Was Rabbi Yosef befiehlt
- wir werden es erfuellen
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
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
One doesn't need a particularly sharp ear to pick up the discordant echoes of a
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...