Haredim push 'sensitive approach' to rebel group

Letter leaked to the press sheds light on seriousness with which haredi leadership is taking political discontent of their electorate.

MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A letter leaked to the press over the weekend shed new light on the seriousness with which the mainstream haredi leadership is taking the political discontent felt by certain factions in the ultra- Orthodox community.
Despite the efforts of officials from the establishment party of the non-hassidic Ashkenazi haredi community, Degel Hatorah, to play down the threat of the newly established Netzach party running in the upcoming elections, a letter detailing the approach of the senior haredi leadership connected to Degel Hatorah shows greater concern to the problem than has hitherto been admitted.
Although the document, first published by haredi website Ladaat, conjectures that Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the figure around whom Netzach has coalesced, will not authorize the party leaders to contest the elections, the mainstream haredi officials who wrote the missive expressed concern that Auerbach may call on his supporters not to vote at all.
Auerbach’s supporters have been estimated at no more than 10,000 possible voters, but the loss of this number of votes would mean that the United Torah Judaism Knesset faction, to which Degel belongs, would almost certainly lose a Knesset seat.
Among other plans to avert this eventuality, the letter, seemingly authored by close associates of the senior haredi leadership based in Bnei Brak, calls for one party official to enlist the help of the Amshenov hassidic leader, who is on good terms with Auerbach, to reiterate to the rabbi that “his associates are acting against the wishes of the leading rabbis, the Rosh Yeshiva [spiritual leader of the haredi community Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman] and Rabbi Haim [Kanievsky].”
The letter also recommended that those dealing with the delicate contacts between the mainstream Degel Hatorah party and Auerbach’s so-called “Jerusalem-faction” should do sensitively and “without aggression.”
Cognizant of the not insignificant level of public support Auerbach enjoys, the Bnei Brak officials also laid out a conciliatory message to the haredi public, which should stress that “Rabbi Auerbach is without doubt one of the greatest living rabbis of the time but there are those who are greater than him at this time.”
Shteinman and Auerbach have been at loggerheads since the former inherited the mantle of leadership from Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the leader of the haredi world until his death in July.
Separately, Degel Hatorah chairman MK Moshe Gafni repeated UTJ’s threat that the faction is not beholden to the Likud or the rightist Knesset bloc, while speaking on a political panel at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya on Thursday.
Asked whether UTJ was “married” to the right-wing grouping of Knesset factions, Gafni responded, “Married? No, we’re still single.”
“[Then-Kadima chairwoman] Tzipi Livni promised us the same things [as the Right] and, as opposed to the Right which doesn’t know to fulfill [its promises], she came through on hers,” Gafni said, citing various examples of how Kadima had cooperated with UTJ, including the implementation of the “Tal Law” that allows haredi men to indefinitely postpone military service.
Click for full JPost coverage
Click for full JPost coverage
During the discussion, Gafni described UTJ as a party of social justice and said that in the coming Knesset term it would concentrate on socioeconomic issues and “the identity of the Jewish state.”
Asked about how to solve the standoff between the Zionist and haredi parties over drafting yeshiva students into national service, Gafni repeated his oft-stated position that those not studying full-time in yeshiva should be drafted into the national service tracks designed for haredim.
“Learning Torah all day long requires a lot of strength,” he said. “A large proportion can’t do this, [and] there are thousands today who are going to work, who are going to the army, these processes are under way,” he said.
“On the other hand, one cannot force someone who is learning Torah not to do so,” Gafni emphasized.
He also accused Kadima of trying to make political capital out of the issue to gain seats in Knesset.