Shas feeds poverty, claims Deputy Minister Ben-Dahan

Bayit Yehudi deputy minister says Shas "convinced people who would naturally have gone to work to study Torah."

Eli Ben Dahan 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Eli Ben Dahan 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Shas party has created poverty by encouraging men who would otherwise join the workforce to study Torah indefinitely, Deputy Religious Services Minister Rabbi Eli Ben- Dahan has said.
Ben-Dahan made the comments in an interview with The Jerusalem Post earlier this week in reference to Bayit Yehudi’s success in the development towns of Sderot and Kiryat Malachi during the October 22 local elections; his party’s mayoral candidates were elected in both.
“In truth, I don’t think Shas has improved the situation of the development towns,” said Ben-Dahan. “What have they done? They caused more people to go and study Torah, stay for years in yeshiva, and they have created more poor people and more poverty.
“They convinced people who would naturally have gone to work to study Torah, and you see today many people in the development towns who have dedicated their lives to Torah but they cannot cope [financially].”
The deputy minister continued on to say that it was only the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who, due to his the “greatness in Torah” and charisma, was able to get non-haredi but traditional Sephardi voters to vote for Shas.
“The halo surrounding him created a situation which drew these people to him and to Shas, simple people, brought desire to learn Torah, to encourage people, connected them more.”
Ben-Dahan noted that Bayit Yehudi is seeking as “an important party goal” to target voters in this demographic who may be willing to switch their allegiance from Shas to other political parties now that Yosef has died.
It is widely believed that many of the traditional but non-haredi Shas voters will abandon the party now that the revered rabbi is no longer around to exhort them to vote Shas.
Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev denounced Ben-Dahan’s remarks and said it was not Torah study that was impoverishing people but the economic policies of the government.
Speaking to the Post, Ze’ev argued that extremely high percentages of working people are in poverty because of low wages and cannot sustain themselves even when two spouses work, and that poverty in development towns is unrelated to the issue of study in yeshiva.
“This is a totally blinkered mindset [of Ben-Dahan] to say that Torah study is causing poverty; where is his faith?” questioned Ze’ev, and again pointed to Israel’s high rate of working poor and its lowly status on the issue compared with other members of the OECD grouping of developed countries.
The MK also attacked the government’s religious policies and denounced plans for civil unions.
“They demand from Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] that he recognize this country as a Jewish state, but they’re uprooting Judaism within it.
We’ll be more non-Jewish than the rest of the world with what they’re doing,” Ze’ev declared.
Ben-Dahan outlined some of the pressing issues facing the ministry which he is seeking to address.
In particular, he said that he is seeking to introduce disciplinary procedures for municipal city rabbis.
Currently, election to the position of chief municipal rabbi is a lifetime appointment until the age of 75, and there is effectively no process or possibility to dismiss or discipline them.
“I am not prepared to accept the situation as it is today that a chief municipal rabbi can do whatever he wants and no one can say anything to him about it,” said the deputy minister.
Municipal rabbis and local religious councils have frequently been criticized for being unwelcoming and inattentive to the general public and for refusing to adhere to the law on certain issues.
Some chief municipal rabbis have refused to register for marriage converts who converted through the state conversion system.
Another common phenomenon is that of municipal rabbis referring someone who needs to clarify his Jewish status to private organizations instead of the state rabbinical courts.
Ben-Dahan said that he was drawing up such a bill but would consult with the Chief Rabbinate before submitting it to the Knesset.
He added, however, that he did not see any choice other than to advance legislation.