Prominent rabbi skips vote, boding ill for ultra-Orthodox parties

Lithuanian community leader Shmuel Auerbach declares he will not be voting, a move that could be emulated by his 30,000 followers

Ultra-Orthodox rabbi Shmuel Auerbach in Jerusalem, February 22, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox rabbi Shmuel Auerbach in Jerusalem, February 22, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some 20,000-30,000 ultra-Orthodox could boycott the general elections on Tuesday and not vote for any party, after a prominent leader in the ultra-Orthodox community declared he would not cast a ballot and instructed followers to not vote for the United Torah Judaism party.

The move will likely augur badly for UTJ and ultra-Orthodox upstart Yachad, which could both see a drop in support from a normally reliable voter base.

A statement issued Monday on behalf of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, leader of the powerful Lithuanian branch of Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox Israelis, declined to back a specific party in the hotly contested poll.

“There is no instruction or recommendation to vote in this election for any party in the world, and there is no intention to issue such an instruction. Any word saying there was or will be – is a lie,” the statement read.

Auerbach’s lack of support for a specified party was commonly understood to be a recommendation to his 30,000 followers not to vote at all.

A report published Sunday indicated Auerbach was considering supporting ultra-Orthodox upstart Yachad instead of UTJ. The Monday statement was intended to rebuff that claim.

Sources close to Auerbach said he planned to stay at home as the rest of the country goes out to vote.

If all of Auerbach’s adherents follow his example of abstention, it is UJT and Yachad that could suffer the most, possibly losing a Knesset seat apiece.

Yachad, which is hovering around four seats, could find itself out of the Knesset altogether.

UTJ is expected to win six or seven seats in the election.

Shas, which has cornered the majority of the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Jewish vote, has more reliable support from other corners of the ultra-Orthodox community.

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