Haredi political rally in Bnei Brak, March 11, 2015.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the leader of the rebel haredi group known as the Jerusalem Faction, issued a statement on Monday saying he would not vote in Tuesday’s election.
Although no clear instructions were given by the rabbi to loyalists of the Jerusalem Faction as to whom to vote for, Auerbach’s message certainly means his supporters will not be voting for United Torah Judaism, the political party from where the renegade camp originated.
Auerbach, 84, and the Jerusalem Faction command as many as 30,000 votes, approaching one Knesset seat, but are engaged in a long-running feud with Degel Hatorah, the non-hassidic bloc of the UTJ.
Degel, led by the centenarian Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, has excluded the Jerusalem Faction – their non-hassidic haredi brethren – from political representation, so Auerbach and his advisers have struck out on their own political path.
Speaking on Monday, Auerbach’s personal assistant Rabbi Yosef Petrov issued a statement saying Auerbach “did not give instructions to vote and, therefore, the law of ‘you shall do as they instruct’ does not apply.”
Voting in the haredi world is based on the concept of adhering to the instructions of rabbis, a concept very loosely derived from a verse in the Bible that instructs the people to act in accordance with the rulings given by judges.
Petrov said that since Auerbach gave no instructions there was, therefore, “no permission to vote,” in Tuesday’s election.
“The clear meaning of the Rosh Yeshiva [an institutional rabbinic leader] two days before the elections without instructions to vote is his way of saying there is no one to vote for,” Petrov said.
The ambiguous wording of Auerbach’s message does not explicitly instruct his followers not to vote, and the rabbi has deliberately shied away from instructing his loyalists outright not to vote since it could expose him to accusations that he weakened haredi Knesset representation to the detriment of the entire haredi community.
Dissenting voices within the faction urged Auerbach to endorse either Yahad or Shas in the last few days so as to avoid this charge, but they seemingly were overruled by Auerbach and his senior advisers.
In his message, Petrov said the rabbi in no way had given his blessing to Yahad and said he has no connection to the party.
Auerbach also has a history of bad blood with the Shas party. One source in the Jerusalem Faction told The Jerusalem Post that although the rabbi respects the Shas spiritual guide and head of the movement’s Council of Torah Sages Rabbi Shalom Cohen, he does not trust party chairman Arye Deri.
The source said that Auerbach is of the opinion that “it is not Rabbi Shalom Cohen and the Council of Torah Sages that gives instructions to the political echelon but rather Deri who instructs the rabbis on what to say.”
If, as is likely, the overwhelming majority of Auerbach’s supporters do not vote for UTJ, it would constitute a severe blow to the party’s efforts to hang on to its seventh Knesset seat.
UTJ gained seven Knesset seats in the 2013 elections, much to the surprise of the party itself, and the loss of some 30,000 votes this time around will be hard to overcome.