Yosef's blessing of Bibi stirs up Shas supporters

Some say blessing was a sign of improved rapport between Shas and Likud; others dismiss Yosef's comments as no more than politeness.

netanyahu 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
netanyahu 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
One day after Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef publicly blessed Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu for his "secret gestures" to strengthen Torah study, sources close to Shas were split on how to interpret Yosef's comments. Some saw the blessing as a sign of improved rapport between Shas and Likud while others dismissed Yosef's comments as nothing more than polite remarks made in a formal setting. The two men appeared together on Sunday night before a Torah scholarship conference that marked the 70th anniversary of the Mossad Harav Kook publishing house. Ya'acov Rivlin, senior political correspondent for the haredi weekly Bakehila, rejected the possibility that Shas and Netanyahu could easily settle their differences. "The haredi public still remembers Netanyahu's child allowance cuts," said Rivlin, referring to the Likud chairman's conservative fiscal policies during his stint as finance minister in 2003. "I doubt that Netanyahu can reverse his stand on welfare cuts," added Rivlin. "Rabbi Ovadia is aware of this." The haredi community was one of the hardest hit by these cuts. Haredi families tend to be headed by men who dedicate themselves to Torah study and do not pursue professional careers. These families rely heavily on welfare, especially child benefits, as a means of livelihood. Before Netanyahu's cuts, large families with more than five children received several thousand shekels a month and the size of the benefits increased exponentially as the family grew. Netanyahu's cuts were aimed at forcing haredi men out of the yeshiva halls and into the labor market by making it difficult, if not impossible, to live off the dole. For this reason, Netanyahu has been blamed for trying to destroy the yeshiva world by forcing men to go to work. This makes Yosef's comments about Netanyahu's "secret gestures" for the sake of the Torah all the more inexplicable. "Perhaps something happened behind the scenes between Bibi and Rabbi Ovadia that I don't know about," ventured Rivlin. Meanwhile, MK Haim Amsalem, one of Shas's more hawkish parliamentarians, saw Yosef's comments as a clear indication that Shas was warming up to Likud. "Anyone who is in favor of saving Jerusalem and the Land of Israel is a friend of Shas's," said Amsalem. "But we still have to wait and see how the Kadima primaries play out."