Bayit Yehudi MKs mull establishing Shas-like rabbinical council

Party chairman Naftali Bennett says would rather "leave Council of Torah Sages to Shas."

October 19, 2013 22:13
3 minute read.
Bayit Yehudi faction meeting, October 2013.

Bayit Yehudi faction meeting 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)


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Several Bayit Yehudi MKs are pushing the party to form its own version of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages to advise the faction on matters related to religion, The Jerusalem Post learned on Saturday night.

“Bayit Yehudi comes from a place of Torah,” MK Motti Yogev explained, saying the council would be a forum to discuss religious law, whose advice would be sought in the same way an economist would be on economic matters.

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“It would be a varied group of rabbis chosen by consensus in the party. Ideally, they would be led by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, whose authority is accepted by most religious Zionists,” Yogev said. “Quite a few matters of Halacha are expected to come up in the Knesset, and it would be the right thing to do to have some rabbis give advice to the faction.”

The council was the topic of a heated argument between members of the faction last week. Tekuma director-general Nachi Eyal proposed the idea, and MKs Yogev, Yoni Chetboun and Orit Struck outspokenly supported it.

Tekuma was one of the parties that made up the National Union in the last Knesset, and joined Bayit Yehudi’s list before last January’s election.

The party is associated with “hardal” (haredi Zionist) rabbis who are more religiously conservative.

Bayit Yehudi and Tekuma have yet to officially merge. Struck is a Tekuma member, but Yogev and Chetboun are not.

The MKs tried to bring up the proposal at Monday’s faction meeting, which was closed to the press, but were repeatedly denied by faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked, who pointed out that the topic was not on the agenda.

Struck accused “parts of the faction,” likely meaning Shaked and party chairman Naftali Bennett, of trying to make decisions for all of its MKs without discussing matters.

“Let’s leave the Council of Torah Sages to Shas,” Bennett’s office said in response to an inquiry about the proposal on Saturday night.

Yogev defended the proposal on Saturday night, saying that Bayit Yehudi’s religious-Zionist political predecessor, the National Religious Party, always sought the advice of rabbis on religious matters as well as of professionals in other areas.

In the past, the National Religious Party had a council of rabbis whose decisions were non-binding and which could not release press releases or make statements to the media.

“This isn’t like Shas, which asks the Council of Torah Sages about every single thing, or like one rabbi who decides for Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah [the parties making up United Torah Judaism],” Yogev explained. “Some can accept the rabbis’ positions and others might not and if someone wants to consult with them on other [not religious] issues, he is free to.”

As for the arguments in the faction meeting, Yogev said he did not know in advance that the proposal would come up, but once it did, he expressed support.

Still, he added, “we’re not there yet,” and there are many other, more urgent topics on the faction’s docket.

“I’m sure Bennett is angry that this story got out,” a party source said of the proposal.

“This isn’t the first time it’s been discussed, but it’s the first time they made a scene about it. If it’s going to be like Shas, most of the faction won’t be in favor of that.”

Other MKs are undecided and could be swayed to support the proposal if the rabbis with whom they were associated would be on the council, the source said.

The source also said that a decision was unlikely to be made until after Tekuma and Bayit Yehudi formally merged, which won’t happen until after this week’s municipal elections.

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