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Israels Deputy Health Minister, Yaakov Litzman (C) from United Torah Judaism party attends a meeting at the Knesset, Israels parliament, in Jerusalem September 13, 2017..(Photo by: REUTERS)
Misjudging their own power
If Litzman carries out his threat to resign due to Israel Railways work on Shabbat, it will be yet another example of the failure of the haredi parties to realize the limits of their own power.
Israeli governments have been left three times because of Shabbat. Each time, it brought the party that quit no rest.

In December 1976, the forerunner of United Torah Judaism left Yitzhak Rabin’s government over Israel’s first F-15s, which arrived after the start of Shabbat. In the next election, the Poalei Agudat Yisrael faction split off, dividing the Ashkenazi Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) in the Knesset.

In 1999, United Torah Judaism quit because of a slow-moving turbine that traveled on Shabbat. The next election brought 15 seats to the secularist Shinui party of Yosef (Tommy) Lapid.

Lapid’s son, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, does not consider himself secularist, and revealed to The Jerusalem Post that he believes in God. But he is perceived as an enemy by the Haredim.

Yesh Atid won 19 seats after United Torah Judaism and Shas made waves by trying to stop the drafting of yeshiva students.

If Yaa’cov Litzman, who heads UTJ, carries out his threat to resign Sunday due to work by Israel Railways on Shabbat, it will be yet another example of the failure of the Haredi parties to recognize the limits of their own power.

The timing could not be worse for UTJ and for Litzman himself. The Ashkenazi Haredim are more divided than ever, and will become even more so when Degel Hatorah’s 103-year-old spiritual leader Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman dies.

There is no clear successor for Shteinman, and whoever it is will almost certainly be much more extreme.

When the extremist Yerushalmi Faction started demonstrations blocking streets to protest their yeshiva students receiving draft notices, Litzman was embarrassed whenever he was asked about them. Radio interviewers who do not understand the nuances in the Haredi world asked why “his people” were going to such an extreme, and he had to respond that they were not his people at all.

In the next general election, United Torah Judaism could split into two parties or even three. Then, there will be the increasing number of Haredim who choose not to vote in order to avoid recognizing the institutions of the state.

At the same time, Shas is expected to keep losing the votes it had when spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was alive. A criminal indictment for the party’s head, Arye Deri, could prevent the party from passing the electoral threshold. If Deri is still in charge, former Shas chairman Eli Yishai could split the Sephardi vote and prevent either of them from entering the next Knesset.

These developments could all lead to the Haredim having much less power in the next government, and perhaps even being left out of the next governing coalition.

If that happens, the Western Wall deal can be implemented, there can be an entrance to an egalitarian prayer site from the Western Wall, and non-Orthodox religious streams could be formally recognized by the state.

In that case, Litzman and his rabbis could end up kicking themselves for their defense of Shabbat, which, as in the past, would prove to have brought them no rest.
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