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As the campaign scene heats up and rabbis throw their spiritual weight behind the political parties in the Holy Land with ever growing fervor, the Jews in Zion are witness once again to the uncomfortable fusion between mundane and holy, spiritual and material, heaven and earth.
After promising speedy entry to the Garden of Eden for all who vote Shas, the haredi Sephardi party's spiritual mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, switched tactics - from carrot to stick - and conjured the wrath of God for all who refrain from voting Shas.
A pamphlet in Yosef's handwriting to be passed out on voting day curses wayward souls who do not vote Shas.
"It is said [of those people] cursed, surely cursed are those who did not come to the aid of God. Cursed be he who does not uphold the words of this Torah to do them. I rule that you must vote Shas and influence others to do so as well." However, Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said Sunday morning to Army Radio that Yosef was misunderstood.
"I never contradict the Rabbi, just explain his intention," said Yishai. "Not everyone fully understands the Rabbi's biblical and Talmudic sources. The Rabbi says the words of the living God." A Shas spokesman offered a different interpretation. "That pamphlet is meant for Sephardi yeshiva students who learn in Jerusalem." But there seems to be some dissent between Yosef and another very senior rabbi regarding Sephardi yeshiva students learning in Ashkenazi yeshivot in Jerusalem and other holy cities.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the supreme halachic authority for Lithuanian haredi Judaism, reportedly told Sephardi yeshiva students learning in Ashkenazi yeshivot that they should vote for United Torah Judaism, not Shas.
"The Sephardi yeshiva students asked the rabbi what to vote and he answered, 'I'm voting UTJ'," said one of Elyashiv's aides. The aide interpreted this answer as a clear call to vote for the Ashkenazi UTJ.
Rabbinic controversy is not absent on other political fronts. On the left, Uzi Dayan's Tafnit and Meimad, led by Rabbi Michael Melchior, vied Sunday for the support of Rabbi Yehuda Amital, head of the Gush Etzion Yeshiva in Alon Shvut.
Contradictory reports were released by Amital's son-in-law, Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, a Tafnit hopeful, and Meimad.
"Rabbi Amital called Uzi Dayan this morning and told him that Tafnit's platform most closely reflects his opinions," said Gilad.
"But he also told Meimad that he has not abandoned them either. I don't know how to reconcile those two statements." Amital was unavailable for comment.
Other rabbis have joined the fray, using their spiritual clout to influence obedient Jews with voting rights. For instance, Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, head of the religious kibbutz movement's Yeshiva at Ein Tzurim, came out publicly in favor of Kadima.
Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, in a pre-election interview with Mayanei Hayeshua, a pamphlet on the weekly Torah portion said, "God forbid that someone should vote for Kadima." Eliyahu also recommended that Shas repent for its support of Oslo before it can be forgiven the sin of giving up parts of the land of Israel to gentiles. Eliyahu added that UTJ was disqualified due to its support, even passively, for disengagement from Gaza.
Chabad's Rabbinic Committee came out in favor of three political parties: Shas, United Torah Judaism and National Union- NRP. The committee opposed voting for Baruch Marzel's Jewish Front because there are doubts whether the party will muster the needed votes to enter the Knesset.
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