Torah sages try to rally blase` voters

Haredi public apathetic about UTJ reunification

In an attempt to combat an apathetic and cynical haredi voting public disillusioned by political infighting, United Torah Judaism brought together its spiritual leaders Wednesday to show unity. The Councils of Sages of Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael, the two Ashkenazi haredi parties that make up the UTJ, met in Bnei Brak for the first time since the split in January. "On the haredi streets there is a total lack of enthusiasm," said Eliezer Shulman, assistant editor of Mishpacha, a haredi weekly. "Despite the attempt to show a unified front, people feel that there is no real unity and the only reason the two parties reunited is for practical reasons." If it had ran alone, the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah was dangerously close to falling below the minimum votes needed to enter the Knesset. This fear pushed it to join with Aguda. Within Agudat Yisrael there is also a lot of tension. Smaller Hassidic dynasties such as Karlin are upset that Rabbi Israel Eichler, the representative of Belz, was forced out of Aguda after he refused to accept a rotation agreement which cut his Knesset stint in half. The Slonim Hassidic sect has already announced it will not vote in the upcoming elections in protest against UTJ's decision to remain in the coalition government during disengagement. Organizers touted the participation of Belz rebbe Yissachar Dov Rokeach as proof that relations between Agudat Yisrael and the Belz Hassidic dynasty were good. However, sources in Belz said Rokeach's participation was a show of support for unifying the spiritual leaders of Degel Hatorah and Aguda not only before elections to garner more votes but all year long. "It seems the only time political machers encourage unity is when they have something to gain politically."