Why Litzman’s tenure in the Health Ministry came to an end

This last Friday, the grand rabbi summoned Litzman to his residence and told him that he should step down from his beloved Health Ministry and move over to the Housing Ministry instead.

Yaakov Litzman at the weekly cabinet meeting, March 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yaakov Litzman at the weekly cabinet meeting, March 2020.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
For United Torah Judaism, MKs and ministers are merely the “emissaries of the rabbis,” and in this regard outgoing Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman islittle different than his peers, serving at the behest of the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter. 
Litzman was selected to represent the Agudat Yisrael hassidic party in the United Torah Judaism Knesset faction in 1999 by the Rebbe and has been the Gerrer representative ever since.
Over the last decade, Litzman has forged close ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was crucial in helping create the premier’s ties with the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties and bringing them and their rabbis to Netanyahu’s side.
But Litzman has been criticized for his handling of different aspects of the coronavirus epidemic in Israel as well as his personal behavior and alleged interventions in professional decisions, which have damaged his image and subsequently that of his Gerrer hassidic community and haredim in general.
Rabbi Yaakov Areyh Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe |(FLASH90)Rabbi Yaakov Areyh Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe |(FLASH90)
He was slow in March to insist that haredi schools, yeshivas and synagogues close down despite the rapidly developing public health crisis, leading his own ministry’s legal adviser to urge him publicly to do so.
He also has been criticized for doing too little to reach out to the senior rabbinic leadership of the community, particularly in the non-hassidic sector, to bring them onboard with the social-distancing orders issued by the Health Ministry.
And Litzman himself is alleged to have participated in a public prayer service against Health Ministry orders before he contracted COVID-19, although he denies this.
When Blue and White demanded the health portfolio in coalition negotiations with Likud earlier this month, the Gerrer Rebbe backed Litzman’s insistence that he remain health minister.
Litzman was concerned that if he would be unceremoniously dumped out of the ministry, it would look as if he was being removed due to his management of the coronavirus epidemic.
But new allegations against Litzman have emerged since then, including that he allowed IKEA stores to open before other retail outlets due to contributions made by the owners of IKEA’s Israel franchise to the Gerrer community.
In addition, an investigative report unrelated to the coronavirus epidemic was broadcast last week by Channel 13 in which Litzman is heard in internal ministry meetings overruling a decision by ministry professionals to shut down a badly managed mental-health facility.
Insiders within the hassidic community have said this series of events led to frustration among other hassidic leaders with Litzman’s performance and the way in which it was reflecting on the haredi world in general.
These complaints were apparently made known to the Gerrer Rebbe, whose concern over the image of his hassidic community in particular, as well as the haredi sector more broadly, led him to a decision about Litzman.
Last Friday, the Rebbe summoned Litzman to his residence and told him he should step down from his beloved Health Ministry and move over to the Housing Ministry instead.
The Rebbe and the Gerrer Hassidic dynasty, the wealthiest in Israel, reportedly have significant property assets. He apparently believes Litzman’s presence in the Housing Ministry can advance his community’s interests.
The haredi community is suffering from a severe housing crisis, as is the rest of Israeli society, and Litzman likely will advance proposals and solutions for this problem.
In housing as in health, Litzman will again serve as the long arm of Gerrer Rebbe.