Haredi leaders issue call to arms for election

UTJ launches off campaign; hassidic rabbis call on haredi community to enlist in the electoral campaign to strengthen party.

AHARON LEIB SHTEINMAN 370 (photo credit: Wikipedia)
(photo credit: Wikipedia)
After months of infighting and internal bickering, the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) United Torah Judaism party kicked off its election campaign in earnest this week under the slogan “We are all haredim.”
On Tuesday, the rabbinic leaders of two of the largest hassidic communities in the country called on the haredi community to enlist in the electoral campaign to increase the community’s political strength.
Earlier this week, spiritual leader of the non-hassidic haredi world Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman declared that it was obligatory for the ultra-Orthodox community to fight the creation of laws than ran contrary to the Torah.
Haredi political and rabbinic leaders alike have been concerned about the numerous political fault lines that have cracked open in the run-up to the January poll, and there is a concern within UTJ ranks that the divisions will lead to decreased grassroots activism, a split of the haredi vote and poor voter turnout on election day.
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“Our slogan reflects the fact that we want all parts of haredi society to come together for these elections,” a UTJ official told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“There are a lot of critical issues which are facing us. Whether it’s about Torah study, or the housing crisis, or [national service] enlistment, we want everyone to feel connected and everyone to come together.”
The desire for a collective, communal effort to shore up the haredi community’s political influence manifested on the front page of Tuesday’s Yated Ne’eman newspaper, the biggest-selling haredi daily.
The paper published two “holy pronouncements” from the rebbes of both the Viznitz and Belz hassidic sects, calling on the haredi community as a whole to take part in the election campaign efforts.
“This [election] campaign will be especially fateful for our children,” said Viznitz’s Rabbi Yisroel Hager, whose hassidic dynasty is the second-largest in the country after that of Ger.
“The wars for religion at the moment are over everything. The terrible decrees that are on our doorstep obligate every single person to enlist for the campaign, to increase their participation in order to increase the power of UTJ... to increase the strength of our representatives who fight our wars,” Hager declared.
The rebbe of Belz, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, made similar comments in his decree, calling on all haredim to work for the campaign and to vote for UTJ to ensure the largest possible number of haredi MKs.
Yated Ne’eman is the mouthpiece of Degel Hatorah, the non-hassidic party of the UTJ Knesset faction, so the publication of the hassidic leaders’ pronouncements was itself a symbolic message of unity within haredi circles.
At a Degel Hatorah conference in Or Yehuda on Sunday, Shteinman, too, emphasized the notion of collective responsibility to vote for UTJ.
During his speech to the gathered party activists, he repeatedly stressed the obligation of all members of the haredi community to work for the campaign in whatever capacity they could, and to vote for the haredi party.
“There is a fire, may God have mercy on us!” he declared. “There is danger, and if we do not [act], then they can make laws contrary to the Torah, God forbid.”
He stated that “every day, there are secular and other representatives [MKs] doing things not in accordance with the way of the Torah, and we need to struggle all the time against this so that they will not succeed.”
He urged the haredi community to use the elections as an opportunity “to influence matters, because if one does not do so, then one transgresses the Torah prohibition, ‘Do not stand by as your brother’s blood is shed.”
The calls to action came against the background of a split in the haredi world that has emerged and grown since the death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv back in July.
Elyashiv was the acknowledged rabbinical leader of the non-hassidic haredi sector, but a leadership struggle between Shteinman and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach following his death has created bitter animosity and political divisions between the rabbis’ respective supporters.
Concern is also mounting within UTJ about the party’s failure to increase the number of Knesset seats it gains, despite the high rate of the haredi population’s growth. The “We are all haredim” tag is also directed at haredim who might be thinking about voting for a non-haredi party.