Haredi political rally in Bnei Brak, March 11, 2015.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Tens of thousands of haredi men and women gathered in Bnei Brak to listen to their rabbis and political representatives urging them to vote for the United Torah Judaism party on Election Day next week.
MKs from the party and the leading rabbis of the community spoke in terms of the religious obligation to vote and the danger of failing to turn up at the voting booth this coming Tuesday.
The mass rally was held by the non-hassidic “Lithuanian” community represented within the United Torah Judaism Knesset faction by the Degel Hatorah party. Haredi men from Jerusalem, the central region, Beit Shemesh and Modi’in Illit were instructed by declarations in the haredi press to attend the event.
As the leading rabbis – including Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman – ascended to the stage, thousands upon thousands of men clapped their hands jumping up and down in celebration of the Torah sages in front of them.
When it was Shteinman’s turn to address the audience, however, the 102-year-old rabbi spoke for just 50 seconds, in his quiet and somewhat slurred Hebrew.
Shteinman called on the haredi community to go out and vote, saying barely audibly even over the sound system, “It is in your hands to determine if there will be a sanctification of God’s name or a desecration of His name.”
The excitement of the audience was notably dampened by the brief and uninspiring words by the frail rabbi, with the organizers continuing swiftly to the more vigorous speeches of the other rabbinical leaders of the community.
Haredi political leaders have railed against the “wicked decrees” of the outgoing government, which sought, among other measures, to draft haredi men into military service, reform the conversion process and cut various state-paid budgets enjoyed by the haredi sector.
In light of this legislation, the haredi leaders insisted that, more than ever, it is incumbent upon haredim to go out and vote to “defend the Torah world.”
Before the rabbis spoke, senior Degel MK Moshe Gafni gave the keynote political speech, talking about the “efforts to harm everything holy and beloved to us such as conversion, conscription, Shabbat, marriage and divorce,” and insisting to the crowd that it is an obligation to vote.
The speeches of the various rabbis and politicians were replete with exhortations that voting is a religious obligation.
Rabbi Haim Kanievsky was also in attendance, although an aide to the rabbi read Kanievsky’s statement for him.
“It is forbidden to withhold [one’s vote], the rabbi’s statement read. “Anyone who withholds is a partner to the desecration of God’s name... and bears responsibility for all the damage that is caused by this.”
Rabbi Moshe Chadash, another senior yeshiva dean, said “someone who doesn’t go to vote, his vote is divided up so that 20% goes to a leftist, 20% goes to Satan...and who knows where else.”
Speaking after the rally was ended by the traditional prayers “accepting the yoke of Heaven,” one young man said that the attendance had been even greater because of the way the haredi community has suffered in the last two years due to the actions of the government.
He said cuts to welfare budgets such as child allotments are particularly problematic, and added that he believes the Torah is under attack by those who hate religion.
Asked about Shteinman’s extremely brief and hard-to-understand comments, another attendee said he was not disappointed by it and that it was understandable given the rabbi’s extreme old age and physical weakness.