Tens of Thousands of Charedim March in Show of Political Strength
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews rallied on Wednesday evening in Bnai Brak in a display of their community’s political strength ahead of the elections for the 20th Knesset which are slated to occur in less than a week.
The demonstration’s keynote speech was delivered by the leader of the Haredi-Litvish community, Rabbi Aharon Lieb Shteinerman, who is reputed to be 101 years old. Rabbi Shteinerman’s address, which was given in Yiddish, lasted for only 50 seconds. “It is in your hands to decide to sanctify the name of God, and not to desecrate it,” he said, and called on his community to go out and vote. Next to him sat Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the most prominent rabbis among the leadership of the Litvish-Charedi community. As reported by Israel’s Channel 2 news, one of his associates read a letter in his name in which he strongly called for the community members to go out and vote for the Degel HaTorah political faction. “It is incumbent upon each and every individual in our community not to separate himself from the rest of us, to sanctify the name of God, and to vote for List Gimmel which is lead by the sages of Israel…it is forbidden to refrain from doing so, and anyone refraining from doing so takes upon himself the responsibility for the harm that arises from this,” the associate said.
Additionally, the party faction head MK Moshe Gafni called on the participants to vote for United Torah Judaism the umbrella party of both Degel HaTorah and Agudat Israel. “Whoever does not go to vote lends his vote to this satan,” said Gafni, who added that he believes, “that this congregation will give the strongest push before the elections, allowing us to gain more seats.” At the end of the rally, the participants were asked that, “each person should work to bring in one more person,” to support United Torah Judaism, “and to work hard and not lose a single vote.”
Though women and children did not participate in the rally, event moderators asked, “in every place, women and children should increase their prayers, setting up prayer rallies for the success of the campaign.”
The demonstration took place in light of prominent Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach’s admonition to his followers not to vote for the United Torah Judaism party, as they have been doing in the past.
The sharp division among the Livtish camp gained momentum with the death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv in 2012, who was the acknowledged leader of the Litvish public and was the highest authority of the United Torah Judaism party. Most of the community accepted his successor’s leadership, Rabbi Aharon Lieb Shteinman, but a group led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach wanted to see their rabbi as the community and party’s leader. These individuals claim that Rabbi Shteinman takes more of a compromising line, and last year even accused him of collaborating with the new Army draft law for Charedim.
With the closing of the lists for the upcoming elections, it became clear to Auerbach’s supporters that in the end they were not represented in the United Torah Judaism party, which aroused great anger, mainly directed at the Litvish faction of the party, Degel HaTorah. However, by withdrawing their support, they may also harm the Hasidic faction, Agudat Yisrael.
The faction led by Rabbi Auerbach plans to organize a mass rally just two days before the election, in order to convince his followers not to participate in the elections. Alternatively, they may lend their support to another Ultra-Orthodox party, as a protest for not being represented in the United Torah Judaism party.
Rabbi Shteinman, who spoke a the rally, only directly influences three of the seven members of the United Torah Judaism Party: Moshe Gafni, Uri Maklev, and Yaakov Asher. However, his impact on religious parties representing the broader Litvish-Haredi community is critical. Rabbi Shteinman sees the current election as important for Judaism’s future, Channel 2 said, and though he tends to support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his supporters are eagerly waiting to hear his decision on whom the party will support to form the next government.