Haredi protest in Jerusalem 390.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Shas Council of Torah Sages harshly denounced the government on Wednesday
night for its policies toward Torah students and the poor, and said that
participating in the coalition was akin to committing a crime.
It was the
first time the four-member council convened since the death in October of Rabbi
Ovadia Yosef, who served as the spiritual guide and ultimate leader of the Shas
The council members – Yosef’s son and newly appointed member
Rabbi David Yosef along with Rabbis Shalom Cohen, Shimon Badani and Moshe Maya –
were briefed on political developments by Shas chairman Arye Deri and were then
joined by the rest of the party’s MKs.
In a statement released to the
media by Shas after the meeting, the council declared that the government was
not acting with appropriate respect for Jewish tradition, and bitterly
criticized its social policies.
“It is clear that a government that does
not know how to behave with the fitting respect toward the Torah and traditions
of Israel will not know how to behave with dignity and mercy toward the elderly,
children and the sectors of society in crisis who are crying out for help,” the
“The Council of Torah Sages sees every member of the
government as responsible for this serious situation. Continuing to sit in and
cooperate with a government which acts mercilessly toward the weak and toward
religious people is like a crime, and every member [of the government] bears
equal responsibility for it.”
The council pointed to government
legislation currently in committee designed to dramatically increase haredi
enlistment in the army.
“The council is utterly opposed to any compromise
in relation to the drafting of those who study Torah and demands that the
government immediately establish arrangements to enable them to continue
striving in their Torah studies, which the existence of the Jewish people in the
Land of Israel depends upon,” they said.
Despite the harsh language of
the council’s statement, the Shas party has previously been somewhat flexible on
the issue of enlistment, with MKs tacitly recognizing that many registered
yeshiva students fail to engage in their studies.
During the previous
government, senior Shas MK Ariel Attias, then housing and construction minister,
was involved in negotiations that he said would have led to the enlistment of 60
percent of the potential draft of haredi male youth every year.
a few weeks ago, Attias said during a hearing of the Knesset Special Committee
on Haredi Enlistment that is reviewing the government bill on the matter that
although Shas and United Torah Judaism would never support such a law, if it was
formulated and worded in a “fair” manner, the haredi rabbinic and political
leadership would not fiercely oppose it.
The special committee is edging
closer to completing the review process on government legislation to draft
haredi men into military and national service programs.
original bill stipulated that haredi men, like all other Jewish men, will be
subject to possible imprisonment for refusing to serve in the IDF, an ongoing
argument is being conducted within the committee on this issue Yesh Atid and its
representative on the committee MK Ofer Shelah, insist that the provision remain
part of the bill, while committee chairwoman and Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked
as well as other members of the panel instead advocate the imposition of
financial penalties on anyone refusing to serve.
Until his death, Ovadia
Yosef acted as president of the council.
His son David was appointed to
the council in his place, but a new president has not been
The council is nominally Shas’s supreme decision-making
authority, although it was Ovadia Yosef who to all intents and purposes decided
on major policy decisions, in conjunction with the advice he received from
senior party leaders.
Since his death, decisions within the council are
reached through discussion not only among the rabbis of the body but with the
political leadership as well, according to one Shas insider.