Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri speaks to the press at the ballot.
(photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)
Much ink has been spilled in this election cycle over the bitter divide within the Ashkenazi haredi community and the political divisions that have emanated from the internecine conflict.
The mainstream haredi leadership, represented by United Torah Judaism, has ignored the demands of a smaller faction for political representation, and that group – known as the Jerusalem Faction – responded by boycotting the 2015 election, to all intents and purposes.
Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the leader of the rebel Ashkenazi haredi faction, said on Tuesday that he was not issuing instructions as to whom to vote for, amounting to a de facto boycott of the mainstream UTJ party by the faction’s voters, as many as 30,000 according to some estimates.
In the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sha’arei Hessed where Auerbach lives, flyers and posters abounded on the streets warning people not to vote, as Auerbach had implied.
“In accordance with the instruction of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, we will not vote whatsoever for any party,” one flyer read, a distortion of what the rabbi had actually said.
Another flyer, with a picture of Auerbach on it, said that anyone who participates in the election is liable to the same punishment as those who worship idols, a transgression that according to Jewish law is punishable by death.
At a dormitory of the Ma’alot Torah yeshiva headed by Auerbach in the neighborhood, the printed statement of the rabbi was posted at the entrance to the building, warning students that he had not backed any party whatsoever, a response to rumors that Auerbach was tacitly supporting either Shas or Yahad.
And yeshiva students at the Ma’alot Torah study hall close by told The Jerusalem Post they would not be voting.
“We do as our rabbis instruct us, and Rabbi Auerbach said there’s no one to vote for, so we’re not voting,” said one student.
He acknowledged, however, that a small number of students were voting, likely for Shas.
Reports from various haredi political advisers and sources noted that some Jerusalem Faction voters were voting for Shas due to the absence of clear instructions from Auerbach, although the extent of this voting pattern was unclear.
Meanwhile, in the haredi Jerusalem neighborhood of Geula, students outside the renowned Mir Yeshiva said they had voted for United Torah Judaism and that the party was assisting yeshiva students by providing buses for them to reach their voting stations, often outside of the city where they study.
One man said that although he studies in Jerusalem, he is from Bnei Brak, and a bus that UTJ provided took him to and from the voting station in Bnei Brak. Another student noted that his sister studies at a seminary in the southern town of Ofakim but is registered to vote in Jerusalem, and that UTJ had provided transportation for her and others like her.
Another student said that it was important to vote in order to give enough electoral power to the haredi parties to allow them to prevent Yesh Atid from being part of the next government.
Yesh Atid and its chairman, Yair Lapid, have become the bête noir of the haredi community, due to the law for haredi conscription the party forced through and the cuts to haredi welfare benefits Yesh Atid enacted.
One flyer showed a bar chart of Yesh Atid’s increasing popularity in the polls throughout the duration of the election campaign, with a shadowy image of Lapid’s face superimposed on the chart.
“Whoever doesn’t vote for UTJ votes for Lapid. Period!” warned the flyer, which bore UTJ’s official logo.
Another flyer said simply: “They are poised to destroy us,” with a list of budget cuts to the haredi sector and laws that were passed or introduced that did or would have liberalized various aspects of the interaction of religion and state in the country.
Speaking after casting his ballot in the morning, UTJ chairman MK Ya’acov Litzman refused to answer whether he would be disappointed if his party did not maintain its current Knesset standing of seven seats.
But if UTJ drops to six mandates, it will know whom to blame.