Shas daily: 'And all the wickedness was consumed in smoke'

A year out of power, Haredim hail government’s downfall, credit divine intervention

In statements and newspaper headlines, ultra-Orthodox rabbis and politicians rejoice as one of the few coalitions in recent decades that didn’t include them falls apart

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Shalom Cohen speaks during a campaign event of the Shas party in Holon on September 11, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Shalom Cohen speaks during a campaign event of the Shas party in Holon on September 11, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox leaders and newspapers rejoiced at the impending dissolution of the Knesset and government — the latter being one of the few in recent memory that didn’t include Haredi parties — and many attributed its downfall to divine intervention.

“His name is praised in the world!” said Rabbi Shalom Cohen, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, which represents Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews. “A government that harmed and tried to destroy Judaism and the sanctity of Israel and harmed the weak has been driven from the world. The holy one, blessed be he, has had mercy on the people of Israel.”

Cohen, 91, made his pronouncement from his hospital room on Monday night shortly after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced his plans to call for the dissolution of the Knesset, which will send the country back to elections for the fifth time in less than four years.

Cohen was not alone in his elation. Similar sentiments were expressed by other top Haredi rabbis and in ultra-Orthodox newspapers.

Haredi politicians and rabbis have furiously denounced the current government over the past year, mainly due to the actions of three of its members: Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Deputy Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel. They’ve also had nothing but disdain for Labor Knesset member Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi.

Liberman, who has firmly established himself as a political rival of the Haredi parties, raised their ire through a number of policies, including one that increased taxes on disposable tableware — which are used disproportionately by Haredi families — and another that would condition tax breaks for childcare on both parents being employed, which would hit ultra-Orthodox families hard because many Haredi men do not work and instead study in religious seminaries.

In his capacity as head of the Religious Services Ministry — first as minister and now as deputy minister with de facto control — Kahana introduced a number of reforms that have put him at odds with the Haredi establishment, notably the opening of the kashrut certification market to competition and a proposed law that would similarly allow conversions to Judaism to be performed by other religious authorities besides the Chief Rabbinate.

More recently, Hendel has worked to open up the market for so-called “kosher” phones — devices on which social media, texting, certain phone numbers and most other apps are blocked, making them popular among ultra-Orthodox Israelis — a move that has been furiously opposed by Haredi leaders even though it would likely result in cheaper “kosher” cellphone plans for consumers. As these devices are currently only sold with certain phone numbers, they are easily identifiable and therefore trackable, so schools, for instance, can ensure that their students’ parents use them. If the market is opened and consumers are able to easily change service providers while keeping the same number, this method of content control will be lost, something the Haredi establishment deeply fears.

On a more personal level, Haredi lawmakers have routinely insulted and protested against Kariv for his religious beliefs, even initially planning to boycott the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which Kariv led.

“We can’t be part of such an injustice,” United Torah Judaism’s Uri Maklev said at the time. “The intended chairman represents the Reform movement, which is trying to destroy the Jewish people with malicious intent.”

With these issues in mind, Haredi leaders and mouthpieces trumpeted the news of the government’s collapse, calling it wicked and made up of “riffraff.”

The Shas newspaper, Haderech, announced the dissolution of the government with the headline “And all the wickedness was consumed in smoke,” a line from the Yom Kippur liturgy.

Another Haredi newspaper, Yated Ne’eman, ran the headline: “The fall of the riffraff government: Israel is going to elections.”

Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the spiritual leader of the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism party, also rejoiced at the government’s downfall when he was informed of the development by Knesset member Yaakov Asher.

“It’s thanks to the public, it’s thanks to the Torah,” Edelstein said, in a video shared by his office.

Asher then incorrectly told him it was the “shortest-lasting government that ever was, because they harmed spirituality.” (In fact, that distinction still belongs to the previous government, which lasted roughly 13 months, compared to the more than 16 months that the current coalition is projected to endure until elections can take place.)

Edelstein then noted to Asher: “They didn’t succeed!”

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