Continued participation in coalition is a crime, says Shas Council of Torah Sages

Council denounces government for its policies toward Torah students and the poor.

Haredi protest in Jerusalem 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Haredi protest in Jerusalem 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Shas Council of Torah Sages harshly denounced the government on Wednesday night for its policies toward Torah students and the poor, and said that participating in the coalition was akin to committing a crime.
It was the first time the four-member council convened since the death in October of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who served as the spiritual guide and ultimate leader of the Shas movement.
The council members – Yosef’s son and newly appointed member Rabbi David Yosef along with Rabbis Shalom Cohen, Shimon Badani and Moshe Maya – were briefed on political developments by Shas chairman Arye Deri and were then joined by the rest of the party’s MKs.
In a statement released to the media by Shas after the meeting, the council declared that the government was not acting with appropriate respect for Jewish tradition, and bitterly criticized its social policies.
“It is clear that a government that does not know how to behave with the fitting respect toward the Torah and traditions of Israel will not know how to behave with dignity and mercy toward the elderly, children and the sectors of society in crisis who are crying out for help,” the rabbis said.
“The Council of Torah Sages sees every member of the government as responsible for this serious situation. Continuing to sit in and cooperate with a government which acts mercilessly toward the weak and toward religious people is like a crime, and every member [of the government] bears equal responsibility for it.”
The council pointed to government legislation currently in committee designed to dramatically increase haredi enlistment in the army.
“The council is utterly opposed to any compromise in relation to the drafting of those who study Torah and demands that the government immediately establish arrangements to enable them to continue striving in their Torah studies, which the existence of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel depends upon,” they said.
Despite the harsh language of the council’s statement, the Shas party has previously been somewhat flexible on the issue of enlistment, with MKs tacitly recognizing that many registered yeshiva students fail to engage in their studies.
During the previous government, senior Shas MK Ariel Attias, then housing and construction minister, was involved in negotiations that he said would have led to the enlistment of 60 percent of the potential draft of haredi male youth every year.
And just a few weeks ago, Attias said during a hearing of the Knesset Special Committee on Haredi Enlistment that is reviewing the government bill on the matter that although Shas and United Torah Judaism would never support such a law, if it was formulated and worded in a “fair” manner, the haredi rabbinic and political leadership would not fiercely oppose it.
The special committee is edging closer to completing the review process on government legislation to draft haredi men into military and national service programs.
Although the original bill stipulated that haredi men, like all other Jewish men, will be subject to possible imprisonment for refusing to serve in the IDF, an ongoing argument is being conducted within the committee on this issue Yesh Atid and its representative on the committee MK Ofer Shelah, insist that the provision remain part of the bill, while committee chairwoman and Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked as well as other members of the panel instead advocate the imposition of financial penalties on anyone refusing to serve.
Until his death, Ovadia Yosef acted as president of the council.
His son David was appointed to the council in his place, but a new president has not been designated.
The council is nominally Shas’s supreme decision-making authority, although it was Ovadia Yosef who to all intents and purposes decided on major policy decisions, in conjunction with the advice he received from senior party leaders.
Since his death, decisions within the council are reached through discussion not only among the rabbis of the body but with the political leadership as well, according to one Shas insider.