Haredi parties kick off their Jerusalem election campaign

Haim Epstein, who heads Bnei Torah’s electoral list for council, is also running as candidate for mayor.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The haredi parties contesting the municipal elections in Jerusalem began their campaigns in earnest on Sunday, with competition set to be tighter than usual for the ultra-Orthodox vote.
United Torah Judaism, the mainstream national haredi party, published advertisements in the haredi daily newspapers for the first time on Sunday with the slogan “We need you for the 10th,” a play on a commonly heard request for someone to join a group of men as the 10th men of a prayer quorum.
UTJ has eight councillors on the 30-member Jerusalem City Council and the party is calling on the ultra-Orthodox public to help bump it up to 10.
“Eight UTJ representatives on the Jerusalem City Council are working for you with great dedication,” the ad reads. “But this time in order that they will not be able to ignore us, eight is not enough. UTJ needs no fewer than 10 representatives on the city council.”
For the first time however, UTJ faces challenges to its monopoly of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox vote in Jerusalem, with two other haredi factions contesting the October 22 elections in the city.
Tov, a party which seeks to represent the sector of the haredi community which is more integrated into the workforce and Israeli society, says that UTJ has not represented the real needs of haredim in Jerusalem and that the concerns of haredi men and women who work, need access to higher education and want better quality of life has have not been addressed.
Tov hopes to gain two or three seats on the municipal council, and is also running in several other cities with large haredi populations.
On the other side of the haredi spectrum is a new party called Bnei Torah, a breakaway from the national UTJ party brought about as a consequence of the bitter split in the non-hassidic Askenazi haredi community following the death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in July 2012 and the subsequent leadership struggle.
Bnei Torah is led by the former close associates of the Elyashiv who claim that Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, 82 and a resident of Jerusalem’s Sha’arei Hessed neighborhood, was the rightful successor to the leadership of the non-hassidic community.
Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, 99 and a resident of Bnei Brak, was the eventual successor to the leadership of the mainstream non-hassidic Ashkenazi haredi community.
Yishaiyahu Wein, a senior figure in Bnei Torah, said the party was formed because UTJ had studiously ignored the concerns and opinions of Auerbach and his loyalists.
“We find it strange that, as opposed to most other parties who want to reach out to the largest possible constituency, UTJ has simply tried to ignore us,” Wein told The Jerusalem Post.
“Rabbi Auerbach is the most important rabbinic figure in Jerusalem... but they didn’t consult us whatsoever in the run up to the elections and they created an electoral list without speaking to us. They don’t pay any attention to our issues and they don’t seem to want to represent us,” he continued.
Auerbach and his followers have taken an even harder line against recent political developments, such as haredi enlistment in the army, than their counterparts in UTJ.
Wein would not be drawn on the party’s chances in the elections for the council.
Haim Epstein, who is heading Bnei Torah’s electoral list for the council, is also running as a candidate for mayor.
Bnei Torah has also begun its advertising campaign for the elections, placing an ad on the front page of Friday’s edition of the Hapeles daily newspaper, the party’s mouthpiece.
The party pointedly used a picture of the late Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach in its ad, due to its claim that Auerbach and Bnei Torah are the true followers of his path.
Shach was the charismatic founder of Degel Hatorah, a non-hassidic haredi party, as a political alternative to the hassidic Agudat Yisrael party for the “Lithuanian” non-hassidic community.
UTJ runs as a joint national list of Degel and Agudah in general elections, but the two parties are running separate lists in some cities, although not in Jerusalem.
Bnei Torah’s ad also featured a picture of Elyashiv, once again underlining its claim that is the true inheritor of the original Degel Hatorah path.
“Faithful to the source, because we are Bnei Torah [‘the children of the Torah’],” the party’s slogan reads.