Haredi party is ‘zealous in the service of God’ declares leading rabbi

Only through voting can the haredi community strengthen Judaism in Israel, implied Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager, head of influential hassidic community in Israel.

Ya'acov Litzman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Ya'acov Litzman
In front of a sea of hassidim, the grand rabbis of the many hassidic dynasties assembled under the banner of the Agudat Yisrael Party on Wednesday night in Netanya to give succor and encouragement to their followers ahead of the coming elections, and adjure them to strengthen Judaism in the Land of Israel.
Hundreds of devoted followers crowded to hear their rabbis speak in Yiddish of the obligations to unite the community above sectoral squabbles, to guarantee that haredi political interests are upheld.
In the address of Grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager of the Viznitz Hassidic dynasty, one of the largest and most influential hassidic communities in Israel, he donned the mantle of zealotry and said that it belonged to those who serve God.
“Agudat Yisrael is zealotry,” the rabbi declared. “They say that those who don’t take money from the state and don’t vote in the elections are zealots. Zealots are those who serve God,” he averred, implying that only through voting can the haredi community strengthen Judaism in Israel.
The Grand Rabbi of the Sanz community, located in Netanya, continued with the political theme, stating that, “in the Land of Israel, without strong haredi representation, we would not be able to live here and raise our children.”
However, he added that acts of violence and civil disobedience, such as throwing stones and public demonstrations, would not help advance haredi causes.
Following the speeches, Refael Lindenbaum, a young member of the Viznitz community from Bnei Brak, told The Jerusalem Post that wars are being waged by the state against Judaism, Shabbat and Torah study – by drafting haredi men into the army.
“We want to be together – all the hassidic groups – to stand strong, without arguments,” he said.
“There are many secular people who don’t even know what ‘Shema Yisrael’ [Hear, O Israel] is; don’t know what Shabbat is. They don’t know anything and fight against everything holy; they want to wipe it all out,” Lindenbaum said.
“Of course it’s a mitzvah [religious commandment] to vote [for Agudat Yisrael] to strengthen Judaism in the Land of Israel. What commandment is [more important] than to protect the commandments?” He asked.
“Without it, nothing of Judaism would remain. Every [Jew] would be [like] non-Jews: technically Jewish, but non-Jews in practice.”
Another young hassid from the Boyan community talked of the importance of unifying all the hassidic groups – from the large, predominant communities to the smaller groups.
He mentioned some of the failures of Agudat Yisrael in the municipal elections last year, when the party ran separately from its traditional, non-hassidic haredi partner Degel Hatorah, adding that by making all hassidic groups feel connected to the greater purpose of Agudat Yisrael, it would heal some of these wounds.
“Agudat Yisrael was not established a hundred years ago for political purposes, but rather to strengthen Judaism and to unite all parts of the Jewish people. Today, we see again that Agudat Yisrael is alive, active and has returned to its best – and God willing in the coming elections, we’ll see the results on the ground when everyone will unite for one purpose: to strengthen Judaism in the Land of Israel.”
Despite the talk and aspirations for unity, an argument is currently simmering within Agudat Yisrael over the placement of representatives of the various hassidic groups on its electoral list for the coming elections.
Viznitz has until now had the number three spot on Agudat Yisrael’s list followed by the Belz representative at number four. But Belz is now demanding the number two spot, claiming its community is larger than that of Viznitz.
The fight has serious ramifications, since the recent agreement between Agudah and Degel Hatorah for their joint United Torah Judaism (UTJ) electoral list gives alternating spots to representatives from each party.
This means that the fourth spot for Agudah will be the seventh spot on the joint UTJ list. In the last elections, UTJ took just six seats, and Belz is concerned that if UTJ obtains the same result in the coming elections, it will not have a Knesset representative.
Opinion polls have consistently give UTJ seven seats in the next Knesset, but Belz is nevertheless insisting that it deserves the higher place on the list.
There were even concerns that the Grand Rabbi of the Belz community, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, would not turn up to the Agudah conference because of the dispute, although he did nevertheless attend.