Rabbinical sage drafted for Tel Aviv rally as ultra-orthodox look to stop Liberman

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, 91, will be going to “the city that never sleeps” for the first time to stump for the United Torah Judaism party.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A 91-year-old spiritual leader of haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, Jewry will be going to Tel Aviv for his first-ever political visit to the secular stronghold in order to help his party expand its voter base in the face of a strong anti-religious campaign by Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman, Ynet reported on Tuesday.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who has never attended rallies organized by his Degel HaTorah (a member of the United Torah Judaism party) in Tel Aviv, has been drafted for a last-minute election push.

Ynet reports that Rabbi Kanievsky has only visited Tel Aviv on doctor’s orders to walk its beaches for the fresh air. The rabbi lives close to Tel Aviv in the neighboring city of Bnei Brak.

The move signals that the haredi parties are worried about the repercussions of a strong showing by Liberman as predicted by polls.

Liberman has focused his campaign on curtailing the power of the haredi parties. His message has resonated with voters, many of whom are angry over haredi opposition to drafting young men from their community to the army and the perception that haredim are living off the public till without contributing to Israeli society.

Liberman’s electoral strength has doubled since the last elections once he started attacking the haredim. Polls show him winning 9-to-10 seats. As neither of the two biggest parties have enough seats to form a governing coalition without him, he is expected to play the role of kingmaker after the September 17 elections.

Avigdor Liberman (Flash90/Meir Vaknin)

Liberman has said he wants a national-unity government between Likud and Blue and White with the condition that haredi parties are frozen out of the government.

But the haredim are doing their best to bring out the vote in the hopes of countering Liberman’s influence.

Degel HaTorah, which together with the Agudat Israel party forms United Torah Judaism, hopes to benefit from the timing of the elections to reach out to religiously traditional, though not haredi, voters. Ironically, they may have Liberman to thank, Ynet reports.

“Liberman insisted that the elections be in September and not August because he feared that his public would not be in the country during summer vacation, but he forgot that September is Elul, and now it’s boomeranging on him,” Degel HaTorah sources told Ynet.

Elul is the Hebrew month preceding the Jewish New Year when introspection is intensified and the religiously traditional public often joins its more observant brethren in going to synagogue for special penitential prayers.

“Suddenly we have a connection to audiences we have never known before. We see amazing reactions, even from places like [secular] Eilat and Tel Aviv,” the party told Ynet.

“A blessing from Rabbi Kanievsky for a happy new year and success on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, with a new hasidic song that we produced for this about how ‘When a tzaddik [righteous man] decrees, the Holy One blessed is He fulfills’ – is something that does not work in Heshvan or Sivan, but only in the month of mercy and forgiveness, before the High Holidays.”