Ultra-Orthodox ‘in war for honor of God’ over gov't religious reforms - Deri

Shas and UTJ leaders and MKs convened on Monday for what they termed an ”emergency meeting” to coordinate steps against religious reforms.

UTJ MK Yaakov Litzman together with UTJ MK Moshe Gafni and Shas head Aryeh Deri gives during a press statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, June 8, 2021.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
UTJ MK Yaakov Litzman together with UTJ MK Moshe Gafni and Shas head Aryeh Deri gives during a press statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, June 8, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Shas Party chairman MK Arye Deri said Monday that the ultra-Orthodox sector and political parties were embroiled in a “[religiously] obligatory war” against the government’s various bills, laws and proposals to reform aspects of Jewish religious life in Israel.

Deri made his comments during a meeting of the two ultra-Orthodox political parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, in the Knesset where they announced the establishment of a joint committee to fight the government’s religious reforms.

Shas and UTJ leaders and MKs convened on Monday for what they termed an “emergency meeting” to coordinate “steps in the struggle against the most dangerous government to Judaism since the establishment of the state,” which they said “is seeking to separate religion and state and eradicate any spark of Judaism from it.”

The haredi parties are deeply opposed to reforms enacted by the government that will abolish the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut supervision, and vehemently oppose proposals to decentralize the Chief Rabbinate’s control over conversion to municipal chief rabbis.

On the agenda of the committee is a plan to potentially organize a mass demonstration of the ultra-Orthodox public against the reforms, similar to the rally held against legislation for ultra-Orthodox conscription to the IDF in 2014.

 Head of the Shas party Aryeh Deri reacts during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on October 18, 2021.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Head of the Shas party Aryeh Deri reacts during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on October 18, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Also under consideration is a joint meeting of the councils of Torah sages of Shas, as well as Agudat Yisrael, the hassidic half of UTJ, and Degel Hatorah, the non-hassidic element of the party.

During Monday’s meeting, Deri accused the government of seeking to “separate religion and state” regarding conversion, Shabbat, civil marriage and other issues.

“As someone who was a member of the security cabinet, I say that the Iranian nuclear program – which is very serious at the moment – is less dangerous to the Jewish people than what this government wants to do to the Jewish people. It will dismantle us from the inside,” said Deri.

The Shas leader mentioned a rally, a joint meeting of the parties’ rabbis, and a general public diplomacy campaign as agenda items for the committee to fight what he called “an historic [religiously] obligatory war, and we are obligated to fight for the honor of God,” adding that there were “no political interests here.”

UTJ Chairman MK Moshe Gafni railed against potential government programs for public transportation on Shabbat, the Western Wall agreement, kashrut supervision, conversion, and the general status of the Chief Rabbinate

The conservative Religious Zionist Party, which is equally opposed to the government’s reforms, was not invited to take part in the joint committee, with the B’Hardei Haredim news site reporting that Gafni refused to invite representatives from the party.

A spokesman for Shas said, however, that the committee would “fully coordinate” its steps with the Religious Zionist Party, as did a spokesman for Religious Zionist Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich.

At a Yisrael Beytenu Party faction meeting in the Knesset, also on Monday, party chairman and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman noted that the coalition agreements stipulate that legislation on allowing municipal chief rabbis to convert must be advanced within 60 days of the establishment of the government, a deadline which has long passed without such a bill being introduced.

Liberman said that Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, who is preparing a government bill on the issue, was drawing up broad and comprehensive legislation but that Yisrael Beytenu was concerned the reform critical to them regarding municipal chief rabbis might get lost among the larger struggle over Kahana’s bill.

As such, he noted that a private members bill submitted by Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, which is now scheduled for its preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday.

Liberman’s strategy, which is being coordinated with Yesh Atid as well, is to create legislative momentum for this reform in the event that Kahana’s bill does not fulfill the terms for the issue set out in the coalition agreements.

“We will advance this bill with or without connection to [Kahana’s] proposals and thereby fulfill our promises and coalition obligations which all parties are signatory to,” said Liberman.

Liberman rejected the opposition of the ultra-Orthodox parties, the Religious Zionism Party, and others, that the conversions would not comport with Jewish law, by noting that all municipal chief rabbis are Orthodox and were able to conduct conversions until the early 1990s.

“We need to decide what kind of Judaism we want. I want Beit Hillel, not Beit Shammai. They [the current conversion system] make every effort so people won’t convert,” said Liberman.