Unique among haredi parties, Tov holds primary

The ultra-orthodox Tov Movement’s Beit Shemesh branch holds a vote to determine its slate of candidates.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Tov Movement’s Beit Shemesh branch held a vote this week to determine its slate of candidates for October’s city council elections.
Newly chosen party head Aharon Salomon called it the first primary in a haredi party.
Tov was established several years ago to represent moderate members of the ultra-Orthodox community, known as the “new haredim,” in municipal elections in several cities. It does not compete for seats in the Knesset.
“We proved for the first time that it is possible for ultra-Orthodox parties to hold open and clean elections for candidates without intrigue in order to reflect the will of the public and without the involvement of askanim [behind-the-scenes wheeler-dealers] and improper considerations,” Salomon announced in a post on his Facebook page.
According to local news website Beit Shemesh Corner, 450 registered party members voted in Tuesday’s primary, with Salomon winning the leadership race with 70 percent of the vote.
Citing a Talmudic narrative detailing how Moses was divinely instructed to seek public approval for his appointment of those tasked with designing the tabernacle, Salomon said there was a religious mandate to seek public approval of one’s leaders.
“We are proud to be the first ultra- Orthodox party that fulfills this requirement,” he said.
Despite Salomon’s boast, however, Tov is not the first ultra-Orthodox party to hold a primary. Despite both the Sephardic Shas and Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism parties’ practice of allowing senior rabbinic figures to choose their Knesset candidates, Agudath Israel – one of the two factions comprising UTJ – did hold its own primaries until 1976, said Shahar Ilan, vice president of research and information at religious liberties NGO Hiddush.
Since then, he added, no ultra-Orthodox party has held a primary.
Salomon and Ilan contrasted the Tov primary with one held by members of the local branch of UTJ in Betar Illit two weeks ago, noting that in the Betar Illit elections only a cadre of chosen party loyalists were given the right to decide the slate of candidates for municipal offices.
Tov’s internal elections are significant, Ilan said, because they “express a democracy” that is not dependent on the approval of “Gedolei Hatorah,” the leading Torah sages of the ultra-Orthodox community.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Salomon said that despite not allowing rabbis to dictate the party’s composition, Tov is not “against rabbis.”
Rather, he said, “we are very much against wheeling and dealing,” a statement that taps into widespread distrust of askanim, the activists and powerbrokers surrounding Gedolei Hatorah.
“All of us ask our rabbis how to behave; I ask my rabbi,” he said. However, he added, “we are against wheeling and dealing from above that dictates to us what to do.” He said that he and all his party members actively consult with their rabbis for advice.
Asked about the possibilities of primaries among the more established national parties, Salomon said that while he would like to see such a change, he believes that it is not in the cards.
Shas and UTJ “don’t operate in a democratic way,” he said.