Bayit Yehudi defended its stance on matters of religion and state Sunday, having come under withering fire from Shas and the party’s spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef over the weekend.

Bayit Yehudi candidate Ayelet Shaked told national-religious news website Kipa that the party wanted to allow civil marriage for a couple in which only one of the partners was Jewish, citing a friend of hers who got married in Hawaii to someone whose mother was not Jewish according to Jewish law.

“We want to allow civil marriage for situations like these as well,” Shaked said.

The party’s position on the issue however does not support civil marriage between a Jew and non-Jew.

Shaked later retracted her comment saying that she only meant to refer to a couple in which both partners were not Jewish.

However, the comments were seized upon by the haredi Shas party, with Yosef denouncing Bayit Yehudi in his weekly Saturday night Torah lesson.

“They call them the Jewish home, this is not a home for Jews it’s a home for non-Jews, they want to uproot the Torah [and] have civil marriage, to have public transportation on Shabbat,” he said, in reference to the meaning of the party’s name “It is forbidden to vote for them...

Anyone who votes for them is a heretic,” the rabbi declared.

Most opinion polls have shown Shas struggling to pass their current tally of 11 Knesset seats.

The two mainstream haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are both concerned about their ongoing failure to increase their share of the vote, despite population growth in the haredi sector far outstripping the rest of the Jewish public.

Statistics from the 2009 election show that 15 percent of residents of five homogeneous haredi cities voted for non-haredi parties, principally hardright religious parties like Bayit Yehudi and the National Union.

A Bayit Yehudi spokesman emphasized that the party only advocated civil marriage between two non-Jews and that marriage and divorce between Jews be conducted according to Jewish law.

The spokesman added however that the party seeks to reform the chief rabbinate “to make it more Zionist, more open, more inclusive and make people’s experience in the rabbinate more Zionist and less haredi.”

In Shaked’s earlier interview she said that the party would place special emphasis on taking control of the state conversion system if it enters the next government, in order to solve what the party sees as an intermarriage problem associated with some 330,000 Israelis from the former Soviet Union who are of Jewish descent, but not defined as Jewish according to Jewish law.

Party sources have also said that Bayit Yehudi will seek control of the Religious Services Ministry, currently held by Shas minister Ya’acov Margi, as part of their campaign to overhaul the religious establishment.

“We want the Jewish character of the state to be defined by Bayit Yehudi, although our ability to implement this vision will depend on how many seats we get in comparison with Shas,” another party source told The Jerusalem Post.

Separately, unknown vandals burnt several books on Jewish law authored by Yosef at the Shas party headquarters in Or Bayit on Saturday night.

Joint Shas leader Arye Deri, who travelled to the town, said the incident was a disgrace.

“If this kind of thing happened outside Israel the whole world would be shocked by such anti-Semitism,” he said.

During the election campaign, Shas has had to fight a rearguard action against Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, a popular preacher who works to make secular Israelis, especially Sephardim, more observant of Jewish law.

Yitzhak set up his own party, Koah Lehashpia, which is competing with Shas for the same voters, and Rabbi Yosef strongly attacked Yitzhak for doing so.

Last week, Shas activists burst into a conference being held by Yitzhak in Beit Shemesh and fired off a tear-gas canister.

The rabbi has since been provided with a police escort.

Shas has also faced competition from MK Haim Amsalem, a former party MK who publicly opposed Shas policy, and is now running at the head of his Am Shalem party list.

Copies of Amsalem’s recent book were also found burnt last week in the haredi city of Bnei Brak.

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