the Shas party if their candidate does not get
the desired spot on the party list.
The Belz Hassidim are part of Agudat
Yisrael, the hassidic faction of UTJ, separate from the non-hassidic haredi
faction Degel Hatorah. As UTJ, which currently holds five seats, does not hold
primaries, candidates are chosen and placed on the party list by
Traditionally, a candidate from the Gur Hassidim has topped
the list for Agudat Yisrael, followed by a candidate from the Shlomei Emunim
confederation of different hassidic groups and a candidate representing the
Belz nominees have figured fourth on Agudat Yisrael’s
list, and in the event that UTJ does not get six Knesset seats, one Agudah MK
swaps with the Belz candidate halfway through the Knesset term, as occurred in
the 18th Knesset.
Eichler strenuously denied the Mishpacha story, telling
the haredi Kol Berama radio station on Thursday morning that the report was
He also denounced Mishpacha, in which he writes a
weekly column, for “not bothering to phone him” for comment on the
Additionally, a source within Agudat Yisrael denied there was any
split in the faction at all, telling The Jerusalem Post that everyone was going
into the elections “in peace and unity.”
Murmurs of discontent have also
been sounded within Degel Hatorah, stemming from the death in July of the Rabbi
Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who was the spiritual leader of the non-hassidic haredi
The power struggle that followed his passing between Rabbi Aharon
Leib Shteinman of Bnei Brak and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach of Jerusalem ended with
victory for the former and his widespread acceptance as “leader of the
The two Degel Hatorah MKs, Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev, are
loyal to Shteinman, but supporters of Auerbach are agitating for a candidate of
their own to be given a prominent place on the UTJ list, threatening to form
their own party if this demand is refused.
However, a UTJ source within
Degel Hatora poured scorn on this notion, telling the Post it is extremely
unlikely that the Auerbach camp will break away at this time. The rabbi and his
supporters are not powerful or numerous enough to form a viable new non-hassidic
haredi party, the source claimed.
“There are so many serious issues
facing the haredi community at the moment, such as national service for haredim,
child support and so on, no one would dare split away now. It would be the
height of irresponsibility.”
Menahem Carmel, who was the third on the
Degel Hatorah list in the last elections and seventh in the full UTJ list –
therefore missing out on a Knesset seat – writes frequently for the new haredi
newspaper Hapeles, which was formed as a mouthpiece for Auerbach’s camp. Sources
within UTJ have been quoted as saying that Carmel will not figure on UTJ’s list
in the coming elections because of his adherence to Auerbach.