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While Shas's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, warns that the wrath of God will be on all who vote for Israel Beiteinu, the purportedly apostate party defended its platform as perfectly kosher on Sunday.
MK David Rotem, an Orthodox Jew who is No. 8 on the Israel Beiteinu ticket, said in a telephone interview that his party's proposal to end the Orthodox Rabbinate's monopoly over marriages and divorces was supported by leading Orthodox rabbis.
"Former Chief Sephardi Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron called to change the law that forces secular Jews to marry in accordance with Halacha," Rotem said.
"We consulted with leading religious Zionist rabbis before we drafted the amendment. So I don't understand what Shas is so upset about."
Rotem was referring to an article published by Bakshi-Doron three years ago in Techumin, an influential rabbinical periodical.
In the article Bakshi-Doron, who was Chief Sephardi Rabbi between 1993 and 2003, argued that Israeli law, which obligates all Jews - both religious and secular - to marry in Orthodox ceremonies, causes more damage than good.
The great majority of Israelis who married were not religious and therefore did not take infidelity seriously, Bakshi-Doron wrote.
"When the wife cheats on her husband she becomes prohibited to him, and each time she has sexual relations [with him] afterward she is committing a transgression," Bakshi-Doron wrote.
"And if the husband and wife decide to part ways, there is no obligation to divorce formally in accordance with Halacha. The secular woman, who is still considered married to her original husband, is liable to begin a new relationship with another man and bear children, who are considered mamzerim [Jewish children born of an illicit sexual relationship].
"Why should we continue to marry secular couples who have no intention of adhering to Halacha?" he asked.
Bakshi-Doron also argued that the obligation to marry in accordance with Halacha created an untenable situation in which hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who received citizenship under the Law of Return but who are not Jewish according to Halacha could not marry. Many sought to convert to Judaism solely for the purpose of marrying, which created pressure on the Chief Rabbinate to convert people who had no intention of embracing Orthodox Judaism, Bakshi-Doron wrote.
But Shas has launched an anti-Israel Beiteinu scare campaign full of fire and brimstone and led by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
The centerpiece of the campaign is the claim that Israel Beiteinu is desecrating the Jewish faith.
Speaking in his weekly Saturday night lecture, the last before Tuesday's elections, Yosef warned the faithful that "God will punish" those who voted for a party supporting civil marriage.
"God forbid that anyone should vote for such a party," Yosef said, without ever mentioning Israel Beiteinu.
"There is an absolute prohibition against voting for them. The sin of those who vote for that party is too severe to be forgiven, it is impossible to describe his iniquity. It gives power to the evil side, it gives power to the devil, to the evil inclination. Someone who does such a thing will receive his punishment. God will punish him."
Religious Services Minister Yitzhak Cohen said Sunday in a telephone interview that Shas opposed all changes to the religious status quo.
"Israel Beiteinu's proposition will encourage intermarriage, assimilation," Cohen said.
"Just look at the situation in the US. Permitting civil marriages in Israel is a slippery slope that could lead to spiritual catastrophe."
Cohen attacked Israel Beiteinu, calling it a party that lacked all Jewish identity.
"They want to empty the State of Israel of all Jewish character. They want to open up stores that sell pork. They claim that citizenship should be dependent on loyalty. But they are disloyal to the Jewish people, to the Land of Israel and to the Torah," he said.
Rotem said in response that Israel Beiteinu had no intention of opening stores that sell pork. "That is part of the cheap demagoguery Shas is trying to use against us," he said.
Rotem added that his party's call to make citizenship contingent on either IDF service of some kind of national service was applicable to haredim as well. The majority of haredi men ask for an exemption from IDF service for religious reasons.
"As a religious Zionist I believe it is not only my duty as a citizen to serve my country, it is also a religious commandment," he said.
During a campaign rally in Arad on Saturday night, Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said his party was in favor of religion and Halacha.
"But we are against the insanity that has taken hold of the religious establishment," Lieberman said.
"The state cannot run in accordance with a haredi religion. We need normalcy and sanity."
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