In a serious blow to the anti-gay pride parade campaign, leading haredi rabbis and yeshiva heads, appalled at the property damage and violence perpetrated by religious zealots in recent days, prohibited their followers on Tuesday from holding any more street demonstrations. The High Court of Justice is due to hand down by Wednesday a ruling on petitions against the parade - one of which was filed by Shas Party chairman Eli Yishai. Two days before the parade, slated for Thursday near downtown Jerusalem, the rabbis sent out a message to thousands of yeshiva students that the ends did not justify the means. Stopping the gay pride parade, a "violation of the sanctity of the Jewish people's holiest city," was commendable, said the rabbis. But it did not justify burning garbage bins, breaking streetlights and smashing windows.
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An announcement on the front page of Yated Ne'eman, a haredi daily and the mouthpiece of Lithuanian haredi rabbinic leadership in Israel, warned yeshiva students not to take part in the demonstrations.
"Yeshiva students should not take to the streets," declared the announcement from "the houses of the great rabbis of the generation."
"Demonstrating should be done by each person in his place [by feeling outrage in the soul, by praying and beseeching (God) against the loathsome blasphemy,]" it read.
"Each yeshiva head is responsible for making sure his students do not demonstrate."
Rabbi Nahum Eisenstein, who has close ties with the Lithuanian rabbinic establishment, said rabbis were concerned about the negative educational message resulting from the demonstrations.
"We don't want our yeshiva students to get the wrong idea that the Torah permits the destruction of property.
"Rather, all demonstrations must be conducted in a legal, safe way that conforms with halacha, which means no destruction of property, either public or private," he said.
Rabbi Ya'acov Aryeh Alter, who heads the Gur Hassidic sect, the largest in Israel, also opposes demonstrating against the gay pride parade, but for different reasons than his Lithuanian peers. Alter is convinced that Hassidim must distance themselves completely from the issue of homosexuality. They should simply ignore the parade.
Alter fears the negative spiritual effects of the protests, especially on the young and the impressionable. Inevitably, children would take an interest in what they are demonstrating against. For Alter, this is unacceptable. As a result, in Hamodia, a haredi daily controlled by Gur Hassidism, no mention of the gay pride parade is ever made.
The Edah Haredit, an umbrella organization of various Hassidic sects and rabbinic dynasties such as Satmar and Toldot Aharon, is the driving force behind the demonstrations.
However, the Edah's failure to coordinate with Lithuanian rabbis and yeshiva heads has caused friction. With Gur and the Lithuanian establishment opposed to street protests, one of the haredi community's most effective means of stopping the parade has been undermined.