Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

3 Shevat 5759 - Jan. 20, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Showdown in the Knesset: UTJ Makes Approval of the Budget Contingent on the Amendment to the Religious Councils Law

by Eliezer Rauchberger, Mordecai Plaut and Arye Zisman

Also: Haifa Religious Council Adjourns Without a Quorum; Massive Rally on Sunday Against High Court Decision

The chairman of the Knesset's Finance Committee, Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz of United Torah Judaism, reiterated this past Monday his refusal to bring the Budget Law and the Arrangements Law in the Economy to the Committee -- two bills that are critical for the entire Israeli government -- for approval unless the Knesset plenum gives final approval to the law which prevents the inclusion of Reform and Conservative delegates in the religious councils.

As a result, the budget will not be discussed this week, but rather next Monday or Tuesday. Rabbi Ravitz feels confident that the plenum will approve the Religious Councils Law at a second and third reading. However, he stressed that if, cholila this does not occur, there will be no budget.

As Chairman of the powerful Knesset Finance Committee, Rabbi Ravitz is in a position to enforce his demands. Chareidi analysts noted that Rabbi Ravitz's principled stand has already been called "blackmail" by opposition members, but the name-calling is unlikely to be successful in view of the fact that the issue is purely one of principle and involves no money.

Meanwhile, in the first case to which the law would apply, none of the old members of the Haifa Religious Council came to a scheduled meeting last Monday night, despite a High Court order to do so. As a result the meeting was cancelled. The only ones there were the chairman, who was under a direct court order to come, and the new Reform and Conservative representatives of the anti-religious Meretz party. Even the representatives of secular parties, who are themselves religious (as has been the norm up until now), did not show up.

Council chairman Yitzchok Getz appeared and announced that he was present and was forced to convene the meeting against his will. He then retired to the Torah library, in order to avoid sitting together with the Reform and Conservative members. Though the room was almost void of council members, it was full of members of the press.

After about an hour, Getz came out and said that since a quorum was not present, the meeting was cancelled. He expressed his satisfaction about the fact that most members did not come. According to the rules of the religious councils, if a quorum is not present, the council must meet again in a week and then conduct business with as many members as are on hand.

The members of the Haifa Religious Council are awaiting developments in the course of the week and have turned to the gedolei Torah for advice on what to do about the next meeting when the business of the Council may be conducted with any number in attendance. At that session a chairman and deputies are to be selected. These are powerful and salaried positions.

Interior Minister Eli Suissa has formulated a plan to drastically cut the number of religious council members. The Haifa council, which now has 32 members, would have nine under his plan. Smaller cities would have seven, and local councils would have five. This would, in turn, cut the number of council members nominated by political parties and probably eliminate the Reform and Conservative nominees, who were all named by Meretz which is a relatively small party.

The general secretary of Degel HaTorah, Rabbi Moshe Gafni, repeated his past demand that the religious councils be dismantled, and said that the formats of the religious councils should at least be altered. "This body has lost its vitality," he said, "and in light of the threats of the Reform, we should continue to demand that religious services be delivered differently."

Massive Haifa Protest Rally

A large rally was held in Haifa on Sunday, the 29th of Teves, a day before the abortive first meeting of the Haifa Religious Council, in protest of the inclusion of Reform and Conservative members in the religious councils. At the end of the rally it was decided, in line with the directives of maranan verabonon gedolei Yisroel, to call upon religious council members throughout the country not to participate in religious councils that have been forced by the High Court to include heretical elements whose purpose is to undermine religion and Judaism.

The Beis Knesses HaGodol of Haifa, which has more than 1500 seats, was too small for all of the participants in the protest rally. Many remained outside and heard the speeches through amplifiers. The participants, hailing from all circles in the city, protested the judicial coercion which has forced the inclusion of the Reform in the religious council.

The massive rally, the likes of which Haifa has never seen, was attended by the rosh yeshiva of Nachlas HaLevi'im, R' Yisroel Meir Weiss; the Admor of Seret-Vizhnitz; the Admor of Kalev; the gaavad of Makwa, R' Shimon Lemberger; R' Yisroel Dovid Ruste, the rav of Haifa's chassidic community of Gur; HaRav Osher Neuhaus, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Hatzor; the Chief Rabbis of Haifa and the rabbis of its various neighborhoods; the city's avos beis din and dayanim.

