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A purposely obscure, face-saving meeting Thursday between MK Moshe Gafni (Degel Hatorah) and the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Ya'acov Aryeh Alter, facilitated the merging of the Hassidic and Lithuanian haredi political parties into a united list.
After the meeting between Gafni and the Gerer rebbe, the Lithuanian Degel Hatora and the Hassidic Agudat Yisrael related contradictory reports on exactly what happened.
According to Agudat Yisrael, Gafni apologized to the Gerer rebbe in the name of Degel Hatorah for slighting the Hassidic leader.
According to Degel Hatorah, no apology was offered. The meeting had nothing to do with the ongoing tension between the two haredi parties that caused a split at the beginning of the year.
MK Ya'acov Litzman has demanded that Degel Hatorah apologize to the Gerer Rebbe for ignoring the Hassidic leader's opinion on joining Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition.
However, Degel Hatorah has been unwilling to compromise itself by openly admitting that an apology was justified.
The Gerer Rebbe disagreed with Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the supreme halachic and spiritual authority for Degel Hatorah on how to join the government coalition. The Gerer rebbe felt it was important for all Agudah members to accept positions in the government immediately, while Rabbi Elyashiv demanded a three-month waiting period.
Gafni and Avraham Ravitz the two Degel MKs split with the three Agudah MKs after Agudah refused to accept Elyashiv's opinion.
Agudah MKs felt they were entitled to listen to their own rabbis just as Degel listened to Elyashiv.
Litzman said this was a condition for reuniting the two parties.
"Each party has its own rabbi and is entitled to honor him," said
The next possible stumbling block that could foil the merger between the two parties is Degel Hatorah's insistence that each party receive an equal number of MKs in the list.
Litzman said that in the previous elections Degel Hatorah barely obtained two mandates compared to Agudat Yisrael's three.
However, despite their difference there is one strong impetus for running on a united list: both parties are dangerously close to falling below the three-mandate minimum if they run alone.
Righwing haredi elements, particularly Chabad followers, plan to run an aggresive campaign against Agudah for sitting in the government during disengagement, said a Chabad source.
"An American Millionaire plans to fund a campaign that shows that Litzman was a partner in that crime."
This could do damage to Agudah.
It is still unclear whether Litzman will continue to serve in the Knesset. The Gerer Hassidic tradition is to switch its MKs every eight years. Although he has not completed an entire 8-year stint he will have completed one mid-term in the next Knesset. Litzman told The Jerusalem Post that he asked the Gerer rebbe to released so that he could return to Torah learning. He is still waiting for an answer.
In Degel Hatorah there are rumors that Ravitz will be switched.
"Its not that the Council of Sages is unhappy with him. It's just that there is a need to refresh the ranks," said one source close to a member of the council.
Ravitz's aide denied the rumors.
Uri Maklev, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, is one of the individuals mentioned who could be tapped to switch Ravitz, said the source.
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