Shas's council of Torah sages did not surprise anyone on Thursday when it decided, in a meeting at Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's home in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood, to endorse Vice Premier Shimon Peres in the presidential race.
Council Secretary Rafael Pinhasi addressed reporters after the meeting and told them that the council decided to endorse Peres because the rabbis wanted to show their appreciation for his years of work on behalf of "Judaism."
Although the council instructed Shas MKs to vote for Peres, it also wished Likud MK Reuven Rivlin well in the race. Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said Yosef had tremendous respect for Rivlin despite the endorsement of Peres. The decision of the rabbis was unanimous, he added.
The only member of the council who came to the meeting with Yosef was Porat Yosef Yeshiva head Rabbi Shalom Cohen. Rabbis Shimon Ba'adani and Moshe Maya did not feel well, so Yosef spoke to them over the phone.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu met with Yosef on Wednesday in an attempt to dissuade the rabbi from supporting Peres, but he did not succeed. The support of the 12 Shas MKs would give Peres a big boost - perhaps enough support to win the race.
Rivlin revealed this week that he had recently asked Yosef not to order Shas MKs who wanted to vote for him to vote for Peres. At least three Shas MKs are expected to defy the orders of the Shas rabbinical council and vote for Rivlin in the secret-ballot vote.
"At least half the Shas MKs' hearts would skip a beat if they submitted a ballot that didn't have my name on it," Rivlin said. "I don't intend to eulogize myself. I think my chances are still great, because I have support from MKs in every faction."
Rivlin called Yosef's house Thursday and denied that he had encouraged Shas MKs to defy the rabbi.
Shas spokesman Roy Lachmanovich received threats Thursday from right-wing extremists who warned him not to vote for someone who had "Oslo blood on his hands." Posters plastered in Jerusalem warned Shas MKs not to vote for Peres.
A source in Shas said the Peres endorsement was a blow to Yishai, who supported Rivlin, and a boost to Communications Minister Ariel Attias, who favored endorsing Peres.
Following the endorsement, Peres thanked Yishai for his party's support and asked that he pass on the thanks to Rabbi Yosef.
Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.
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