United Torah Judaism still united, officials insist

Despite speculation of “historic splits,” Ashkenazi haredi party says it is set to run in elections largely unchanged from previous polls.

MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Despite numerous rumors and media speculation of “historic splits,” the Ashkenazi haredi party United Torah Judaism says it is set to run in Knesset elections largely unchanged from previous polls.
With election fever firmly setting in, one report in haredi weekly magazine Mishpacha on Thursday claimed that the Belz Hassidim, currently represented in UTJ by MK Yisrael Eichler, are willing to defect to the Shas party if their candidate does not get the desired spot on the party list.
The Belz Hassidim are part of Agudat Yisrael, the hassidic faction of UTJ, separate from the non-hassidic haredi faction Degel Hatorah. As UTJ, which currently holds five seats, does not hold primaries, candidates are chosen and placed on the party list by consensus.
Traditionally, a candidate from the Gur Hassidim has topped the list for Agudat Yisrael, followed by a candidate from the Shlomei Emunim confederation of different hassidic groups and a candidate representing the Vishnitz Hassidim.
Belz nominees have figured fourth on Agudat Yisrael’s list, and in the event that UTJ does not get six Knesset seats, one Agudah MK swaps with the Belz candidate halfway through the Knesset term, as occurred in the 18th Knesset.
Eichler strenuously denied the Mishpacha story, telling the haredi Kol Berama radio station on Thursday morning that the report was completely false.
He also denounced Mishpacha, in which he writes a weekly column, for “not bothering to phone him” for comment on the story.
Additionally, a source within Agudat Yisrael denied there was any split in the faction at all, telling The Jerusalem Post that everyone was going into the elections “in peace and unity.”
Murmurs of discontent have also been sounded within Degel Hatorah, stemming from the death in July of the Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who was the spiritual leader of the non-hassidic haredi world.
The power struggle that followed his passing between Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman of Bnei Brak and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach of Jerusalem ended with victory for the former and his widespread acceptance as “leader of the generation.”
The two Degel Hatorah MKs, Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev, are loyal to Shteinman, but supporters of Auerbach are agitating for a candidate of their own to be given a prominent place on the UTJ list, threatening to form their own party if this demand is refused.
However, a UTJ source within Degel Hatora poured scorn on this notion, telling the Post it is extremely unlikely that the Auerbach camp will break away at this time. The rabbi and his supporters are not powerful or numerous enough to form a viable new non-hassidic haredi party, the source claimed.
“There are so many serious issues facing the haredi community at the moment, such as national service for haredim, child support and so on, no one would dare split away now. It would be the height of irresponsibility.”
Menahem Carmel, who was the third on the Degel Hatorah list in the last elections and seventh in the full UTJ list – therefore missing out on a Knesset seat – writes frequently for the new haredi newspaper Hapeles, which was formed as a mouthpiece for Auerbach’s camp. Sources within UTJ have been quoted as saying that Carmel will not figure on UTJ’s list in the coming elections because of his adherence to Auerbach.