Nov 14, 2007

Haredi revenge

The city of Beitar, a.k.a. The City of Torah in the Judean Hills, is a haredi settlement in the Gush Etzion area. Beitar's population is comprised of the whole spectrum of Haredi Jewry. They have got sfardim, litvish, and almost all the different hassidic groups. Beitar is generally a quiet city and has really developed nicely over the years.

Recently Beitar went through municipal elections. The election season in Beitar was unusually vociferous, for what is normally such a quiet harmonious city. The factions fought with each other. Rabbonim were involved. Dinei Torah were involved.

Very briefly, to explain, the Haredi political parties in the Knesset generally run together under the name UTJ (United Torah Judaism). The haredi bloc is made up of Degel (the Litvishe party) and Agudah (the Hassidic party). How they figure out party placement and divide up the jobs is done by roation. The rotation always includes not just the reps in the Knesset, but also municipal reps in haredi cities.

The Haredi parties see no need for battles for mayor that turn ugly. It is better to submit a joint candidate agreed on in advance. So, for example, they might say that in Bnei Brak this election we will submit a Litvishe candidate while in the next election the candidate will be Hassidic. And at the same time they might say that in the city of Modiin Ilit this time will be Hassidic and next time will be Litvishe. This is true whether it is in a Haredi city and doing so let's them avoid elections altogether, such as in Beitar or Modiin Ilit (for example) or if it is in a mixed city (such as Jerusalem) and allows them to present a joint candidate supported by all (or most of at least) haredim to run against a different candidate.

However they negotiate the various cities and agree on candidates in advance does not really matter, the fact is they come to agreements, and obviously part of the agreement is that the other side will accept the candidacy and not submit their own candidate separately.

Agreements are nice and can cause a quieter simpler campaign where each group overall attains its goals. The problem is when one of the sides feels they are being manipulated or abused and feel the agreement is not being kept by the other side. That is when it gets noisy and unpleasant.

And it happens often.

Beitar had a mayor named Yitzchak Pindros. he has done a phenomenal job over the past 5 years since he became the mayor. Everybody, from all the groups, love him and nobody felt slighted by him. he really did a good job according to everybody.

the problem is that 5 years ago he was elected to the position of Mayor of Beitar by a deal. Part of the deal was that he would serve his one term and then the Hassidic party would get the next candidate. In the interim, the Hassidic party would get the assistant mayor position and when the Hassidic guy takes over the Litvishe will get the assistant position (if they want it).

It does not matter how good a job he has done over the past 5 years. A deal is a deal. The Hassidim decided they wanted to run their own candidate and not accept Pindros for a second term. After all, a deal is a deal and an agreement must be honored (a position I agree with).

The Litvishe party claimed that the deal is null and void for technical reasons (based on something the hassidic guy had said well before election season about his intentions (or should I say lack of) of running for the position of mayor).

The whole thing became very messy and turned into a big fight. Each side brought the other to beis din. Each side went and got signatures from rabbonim supporting their position. It got loud and messy and anyone who followed it (I only followed it peripherally) was shocked out how quiet, united Beitar had turned so messy and divided.

In the end the Hassidic party candidate (named Meir Rubinstein) beat Pindros in the election and things have now quieted down.

The sfardim have a very big presence in Beitar. Shas took the position in the elections supporting the Hassidic candidate, which definitely helped Rubinstein win.

This past week we have witnessed the beginning of Haredi political revenge.

The Litvishe party (Degel) took a big hit by losing such a loud election in such an important Haredi city. the pundits are talking about how the model run by the Hassidim in Beitar might be used in upcoming elections in other Haredi and mixed cities and the Hassidim may wrest control of the Haredi political balance from the Litvishe.

Degel is scared and angry. Not only are they angry at the Hassidim, but they are angry at Shas. Tensions were already high between Degel and Shas due to recent budgetary spats and an inflammatory political cartoon published in the Yated newspaper (associated with Degel). Now that Shas has supported Aguda (the Hassidim) to bring down Degel, tensions are even higher.

Moshe Gafni is an MK in the UTJ party. He is from the Degel faction of UTJ and is an important person in Degel (obviously).

The sfardim often complain they they are held back from studying in Litvishe schools and yeshivas. They get upset that the schools make quotas limiting acceptance of sfardim to 2 boys per class (or whatever the quota may be).

Often a sfardi parent trying to get his kid into a litvishe school will end up using protexia (connections) to get the kid in. If he has no personal protexia, he might go to the Degel offices and plead with them to assist him. Until now, the Degel offices treated everyone equally and assisted sfardim in getting into schools just like they assisted people form their own public.