Many public figures were also present, among them UTJ's representatives in the city council; deputy mayor Rabbi Moshe Shtetman; chairman of the religious council, R' Yitzchok Getz, the Torah observant members of the religious council, and the council's representatives from other parties.

The rally was opened by the rosh yeshiva of Mishkan Yaakov, HaRav Dovid Katz, who noted that Haifa is serving as a testing ground for the Reform in their attempts to gain nationwide control over all of the country's religious life. The Chief Rabbis of Haifa summarized the deliberations which preceded the ruling of the High Court regarding the Reform and noted the audacity of those representatives who replied in an offensive manner to the questionnaire sent to all of the members of the religious council, while attempting to change the halocho.

"The voice which rises up from Haifa must be sounded all over the country, and we have merited to battle for the sake of the preservation of religion," the Chief Rabbis declared.

HaRav Osher Neuhaus, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Hatzor, spoke about the great danger of the Reform and presented statistics proving that the claims of the Reform that they represent the Jewish nation in the Diaspora are false. "Now that they have gone bankrupt from a spiritual standpoint and caused massive assimilation in the United States, they seek to do this here, and we must be on the alert," he said. He also said that their attempt to be included in the religious council constitutes a springboard for their ultimate aim, which is to gain nationwide legitimacy for all of their activities, including conversion, and we must firmly oppose and prevent this.

"This is a spiritual battle, and it is not for nothing that certain judges are trying to assist them," said HaRav Neuhaus.

The Admor of Seret-Vizhnitz read a chapter in Tehillim and those present responded. Afterward, the rosh yeshiva of Nachlas HaLevi'im, R' Yisroel Meir Weiss, read the classifications of "dvar Hashem bozoh" from Sha'arei Teshuvah. "This term," HaRav Weiss said, "includes these porkei ol who have invented a new Torah and who are acting out of spite. Those who have assimilated have no Jewish posterity. Only those who follow the path of Torah as transmitted from generation to generation merit Jewish posterity. We must pray that all of the errant and lost return and must strengthen ourselves inwardly. Most of all, we must not yield even one iota in this battle."

Decisions Made at the Rally

At the end of the massive rally in Haifa, the following decisions were announced:

a) In accordance with maranan verabonon, gedolei haTorah vehaChassidusand in accordance with the Chief Rabbis of Israel and the Chief Rabbis of Haifa, [we hereby state] that it is forbidden for any Torah and mitzvah-observant Jew who believes in Torah miSinai to officiate as a member of a religious council which includes representatives from movements whose sole purpose is to undermine our faith and to uproot Torah from the Jewish nation.

b) It is inconceivable that the Haifa Religious Council which has conducted itself according to the pure halocho passed down to us from generation to generation since its inception fifty years ago, should be forced to include representatives who distort the Torah and its mitzvos.

c) The Reform and Conservative movements have been destroying Kerem Yisroel for decades, and have brought about massive assimilation the word over. It is inconceivable to allow them entry into Eretz Hakodesh.

d) The assembly declares that absolutely no collaboration will take place with the Haifa Religious Council if and when those baneful representatives are included within it.

e) The assembly warns that the inclusion of the Reform and Conservative in the Haifa Religious Council will result in a rift in the nation and in forming separate communities.

f) The assembly strengthens and blesses the members of the Haifa Religious Council who are safeguarding the walls of religion and Judaism. These representatives will not participate in the meetings of the Religious Council and are acting in accordance with the advice of the rabbonim.

g) The assembly calls upon all members of religious councils throughout the country to embrace the decisions accepted in Haifa. Although Haifa is the first city in the country [whose religious council has been forced to include Reform and Conservative delegates] it is clear that the aim of the destroyers of our religion is to undermine from within all of the religious councils and religious services in our sacred land.

h) At this time, when unity is so necessary for the Jewish nation, this assembly turns to the Prime Minster, to the religious ministers and to the Knesset members to act on behalf of unity and to effect the annulment of this terrible decree

We close with the prayer and appeal that every ruse which rises up against us will not succeed. May we be grow stronger for the sake of our people and the cities of Hashem.


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