Analysis: A black day for Bennett

Haredim use chief rabbi race to exact revenge on Bayit Yehudi for leaving them out of coalition; PM gets to see Bennett defeated.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
July 24, 2013 21:34
2 minute read.
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett.

Bennett sizing up imaginary sandwich 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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A decade ago, Shas and United Torah Judaism took revenge against the National Religious Party for joining a coalition without haredi parties by taking away control of the institution most dear to religious Zionists: the Chief Rabbinate.

Ten years later, the haredim took revenge again for being left out of the government and its coffers, but this time the victory is much sweeter.

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Beating a party led by a political lightweight like Zevulun Orlev does not compare to beating a heavyweight with prime-ministerial aspirations like Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett.

Just six months ago, Bennett was on top of the world after winning more Knesset mandates than Shas. Several weeks later, he took over plum portfolios, including the Religious Services Ministry. He conspired with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to do what Lapid’s father, the late Shinui leader Tommy Lapid, did with Orlev – kick the haredim out.

Now Bennett, who promised to make Judaism in general and religious services in particular palatable to the public again, has seen his world turn to black – the color worn by his political rivals in the haredi parties. All the “revolutions” promised by Bennett’s candidates, David Stav and Shmuel Eliyahu, have been shelved for at least another decade.

Bennett’s deputy in the Religious Services Ministry, Eli Ben-Dahan, told The Jerusalem Post moments after results were announced that he saw no connection between what happened now and 10 years ago. His response indicated how unprepared his party was for the vote, completely underestimating the appetite for revenge among the haredim who made up a sizable portion of the voting body.

In a close race, it is often the hungrier contestant who wins – the party that needed to win badly. In this case those parties were United Torah Judaism, whose MK Meir Porush handcuffed himself to the Knesset lectern out of frustration, and Shas, led by its new leader Arye Deri.



Deri had to win the race for Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in his first test as the party’s uncontested leader following Yosef’s ouster of former chairman Eli Yishai. The 92-year-old rabbi called mayors in the voting body and cried to them not to embarrass him by letting his son Yitzhak lose.

Now no matter how long Yosef lives, his legacy can live on through his son, who wrote 40 books about his father’s Torah teachings and headed a yeshiva called Hazon (“The Vision of”) Ovadia.

Shas has also gained a new lease on life and now has more of a chance of outliving its founding mentor.

Former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau also emerged victorious, creating his own dynasty. His son David ascended to his former post, replacing a rabbi whom he detested, Yonah Metzger.

But the biggest winner in the race is neither Yosef, nor Lau, nor even Deri.

It is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who wanted to see Bennett suffer such a humiliating loss.

Netanyahu’s close ally and former campaign manager, Modi’in Mayor Haim Bibas, worked tirelessly for Lau.

When the results were announced, the prime minister immediately called the rabbis to congratulate them and invite them to Torah study sessions at his house.

So the haredim and the prime minister got their revenge by electing Lau and Yosef in a polarizing race. Now it is up to the new chief rabbis to prove themselves to not only an electorate of 150 people but to the Jewish people in Israel and around the world. •

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