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Englischsprachige Übersetzungen 
aus der israelischen Presse

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Was Rabbi Yosef befiehlt 
- wir werden es erfuellen

Wenn Rabbi Yosef uns sagt 
'Springt vom Dach', 
dann werden wir dies tun!

Sticks, stones and Shas

By Avirama Golan

The Shas leadership was pleased with what happened in the synagogues and the streets during Purim, but the main headline in their newspaper Yom l'Yom stressed the exegesis by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef whereby "it is absolutely prohibited to harm any human being" and in which readers are advised to "forget" his embarrassing sermon. 

Presumably the rabbi himself would also prefer to forget it. On Friday, he was told that his daughter, Adina Bar Shalom, had said in an interview to the weekend magazine of Yedioth Ahronoth that he, her father, was surrounded by rightists who are agitating against peace.

Yosef's son Moshe was depicted in the interview as a weak individual who is unable to manage the affairs of the throbbing court with the high, protective and decisive hand of his late mother.

The rabbi had not yet recovered from this when he was told that Jerusalem was full of broadsides calling Moshe "Gihzi" after the hapless but pretentious servant of the prophet Elisha. Institutions of the Shas educational network are shutting down, there are no salaries for the teachers, and Moshe is distancing God-fearing people, removing his brother Avraham from the Bet Yosef religious court and organizing a slush fund for himself.

The Jerusalem weeklies also carried the story of the ugly quarrel between the rabbi's sons over the plot of land opposite their father's house.

Moshe got in touch with his sister Adina and begged her to come and calm things down, but on Saturday evening, right before the sermon, a number of religious school principals whose institutions had been shut down came on a pilgrimage to the rabbi's house.

They were weeping copiously and the rabbi wailed along with them, and the die was cast. Not an hour went before he smote Education Minister Yossi Sarid with sticks and stones and excoriated him.

But Sarid was no random victim of a timely temper tantrum, and the rabbi's rage must not be taken lightly, even if his words rouse sheer disgust. In Shas, Sarid stirs up longings for the previous Meretz education ministers, Shulamit Aloni and Amnon Rubinstein.

Deputy Education Minister Meshulam Nahari, they are saying in Shas, was at the time the deputy of Rabbi Maya (who resigned) and worked harmoniously with the people at the Education Ministry, and peace was more important than the number of institutions Shas had.

Now, after the stringent recovery plan has been signed, most of the heads of the education network are claiming that they are interested in proper management, but feel that Sarid is persecuting them, not only with these demands but also, and primarily, with his declarations.

Even the matter of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, which seemingly should not be at all of interest to Shas (after all, Haim Nachman Bialik is the one who is really dangerous), was interpreted as a challenge to Judaism.

If Sarid carries on like this, they are saying, we will run a terrific election campaign with the slogans "Anyone but Sarid" and "Meretz is exterminating the Jews."

One doesn't need a particularly sharp ear to pick up the discordant echoes of a Diaspora mentality.

Judaism and its spiritual assets, for the Shas spokesmen, boil down to Torah and community, in the narrowest ultra-Orthodox sense of that word. Their attitudes toward the government, even though they are senior partners in that government, is alienated from the spirit of proper democratic government, and they feel both persecuted and arrogant.

Most Shas voters do not live this way, but at times of crisis they prefer to identify with these values and not with what looks to them like the frightening, nihilist and universalist Tel Aviv mentality. 
The struggle between the Education Ministry and Shas, therefore, stirs up the culture war that has been more or less dormant here for the past few years, and colors it in archaic and superfluous battle hues.

This is a culture war of the old-fashioned Bismarckian sort, which turns religious differences into means of political delegitimization, and this is exactly what Sarid and Yosef - each in his own style - are doing. Meretz declared "Anything but Shas" because for it, Shas represents primitive and mystical thinking and paganism, and Shas hates Meretz because it is the representative of secularism and the destruction of tradition.

Neither is exactly like that, but the words are stronger than the reality, which offers the two parties no real alternative. Now Rabbi Yosef has dragged this war, which is empty of content, into the familiar anarchic rhetoric of 1995: the victim's right to aggression.

Now, instead of a government of "everyone," Barak has brought to life the covenant of extremes: Two political movements whose principles have been blunted (Shas is also crumbling because of overgrowth and internal wars) are locking horns in order to rehabilitate their own identities. And alas, it is the unbridled fundamentalist movement, which will lose less in the war, that represents the larger public.

The left is very close to another failure. One Israel and Meretz had the opportunity to embrace Shas in a political bear hug, and at the same time enhance the welfare state (Sarid is trying to open kindergartens with long school days, but he is struggling under the strain of a meager budget) in order to lessen the need for Shas mediation.

This government could untangle the knotty relations between religion and state and isolate politics from the cultural element.
Instead, Shas is being attacked almost solely on the cultural level, and the most urgent goal for Meretz is to eliminate Shas's Ma'ayan Hahinuch Hatorani education system even before the peace agreements are signed.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Barak is galloping to Syria and has yet to notice that the factions behind him are knocking each other out.
Barak and Sarid promised to civilize Shas. Meanwhile, they are helping it thrive as a Sephardi Jewish underground, the heads of which are wringing power from every insult and every plant that is closed down and its spiritual leader - who used to be dignified - is despairing, excoriating and vengeful...

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