My Humble Take on Eli Yishai's New Party
There is so much to say about Eli Yishai's new party I don't know where to begin. I must say that the party looks very exciting. This party, still in formation, and whose bylaws are still in formation, is for those religious Jews who never quite found their niche. It appears that they will now.
(Of course, I live in Hutz La'aretz, so take whatever I say with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, I've been following Israeli politics since I can remember, which is a very long time.)
I've always been and continue to be a Rav Ovadia fan and try to follow his Halachot to the best I can. I've always believed in his Shas party and what it stood for - and I still do to some extent. There is still a lot of good in the Shas party - especially, its formation of institutions of Hinuch and its care for the needy. The Israeli public owes a lot of Hakarat Hatov to the Shas party. Especially Sepharadim should have this Hakarat Hatov because since 5744, they have had a voice in the Knesset.
Nevertheless, without the glue that kept the pieces together - namely Rav Ovadia Yosef ZT"L - things are not as they once were. Rav Ovadia gave his lifeblood for the party - possibly literally. He was its heart and its soul and as long as he was around directing it, I couldn't imagine voting for another party in Israel. Even after his untimely demise, the party was the best party out there for a large group of people.
There is, however, a large subset of Shas voters who have seen and bemoaned the fact that half the party MKs lean way to the left on some issues. It is no secret that Aryeh Deri has in the past leaned to the left on many security issues. It was always the belief that Eli Yishai - and the Shas voters themselves - would keep a leash on the left-leaning MKs. It was, however, becoming increasingly more difficult to do so.
At the same time, mostly the same group of Shas voters is not pleased with the makeup of the Mo'etzet Hachmei Hatorah as it stands today. Without the presence of Rav Ovadia's leadership, they believe that its membership should be expanded to include other Sephardic Rabbanim who are equally as great as those who are currently members. For example, Rav Shelomo Moshe Amar Shlit"a at one time long ago was slated by Rav Ovadia ZT"L himself to take the leadership position to succeed him. That idea soured of late, and now, as current Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, he is now unable legally to take it, let alone be a member therein. Many other great rabbis were considered good candidates as well. The idea to expand the Mo'etzet was ultimately rejected to the chagrin of this group.
Meanwhile, there was a concurrent growing discontent among a subset of Bayit Hayehudi MKs and voters. This group saw that under the leadership of Naftali Bennet, the party has shifted from a religious party to just another right-leaning party that actually hurt religion. Its union with Yesh Atid was the first sign of this and its legislation for the draft and conversions sealed the deal. It is not at all surprising that Yoni Chetboun, who I consider to be the hero rebel of BY, will be joining Yishai in his new party. Speculation about Tekuma joining is a bit more surprising, but not much so in the scheme of things. Wild speculation that Otzma LeYisrael will join them is interesting, although probably not likely, and I'm not sure if this idea will help or hurt either side.
What is being formed is a party that doesn't care what flavor of Yahadut you represent as long as you know that the Torah and its leaders are supreme. It makes no difference if you are Haredi, Hardal, or Dati Leumi. It makes no difference if you are Sepharadi, Ashkenazi, Teimani, or otherwise. Everyone will be represented and taken care of. What is the glue that will keep this group together? Its adherence to Torah, its leaders, and right-wing views on security. That was what was missing in the 19th Knesset on a full-party basis.
The other religious parties have their place too. UTJ and Shas will keep fighting anti-Torah legislation. Shas will keep fighting for the poor and for Sepharadi schools. BY will keep fighting against the 2-state solution. This new party, I believe, will do all of the above. And, to top it all off, it will not have the stigma of having supported the Oslo Accords. This is what excites me.
May Mashiah come soon, at which time we will have no need for parties in Israel since כִּי-אָז אֶהְפֹּךְ אֶל-עַמִּים, שָׂפָה בְרוּרָה, לִקְרֹא כֻלָּם בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה, לְעָבְדוֹ שְׁכֶם אֶחָד [For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one consent.] Until that occurs, I believe that this new party will create the Jewish, Torah-based unity that is needed to bring about Mashiah's coming, speedily in our days, Amen.