Degel Hatorah kicks off election campaign

Rabbi Michal Yehuda Lefkovitz, a leading spiritual leader of Degel Hatorah, declared that secular education is bankrupt and that secular Israelis are jealous of classic haredi education, in a speech that kicked off his party's three-day national conventio n at Zichron Ya'acov. "People in the government who try to uproot our education with all sorts of reforms do so out of jealously," said Lefkovitz, 92, who is considered the second most respected spiritual leader in the Lithuanian community after Rabbi Y osef Shalom Elyashiv, who was not present at the convention. "We are prohibited from battling the goyim," declared Lefkovitz, stating the classic haredi position on the Jewish nation's passive role while in exile. "But evil Jews who seek to disparage the haredi community and interfere in our lives must be fought fiercely. We must be steadfast in our opposition to any reforms. If we show the least bit of weakness they sense it and make more decrees." The rabbi also attacked the government's budget cuts f or yeshivot and child benefits. Lefkovitz talked tough, but his speech paled in comparison to the famous "pigs and rabbits" speech given by Degel Hatorah's deceased patriarch, Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach in March 1990. Since Shach's death, Degel has l ac ked a strong and charismatic leader. Elyashiv and Lefkovitz, together with Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, are the party's spiritual pilots, with Elyashiv recognized as the most senior of the three. This is the first Degel Hatorah convention since the part y w as first established in September 1988 by Shach as a breakaway from Agudat Yisrael. About the same time, Shach initiated the creation of Yeted Ne'eman, a party newspaper that would compete with Hamodia, Agudat Yisrael's mouthpiece. Shach established the party and the paper in order to centralize Lithuanian haredi political power against the Hassidic rabbis, especially the Gur Chassidim, who were the most powerful group in Agudat Yisrael. Uri Maklev, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, groomed for the next Degel Hatorah slot - should MKs Avraham Ravitz or Moshe Gafni be replaced, or should Degel receive a third mandate in the upcoming elections - said the convention was the official beginning of Degel's campaign. Maklev said the main issues to be discussed woul d be the continued autonomy of the haredi education system, the upcoming campaign and a change in the election process for Degel Hatorah MKs. Maklev said that over the last 15 years there had been no other convention because, during most of this tim e, De gel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael were united in a single list called United Torah Judaism. The two parties split in January but are expected to unite again before the elections.›