An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man kisses the Western Wall.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The leading rabbis of the haredi community have, as is traditional, issued their customary “holy call” to their community to vote for the United Torah Judaism party and work for its success in the coming election.
The 26 rabbis listed include Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the acknowledged leader of the mainstream non-hassidic haredi world, Grand Rabbi of the Gur Hassidic court Rabbi Yaakov Arye Alter, Rabbis Nissim Karelitz and Haim Kanievski, among other senior haredi rabbinical figures.
As one UTJ official noted on Monday, the “holy call,” as it is described, is the most potent weapon in the political party’s armory, and is ascribed far greater importance and impact than traditional election tools such as campaign ads.
The exhortation has however once again ostensibly infracted the law by promising blessings and success for anyone for voting for UTJ, a practice outlawed by election law and previous Central Election Committee chairmen.
The rabbis listed a series of perceived threats to the haredi community in their call, including parties “who have inscribed on their banner the persecution of religion and tradition and recently the igniting of fire over the decree of [military] conscription for yeshiva students.”
Therefore, they continued, “We call in a holy declaration to anyone whose heart is whole with God from all the communities and sectors to volunteer and go out to the help of God with full vigor and work for the success of the United Torah Judaism list... which is the only party for which we call on to vote.”
The rabbis added that “We pray to God that those who work and vote for the United Torah Judaism list... will be blessed with children and food and all the blessings from the source of blessings.”
This is the same phrase used by the rabbis in support of UTJ during the election campaign in 2013, which was said by the then-Central-Elections-Committee chair Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubenstein to contravene the law on offering blessings in return for votes, the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group noted.
The Elections Law prohibits anyone from promising spiritual reward, blessings, health, or wealth if a voter chooses a particular political party, and also prohibits curses or threats of spiritual punishment for not voting in the correct manner.
Hiddush is considering filing an appeal to the elections committee against the rabbis’ declaration.
“UTJ has once again proved that it and its rabbis see Israeli law as unbinding recommendations and they do not hesitate to trample on it,” said Hiddush director and Reform rabbi Attorney Uri Regev.
He said that the seniority of the rabbis signatory to the “holy call” made the issue all the more serious and noted that “there is a special value and weight in the eyes of many haredi voters who believe in their [the rabbis] supernatural power.”
Hiddush has highlighted several other serious infractions of electoral law during the current campaign.
In January, the chief municipal rabbi of Safed Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu published an article on the Srugim new website calling on the Yahad and Otzma Yehudit parties to unite under one electoral list.
State-paid rabbis and civil servants of any type are forbidden from making public political comments. In addition, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar sought to reconcile Shas and its chairman Arye Deri with his fierce rival MK Eli Yishai who broke away from Shas to form Yahad.
Regev has said that this too constitutes activity that is prohibited by election law.