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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Divide and conquer? Bennett suggests to UTJ to join government without Shas, UTJ blows him off

In a bid to separate United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett has suggested to UTJ that they join the coalition alone, according to the Haredi website Kikar Shabbat (link in Hebrew). MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman (above) was offered to keep his position as deputy Health Minister (in a ministry where there is no minister - that's how UTJ always takes portfolios. But UTJ turned it down.

According to Kikar Shabbat, Bennett's motivation is an effort to change his party's image as an enemy of the Torah world. Jewish Home is also looking for a Haredi public relations adviser to assist in an approach to the Haredi community. Bennett also made a video for the Haredi community on Wednesday night.

Let's go to the videotape (sorry, Hebrew only).

Why is Bennett doing this? Recall that UTJ got 17% of the vote in Judea and Samaria, and Shas got another 10%. While I would bet that much of that vote came from the Haredi cities right along the 'green line' (Kiryat Sefer and Beitar), it's likely that there are also a lot of people in those towns who voted for Bennett, and he's afraid that if he pulls all their sons out of the yeshivas, they won't vote for him again.

In the meantime, UTJ Knesset Member Rabbi Meir Porush has challenged Bennett to disclose his understandings with Yair Lapid (link in Hebrew), with respect to maintenance of the religious status quo. Porush argues that much of the national religious public would also like to know what understandings have been reached by Bennett and Lapid, particularly with respect to issues like public transportation on the Sabbath (there currently is none within any city that had a Jewish majority in 1948) and (although this isn't mentioned in the article) civil marriages (currently, the only marriages legally performed in Israel are religious marriages).

Porush is hitting a very sensitive point here. While the Haredi community would flee the organized Rabbinate and run its own sifrei yuchsin (genealogy books) in a second, the national religious community places religious significance on the state itself, and not just on the land. Changes in which the organized Rabbinate was rendered meaningless as an institution would not go over well with the national religious public.

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