Shas, Bayit Yehudi battle it out over haredi enlistment

Shas head tells Army Radio that he has asked the rabbis from the national religious parties not to strike a deal with Yair Lapid.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Interior Minister Eli Yishai 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A war of words broke out between Shas and Bayit Yehudi on Monday surrounding ongoing coalition negotiations and the issue of haredi enlistment in the army.
Joint Shas leader Eli Yishai said that he had been meeting with several national-religious rabbis and told them to warn Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett against making agreements with Yesh Atid regarding the “Torah world.”
“We don’t want Bayit Yehudi making decisions for the Torah world, or to enter into agreements and understandings with [Yesh Atid leader] Yair Lapid for the Torah world,” Yishai said during an interview with Channel 2.
“Bennett is not the patron for the Torah world and isn’t responsible for it and so shouldn’t make decisions for it,” Yishai said.
“We’re turning to the [national-religious] rabbis and telling them to warn or request the Bayit Yehudi MKs not to dare harm the Torah world.”
Shas and United Torah Judaism are concerned Yesh Atid will insist in coalition negotiations on the cancelation of the mass exemptions from military service that were available to full-time yeshiva students as part of the “Tal Law,” which was overturned last year.
Incoming Bayit Yehudi MK Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan took exception to what he termed “Yishai’s accusations that Bayit Yehudi would abandon the Torah world,” and also said that no one from Shas had apologized for “the very harsh words that were said against [Bayit Yehudi] during the election campaign.”
Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in his last speech before the election that Bayit Yehudi – which means “Jewish Home” in English – was “the home of non-Jews,” in comments pertaining to the party’s stance on issues of religion and state.
“The Torah world is beloved to us no less than to Shas,” Dahan said on the Knesset Channel. “I studied in yeshiva for more years than [Shas leaders] Arye Deri, Eli Yishai and Ariel Attias combined, so to say that the Torah world isn’t important to us is not appropriate.”
Ben-Dahan also denied that national-religious rabbis were putting pressure on Bayit Yehudi regarding the issues being discussed within the coalition negotiations.
Several senior national-religious rabbis have reportedly met with the grand rabbis of the Gur, Belz and Viznitz dynasties over the past two days, including rabbis Yaakov Ariel, Elyakim Levanon, Haim Druckman Yaakov Shapira, Simcha Cohen Kook, Shmuel Eliyahu, Zvi Yisrael Tau and Zalman Melamed.
However, Ben-Dahan repeated Bayit Yehudi’s stance on the issue of haredi enlistment that “anyone learning Torah, [Bayit Yehudi] will protect him so he can continue to learn Torah,” but said that “someone who is not studying” should perform national service.
It is widely believed that many thousands of those enrolled in full-time study do not actually fulfill their commitments, although precise figures are not available.
The haredi political and spiritual leadership says it is open to drafting such people into national service, but refuses to accept proposals, such as that of Yesh Atid, that would impose quotas on the number of yeshiva students who can receive national service exemptions.
Uri Ariel, who is no. 2 on Bayit Yehudi’s list and is and part of the Tekuma faction, said on haredi radio station Kol Berama that the party does not support Lapid’s plans for universal enlistment, and was in discussions with the haredi parties on the issue.
Sources in Shas also attacked Bayit Yehudi on Monday for seeking to undermine the Jewish and religious identity of the state.
Incoming Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked said in response on Army Radio that Shas had “taken control of religious institutions,” and that the party’s 12-seat election haul would help reverse “Shas’s hegemony over the Chief Rabbinate and the Religious Services Ministry.”
She noted that it was possible to form a government without Shas, but said that Bayit Yehudi would still be happy to work together with the haredi party.
Separately, UTJ’s coalition negotiating team met with Likud on Monday to discuss their parameters for joining the government. Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman said that United Torah Judaism’s central condition for joining the government is that anyone who wants to learn Torah should be allowed to do so.
He added that increasing equality in the burden of national service should include the Arab sector as well.