Ultra-Orthodox parties weaponize afterlife for get-out-the-vote campaign

Alongside promises of eternal salvation in return for a political vote, ultra-Orthodox parties invoke spectre of war on the religious to boost voting numbers

By
September 15, 2019 23:04
3 minute read.
A Shas campaign poster stating “Maran [Rabbi Ovadia Yosef] promised, Shas is your ticket for Judgeme

A Shas campaign poster stating “Maran [Rabbi Ovadia Yosef] promised, Shas is your ticket for Judgement Day,” alongside images of Yosef himself, a Shas voting slip, and a shofar blown on the Jewish New Year, also known as the Day of Judgement.`. (photo credit: SHAS)

“The greatest mitzvah you can do today is vote for Shas.”

Thus spoke Rabbi Shalom Cohen, president of the Council of Torah Sages of the Sephardi, ultra-Orthodox Shas party on Saturday, once again turning voting into a religious obligation upon which your soul will be judged in the afterlife.

The ultra-Orthodox parties and their rabbis have been indulging in this kind of rhetoric for years, but the shamelessness of promising salvation in return for political support has broken new records in this current election cycle.

Take for instance the Shas party’s current election slogan, in which they invoke the late “Maran,” Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and his promise of eternal salvation for casting a ballot paper in this temporal world.

“Maran promised, ‘Shas is your ticket for Judgment Day,’” goes the slogan. Vote Shas, go to Heaven, is what the party is saying. The implications for failing to do so should be pretty clear as well.

Leader of the Ashkenazi, non-hassidic haredi world, Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, stopped short of promising spiritual salvation in return for a vote, but did say that those who return from abroad to vote on Election Day will merit financial rewards for doing so.

A further example? Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, another member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, said at the same conference on Saturday that “only Shas will bring blessing and success, nothing else.”

And most egregiously, Cohen himself explicitly promised last week eternal afterlife in return for voting Shas, and bringing others to vote Shas.

“Everyone can bring more and more votes, and can merit life in the World to Come,” promised Cohen. “So God’s name can be sanctified in this world, so that His presence can rest in the Land of Israel.”

This kind of messaging is critical in boosting the election turnout in the ultra-Orthodox community, but it is not the only stratagem. Critical too is the ability to point to an enemy – to a boogeyman who will spell ruination for the ultra-Orthodox community should they come to power.

In this, Shas and United Torah Judaism have received great help from Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who has engaged in bombastic and incendiary rhetoric against the ultra-Orthodox community and its political leadership.

UTJ has taken full advantage of this, with campaign ads warning about the destruction of religious values and lifestyle should Liberman help form the government. Several UTJ campaign videos directly quoted Liberman’s stump speeches against the state budgets for yeshivas, as well as footage of the other ultra-Orthodox bête noire, Yair Lapid of Blue and White.

Another UTJ video, unusually, shows a religious woman lighting the Shabbat candles followed by various newspaper headlines regarding Liberman’s demands for civil marriage and public transportation on the Sabbath. “Don’t let them destroy Shabbat,” warns the UTJ video in a deadly serious voice with sinister music playing in the background.

A Shas campaign video made similar insinuations, showing an elderly couple sitting at an empty table on Shabbat, all of their children having gone off to less spiritual pursuits that day since laws were passed by Liberman and Lapid allowing greater commercial activity on the Sabbath.

Despite their questionable tactics, ultra-Orthodox parties know what they are about. They have unprecedented success in boosting voter turnout through this system of spiritual carrots and temporal scare tactics, with the ultra-Orthodox community boasting the highest electoral turnout of all the different societal sectors.

In the coming election, this advantage might prove even more beneficial. Voter turnout in the general population is likely to drop due to voter fatigue, the withering of party loyalties, and a general disillusionment with politics among the general population.

Although Shas and UTJ each obtained an unimagined haul of eight seats in the April 9 election, the increase in their share of the vote this time around could give them even greater electoral gains considering the expected decrease in turnout among the general population.

This would constitute a most munificent political blessing for the ultra-Orthodox parties, as those seats could propel the right-wing, religious bloc to the 61 members of Knesset needed to form the government.


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