No religious coercion in new government, vows Orthodox party’s spiritual leader

“We have no intention of enacting laws that will increase hatred and division; we want to unite,” said Rabbi David Yosef of Shas Council of Torah Sages.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A prominent member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages tried to reassure secular Israelis Monday that although the upcoming government will be the most religious one in the state’s history, no one will not be coerced into keeping Jewish law.

“I want to calm the secular people,” Rabbi David Yosef told his students in part of a lecture that was first publicized on Channel 12. “We have no intention of enacting laws that will increase hatred and division; we want to unite, we want to draw people closer.”

The rabbi, who is the son of the late Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel Ovadia Yosef, noted that the Council, whose guidance is strictly followed by the Shas political party, had “instructed” Shas leader and incoming Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and all the party’s MKs “not to file bills that would limit the secular public. We don’t bring people closer to religion through threats and laws.”

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Yosef took a swipe at religious extremists, saying, “The Chazon Ish said that we have never seen a person who had stones thrown at him on Shabbat and because of that he repented. This is not our way, we will not follow the way of coercion. My father, Rabbi Ovadia, his way was always one of love and friendship and closeness, that will be our way.”

Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, knows as the Chazon Ish after his magnum opus, was one of the greatest Jewish spiritual leaders of the last century. He lived his last 20 years in Israel, from 1933 to 1953, and is credited with forging – together with Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion – the deal that allowed ultra-Orthodox young men to study Torah full time instead of serving in the army.

Yosef then took a swipe at the outgoing coalition, saying, “We won’t do the same as the previous government.” With all the religious parties in the opposition, the “change” government had tried to pass laws to force ultra-Orthodox schools to teach a core curriculum of secular subjects, reduce state subsidies to bring more of the sector into the workforce, and compel many more yeshiva students to draft into the IDF.

The 65-year-old cleric is the head of a Jerusalem institution that eduates rabbis for posts in both Israel and abroad. He served for years as the rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem but was forced to retire from the position last year.

The Reform movement had filed a complaint against him for violations of the disciplinary law applicable to civil servants due to his repeatedly vilifying them as acting more like Christians than like Jews, and he did not contest the claim in court.