Shas leaders Arye Deri, Eli Yishai and Ariel Attias sent a letter to Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday calling on him to commit to preserving
the status quo of all matters pertaining to religion and state in the
In addition, the troika demanded that Netanyahu, and all
potential coalition partners, commit to preventing the passage of any
legislation that would sanction public transportation on Shabbat; stop
legislation allowing for “fictitious” conversions; and ensure that jurisdiction
over marriage and divorce remain under the auspices of the rabbinical courts
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Attias, who is
construction and housing minister, said: “It’s not possible to do conversions by
fax, or conversions with the attitude of ‘let’s make their lives easier.’” On
Tuesday, Shas launched a campaign ad which scorned the current conversion
In the commercial, a tall blonde woman speaking Hebrew with a
thick Russian accent dials star-conversion on a fax machine while standing under
a wedding canopy with her fiancé, and then immediately receives a conversion
“If the purpose of Likud and Yisrael Beytenu’s unification
is to allow things like Reform conversion, we should know this up front,” Attias
The minister then insisted it was an important symbol of the
Jewish state to not provide public transportation on Shabbat.
of Israel is the only state of the Jewish people in the world and it needs to
guard the symbols of the Jewish people.
“You can’t come and say that a
symbol angers people, we don’t tell a person how to live, everyone carries out
their lives however he wants to. People live in their private domains, and also
in the public space, however they want.
“Public transport is the
transport of the state, the state subsidizes it, it operates it, it’s a symbol.
Today it’s public transport; tomorrow it will be government offices,” Attias
During the last government, one of the conditions of the
coalition agreement was that Shas or United Torah Judaism could veto coalition
support for any bill which they claimed infringed upon the religious status
One such bill that Shas nixed during the last Knesset was proposed
legislation to reserve two seats for women on the committee that appoints
rabbinical judges to the rabbinical courts.
One of the principle roles of
the rabbinical courts is to rule on divorce proceedings, especially with regard
to men who refuse to give their wives a bill of divorce, thereby preventing them
from remarrying and having children.
The 10-man appointments committee is
currently dominated by haredi members, however, and, as of the beginning of
2012, does not have any female members for the first time in 12
Although the bill to reserve the two seats for women was approved
for a first reading in Knesset by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, Shas
and UTJ refused to allow the legislation to progress.
director of the Mavoi Satum women’s rights organization, said in response to
Shas’s demands over the religious status quo that the coalition agreement which
allowed Shas and UTJ to veto legislation on such matters had been hugely
damaging and had prevented progress on all matters of religion and
“The status quo on matters of religion and state is essential for
preserving the Jewish identity of the state, and in light of this we oppose any
injury to it, and will work to thwart and prevent any attempt to harm it or
undermine it,” the Shas leadership’s letter read.
The letter was signed
by all three leaders with a space left empty for Netanyahu’s signature.
spokesman for the Likud campaign refused to comment on the letter.
“status quo” on religious affairs in Israel was agreed upon by former prime
minister David Ben-Gurion in 1947, in a letter he wrote as head of the Jewish
Agency to the Agudat Yisrael organization that represented the haredi community
of pre-state Israel.
The letter made a number of promises to the haredi
community pertaining to the preservation of religious standards after the
establishment of the state, and agreed that matters of marriage and divorce come
under the sole jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts; that full autonomy be
granted to all sectors of society to control their own educational frameworks;
that Saturday be the day of rest in Israel; and that kashrut be observed among
all government bodies.