A demand by United Torah Judaism party head Yaakov Litzman that Jerusalem mayoral candidates shut down nightlife in Mahane Yehuda market if they want the support of his Hasidic sect may be motivated by a recent incident in which two drunk women stumbled into a yeshiva, Hadashot news suggested Sunday, and not simply due to a desire to maintain law and order as the MK claimed.
Hadashot news reported that the two inebriated women accidentally entered the Sefas Emes, a yeshiva adjacent to Mahane Yehuda and connected to Litzman’s Gur Hasidic movement. The yeshiva also houses the graves of two of the movement’s previous leaders.
Hadashot news suggested that this may be the real motivation behind Litzman’s demand, and noted that other ultra-Orthodox MKs, such as Shas’s Aryeh Deri and UTJ’s Moshe Gafni did not echo Litzman’s call.
In an interview with Hadashot, Litzman insisted that his demand was solely to keep law and order in the city. He said that he had toured the market with police and seen drug use there, as well as finding noise levels that were intolerable to the neighbors.
Litzman told Hadashot that both religious and non-religious people from the neighborhood had asked him to close the market down at night because of the noise levels.
He noted that he had wanted the market nightlife closed for the past year and a half, and maintained that no recent event led to this apparently sudden demand.
He said if people want to have such a raucous nightlife, they should do so outside the capital.
The two leading candidates for Jerusalem mayor both rejected Litzman’s demand.
Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who announced his candidacy on Thursday, and who is seen as close to the Haredi politicians said, “There is no reason to close it.”
Deputy Mayor Moshe Lion, an independent candidate, said, “The status quo will remain.”
The Gur Hasidic movement is the largest in Israel, and is centered in Jerusalem. Its large bloc of members tend to vote as instructed by their rabbinic leader, who is said to take advice from Litzman, in determining which candidate will best serve the interests of the group.
A paper for Litzman’s party, Hamodia, announced his demand on Friday, saying the area had in recent years become “a focal point for debauchery and revelry” — “both an environmental and educational nuisance.”
The market pub area is one of the capital’s only entertainment centers for the secular public.
Ultra-Orthodox city council members have also sought unsuccessfully to shutter Jerusalem’s First Station promenade, another secular bastion, on Shabbat.
Israeli law forbids businesses from operating during the Jewish day of rest, with exceptions including places of entertainment, restaurants, and basic services, such as pharmacies, as well as industries whose closure would hurt Israel’s economy. A vehemently debated issue in numerous Israeli cities, the policy is particular sensitive in deeply religious Jerusalem.
The announcement came two months after Mayor Nir Barkat said that he will not be seeking a third term, and will instead run for Knesset on the Likud party ticket.
Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitsch of the United Torah Judaism faction is seen as the leading Haredi candidate, alongside fellow party member Yitzhak Pindrus, also a deputy mayor.
Zionist Union lawmaker Nachman Shai is also reportedly set to announce his candidacy for the mayoral race in the coming weeks. Another possible candidate is Kulanu party MK Rachel Azaria, who served as deputy mayor before entering the Knesset in 2015.
There are also several secular candidates vying for the support of the younger generations, including 34-year-old Ofer Berkowitz, head of the Hitorerut faction, Yossi Havilio, a former municipal legal adviser turned Barkat critic, and little-known Avi Salman.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.