The ongoing debate within Israel’s haredi community over the permissibility of
participating in elections was highlighted yesterday by the presence of signs
both for and against voting hung throughout Jerusalem.
Streets in the
hassidic neighborhood of Ezrat Torah were blanketed with flyers produced by the
fiercely anti- Zionist Satmar sect, whose rabbinic leader, Zalman Leib
Teitelbaum, arrived from New York earlier this week to organize an anti-voting
One widely distributed flyer, headlined “Is it forbidden to
vote?” stated Jews are neither allowed to receive material benefit from the
government nor to vote in the “Zionist elections.”
Teitelbaum addressed a
large rally on Sunday evening in Mea She’arim, organized by the hassidic
umbrella organization Edah Haredit, and told the crowd that the State of Israel
is “this generation’s Amalek, and the Zionists are the offspring of
Speakers at the rally also called Israel the “state of hell” and
One hassidic man at the rally, who was distributing
anti-Zionist stickers to children, noted that he believes that it is a “grave
Torah prohibition to vote.” This, he explained, is because Judaism forbids
Jewish sovereignty in Israel prior to the arrival of the messiah.
many in the non-hassidic ‘Lithuanian’ and Sephardic communities in Israel
believe that voting for parties such as United Torah Judaism and Shas is a
In a letter distributed widely throughout the
country, prominent ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky stated that “it is
obligatory” to vote for UTJ.
“All who do so will merit great success both
spiritually and materially,” he promised.
Shas spiritual leader Rabbi
Ovadia Yosef has also deemed voting a religious obligation. In 2006, Yosef even
went so far as to curse those “who do not fulfill the word of this Torah” to
“I [decree] a Halacha that one must vote and influence Shas,” he
Despite Satmar’s opposition to voting, the hassidic group has
failed to make good on its alleged promise to pay members of the public $100
each to refrain from casting a ballot.
According to reports, Teitelbaum
was slated to distribute money from centers in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak to anyone
willing to deposit their ID cards and drivers’ licenses for the duration of
However, no evidence of any such activity was seen at the
Satmar synagogue in Ezrat Torah, one of the locations claimed in the media as a
disbursement center for electoral payments. Hassidim at the location denied any
intention of accepting ID cards, saying that their opposition to elections does
not extend to bribery or fraud.
Any claims to the contrary, they
asserted, were intended to harm their sect’s public image.
man stated that his rebbe did indeed arrive in Israel with six million dollars,
but that the cash was intended to fund educational institutions that refuse to
accept money from the Education Ministry.
“Those who say to vote have
their ideology and we have ours,” a second hassidic man told The Jerusalem
“The Holocaust was caused by Zionism and it is forbidden to
participate in elections or have a share in the state.”
“Haredi MKs will
not be able to stop the army enlistment decree and God does not want us to make
an effort beyond what he expects of us,” said another.
“Why should I
vote?” One bystander, a member of the Lithuanian community, said that he was
voting for UTJ because his rabbis instructed that it is necessary to vote for
“any party so long as it is haredi.”
Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, the director
of the NGO Hiddush and a religious rights advocate, commented that he believes
that “either Satmar just wanted attention and did not intend to go through with
their offer or they were scared off by all of the negative
“There is no doubt in my mind as to the illegality of offering
money for not voting,” he said. “It now looks like Satmar understood that as
According to a complaint by Hiddush to Attorney-General Yehuda
Weinstein against the sect, payments in exchange for boycotting the election
violate Articles 122 and 123 of the Elections Law.
initiative Hiddush took to involve the attorney-general and police helped
preempt a gross violation of the law,” said Regev.
“We are glad to see
that a firm stand on the rule of law can deter religious extremists.”