Since the Beitar elections have passed their has been reported a new phenomenon in which Sfardim are turned away from receiving assistance from Degel or they are at best told that they can help but only later. They are given lower priority and have to wait behind other requests.

Moshe Gafni was asked why this is so and what changed. His response was that every political party is given a budget for the purpose of community affairs. It is called "staying in touch with the electorate". Degel, as all other parties do, use much of this budget for the purpose of helping its constituents. Degel does this in the form of helping people get their kids into schools, neighborhood issues, among other things.

Shas is a much larger party than Degel and receives a budget for this purpose 8 times that of the budget Degel receives. It makes no sense, Gafni says, for Degel to be using its paltry budegt to help voters of Shas. It always has in the past without saying anything, because they always were willing to help anybody who approached them. However in light of what happened in Beitar where we (Degel) see that Shas does not return the favor and goes instead to help the Hassidim, we see no reason we have to use up our budget on Shas voters. Let them go to Shas for assistance, or let them go to the Hassidim.

I happen to agree with that thought. Why should Degel use its budget to help people who vote for other parties? Why should Degel use its budget to help people who in return do not help them? By helping these people Degel is really neglecting its own voters, as it has less budget money available for them and less time for them.

Also, I always thought that the sfardim should be proud of their own schools and build them up to be better or at least equal in quality to the Litvishe schools. There is no reason they should feel as if they have to grovel to get into a litvishe school. It is not like the Litvishe schools are so great anyway, so the sfardim have no reason to feel second class.

A large part of the sfardi renewal in Shas was "ha'chazarat atarah l'yoshna" - returning the crown to its former glory. Are they returning the crown to its glory by begging ashkenazim to let them study in their schools?


  1. i've often wondered about this. Why do sfardim feel their schools aren't good enough? and what do the litvish schools have that they can't get for their schools.

    I don't have school aged kids (all in gan or at home) so i'm not in it (yet..).

    Interesting stuff though.

  2. I think your final statement is bold, and probably overstating the matter. i don't know how many sfardim desire this kind of protexia, but i would guess not the majority. I imagine there are specific reasons why some sfardim are looking to get into the litvishe schools, perhaps a relative, a personal problem with the schools in the neighborhood, etc. I wouldn't send my kids to chassidic schools or sfardish ones, and I would guess most sfardim don't want to send their kids to litvishe schools, and those who do probably have a good reason to cross the lines.

    That being said, this move by Degel is politically smart and loud enough for Shas to hear, but hard to swallow from a Torah perspective.

    I hate politics, and it makes people who are yorei shamayim in their homes and hearts, look like wild dogs on the outside. This is only another example of that.

    I would like to know if these factions talk to each other to try to make shalom or they just fight. The fights are always public, the negotiations never are... chaval...

  3. I actually think I am understating it...not overstating it...

    the fact is the frum press is always full of such stories and complaints. The school year is sometimes delayed because a mainstream bais yaakov school did not accept enough sfardim. The chadarim always have these issues. I have a lot of sfardi neighbors and more of them have their kids in ashkenazy schools then sfardi schools.

    I am all for integration and I see no reason why their should be different school systems.

    But, once there are different school systems and they are politically affiliated and it depends on who you know or who you vote for, then you should go where you vote. And if th sfardim are setting up different schools (as they do) and if the ashkenazim set up their own schools (as they do), and they more or less stay separate (as they do with a little bit of crossover), then I see no reason why sfardim should feel second class and why they should feel discriminated against. They should be proud to be renwing their own culture (ha'charat atarah l'yoshna is their slogan after all)

  4. B"H I think that you gave a good summarization here.

    At first I thought that the Degel HaTorah response in the schools COULD have been revenge. But, you gave a reasonable explanation, which I feel obligated to accept unless I hear proof otherwise.

    The whole point of Sha"S was self-empowerment. I hope they use their money well, and build more schools and improve the ones they have.

    I still believe that Sefardim are not treated very well in Israel.

    Regarding DHT and AY in the Kenesseth, I prefer the Agudah, only because they seem to have more sign of a backbone than DHT, and its name is R' Me'ir Porush. ;-)

  5. " Tensions were already high between Degel and Shas due to recent budgetary spats and an inflammatory political cartoon published in the Yated newspaper "

    I don't know what the cartoon depicted and don't really want to know, but so much for following the halachos of Lashon Hara, huh? What goes through these people's heads when they use a technique anti-Semites often use to depict Jews negatively? How does this look to the outside world that gets hold of something like this? It's really disgusting and just goes to further prove to that many of these people, as much Torah as they might pretend to learn, simply are not Torah observant Jews.

  6. Am - I am surprised you had not seen it.. it was on a lot of blgos at the time... here is one example


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