In the haredi community, Deputy Mayor Yehoshua Pollack is often referred to as the "shpitz", a term reserved for the exceptionally smart, and those who can easily juggle figures and negotiate legal issues. His reputation as the smartest of the haredi city councilors, his closest assistants say, isn't one that bothers the former Jerusalem Religious Council head. Indeed, Pollack holds one of the most important portfolios in the city council, that of the Planning and Construction Committee. For the past three years, he has also served as treasurer of the local council of Betar Illit, a position he promised to quit after its council elections next month. (Municipal elections will be held next year.) Some three months ago Pollack, 60, began a special diet, and has already lost about 15 kilos. When asked once during a city council meeting if his diet were part of his candidacy campaign, he merely smiled. Lately, there has been talk of internal changes in haredi society. Do you agree with that? If you mean changes as a result of being in power [in Jerusalem], then maybe. But if you mean changes within our society, like being more open to modernity, then I am not sure at all. So in your opinion, being in power does bring changes? If you want to go into politics, to lead the city, you cannot continue to be sectarian. You have to accept that once you're there, you're the mayor of all residents. I also face this kind of situation in my job as head of the Planning Committee. I have to approve planning and construction of churches, mosques and cinemas. It is obvious that I would prefer to build only synagogues, but I understand my position, so I approve plans according to the residents' needs, whether I like it or not. So what you're telling us is that you are ready to become mayor, someone who has everyone's interests at heart? What I mean is that one cannot honestly do only half a job without taking into account the needs of other sectors of the population. I try to do my best to be honest with everyone. Would you agree to attend secular cultural events? I would consider each case individually. I would take into serious consideration the honor of Jerusalem, which is not just any city. If it is respectful to Jerusalem to be present at a secular event, for example at a music or film festival, I would come and bless the guests. What wouldn't you do? Imagine if I were asked to award the cup to a soccer team, which plays on Shabbat, at the end of a competition. I wouldn't accept. To give legitimacy to a desecration of Shabbat? With all due respect, I wouldn't do that. But in a larger way, I do believe that once you're in politics, you have to respect agreements, like coalition agreements, even when you don't agree. Otherwise, my advice is to refrain from stepping into that world. Let's talk about women in the haredi community. How would you describe their status today? There have been tremendous changes, but not in the way some people think. For example, we are having many more children than our parents did. I have eight children and 17 grandchildren, and my eldest daughter, God bless her, already has 10 kids. She doesn't have time for professional training, not to speak of anything else. What about women studying Talmud, as in the religious Zionist community? It's unthinkable. In our society, men study and women give birth and take care of the children. They also have to work to support their family. They don't even have the time to consider this option. So modern winds of change, such as technological innovations, don't enter the haredi community? We are very conservative - it is the only way to protect us and our children. Take a look at what's going on outside: the Internet, cellular phones - these devices are easily breaking the boundaries and barriers we once had. So not only do I not see any kind of openness, I would say that there are signs of stringency and extremism, especially toward women. The rabbis don't even allow them to obtain university degrees. Though there was once some thinking of opening the barrier, now it's the opposite. With all these threats around us, there is no other choice than to keep as far away as possible from all these dangers. These threats include the offensive attitude of the media and advertising toward women. Couldn't you cooperate with feminist movements? Perhaps we share some goals. But the feminist agenda is so anathema to our ways and customs that I don't see any chance of collaboration. So how do you protect yourselves? We have all kinds of ways: kosher cell phones, kosher Internet and education, strict education. But still, it is sometimes not enough. Like what? Take my friend Yigal Amedi, whose office is next to mine. I wouldn't let my daughter work with him, although I am on excellent terms with him and I like and respect him, because she would be exposed to different manners that I don't want her to encounter. For example, talking directly with him, exchanging jokes, some kind of familiarity [with a male that is not in her family], which I am against. So we don't have any choice, we have to close ourselves off. Is poverty a threat to the preservation of this way of life? Oh yes, you don't even realize how much. Poverty in haredi society is so harsh and deep, people cannot cope with it anymore. It has become a terrible problem, and young people leave the yeshivot because they cannot stand it anymore - poverty with large families, it's too much. So what are the solutions proposed by the rabbis? No one likes to admit it, but the army has become a sustainable solution. The Nahal Haredi unit is a real success. Of course, in our society nobody wants to admit it publicly, least of all in front of the secular, but I am telling you, it's a good solution. These young people who cannot fit in anymore in the yeshivot, what choice did they have until now? Becoming "shabab" [delinquent]? Instead of that, they are in a program, there is supervision and they are taken care of. They eat, sleep and live in good conditions. It's easier for their families, and then they can go to work and make a decent living. So what's wrong with it? But maybe that means that Zionism, secular Zionism has won after all? I don't think so. Look at what's happening in the secular education system: the drug addicts, the crime, the rapes, the violence. And above all, those who want to quit and move to America. We are the real Zionists today. You know why? Because secular Israelis are leaving the country, and we cannot even dream of doing so. Where would we go with our huge families? We are here to stay. So we will stay here and keep the country for all of us. We'll take good care of it. Do you think haredim could bring peace between us and the Palestinians? Absolutely, because we are more pragmatic and less excited about certain symbols, which are less important, in our view, than human life. For us, it's not an ideological battle, but a matter of life or death, and of course we would do anything to save lives. Are you running for mayor in the next elections? Of course I am. There's an agreement between Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah. Degel had the first candidate, now it's our turn, a candidate from Aguda, and as far as I know, I am that candidate. There's no doubt about it.

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