Aryeh Deri’s Knesset Replacement

Lior Edri’s cell phone has been buzzing all day Monday, since 12:00 in the afternoon, for one simple reason: As of that moment, he stopped being another inconspicuous employee at the offices of the Badatz Beit Yosef kashrus organization and became a member of the Knesset. True, the Knesset is on vacation now and elections are at hand, and in a little more than two months, all of the current Knesset members will be “former” MKs unless they are reelected, but the Knesset must always have 120 members. From the moment Aryeh Deri’s resignation went into effect, the Shas party was required to swear in his successor, and the man chosen for the task was Lior Edri, a young man from Netanya who is on the verge of turning 36.

Edri surprised the members of the Knesset with a brief address that was very much on target. As soon as he announced his allegiance to the state at the Knesset podium, he was entitled to address the Knesset, an opportunity of which he took advantage. His opening words surprised Yuli Edelstein, the Knesset Speaker: “Mr. Speaker and members of the Knesset, I am first permitting myself – Mr. Speaker – to congratulate you on your well-deserved accomplishment at the end of this past week. It seems that even in politics, Chazal’s adage that a person who toils will succeed holds true. I give you my blessing that Hashem should show you favor and you should continue to experience success in all your endeavors.”

“As Only Aryeh Deri Can”

Although he denied it, Edri was visibly excited.

“Members of the Knesset,” he continued, “when the shliach tzibbur begins to lead the davening [on the Yomim Noraim], he starts with the words ‘hineni nirash venifchad – behold, I am trembling and frightened.’ I am not making such a statement, for several reasons, one of which is that public service is not foreign to me. As you can see, I am not an old man, but I do have plenty of experience with such matters. I have been privileged – and I stress the fact that it is a privilege – to have earned the trust of the prince of Torah, Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l, in an area that was very close to his heart: the field of halachah. I am part of the massive and very special kashrus organization that he founded. We received practical guidance from him, and I can attest that he was closely involved in all the halachic matters. There is good reason that the hechsher he founded has earned the trust of the public.”

Having mentioned Rav Ovadiah Yosef, he continued, “Like all of my colleagues in this party, and like many other Jews, I am filled with longing for our rebbi. I pray that the Shas party, which is one of his great accomplishments and aims to fulfill his goal of restoring the honor of Sefardic Jewry, will continue to flourish and live up to his hopes. May every child who says Shema Yisroel because of the Sefardic talmudei Torah founded by Maran, and every ben yeshiva and ben Torah who learns another page of Gemara in the yeshivos that he directed, be another source of merit for his pure soul.”

Edri then began to discuss the recently resigned chairman of the Shas party, who plans to lead the party through the election campaign, Aryeh Deri.

“As you all know, I am entering this position now as a result of the resignation of MK Rabbi Aryeh Deri, the chairman of the Shas party. He has resigned from the Knesset, but we all know that he has not resigned from his ultimate calling, the task with which Maran entrusted him: continuing the revolution. My friends and I look forward to seeing him regain his strength and lead the party’s election campaign as only Aryeh Deri can.”

Despite the fact that this was Edri’s first address to the Knesset, delivered moments after his appointment as a member of the legislature, he allowed himself to deliver a word of advice to the more seasoned lawmakers in the room – advice that was very much in place.

“We are now involved in an election campaign, and I call on everyone not to be dragged into a dirty campaign. We must all preserve basic human respect, in any circumstances. A society that doesn’t know how to guard its tongue cannot be entitled to call itself a society. I think that the Shas party is a shining example of this ideal.”

Edri then concluded his address, “It is an honor for me to be a part of this Knesset. I have served the public faithfully as an officer in the army, and I have continued to serve the public in my civilian life. I pray that I will continue to serve them well in the brief time remaining for the Nineteenth Knesset and, with Hashem’s help, that I will continue to do so in the Twentieth Knesset as well. Thank you very much.”

Edri then received warm blessings from other Knesset members, even those from the most irreligious parties, a clear sign that he had pleasantly surprised the other legislators in his first address.

It is no wonder, then, that he was flooded with requests for interviews. What journalist wouldn’t want to interview a chareidi Knesset member from the Shas party who had been chosen to replace Aryeh Deri? But Lior Edri chose to maintain his silence. He turned down every request for an interview, with one exception: He agreed to be interviewed for Yated Ne’eman in America.

A Talmid of Rav Abba Berman zt”l

One of my goals in our conversation was to pinpoint some sort of American connection. Little did I know how easy it would be. Before his marriage, I soon discover, Lior Edri learned at Yeshivas Iyun HaTalmud, during its time in Kiryat Sefer, where his rebbi was Rav Abba Berman zt”l.

“I heard shiurim and highly instructive mussar shmuessen from him,” Edri relates. The rosh yeshiva was Rav Mordechai Altusky shlit”a, while Rav Abba held the position of nosi of the yeshiva.”

Do you have any stories to share about him?

“I remember the first Elul after I came to the yeshiva,” Edri recalls. “We had been brought up to feel awe and pressure during Elul, but in his first shmuess, Rav Abba said, ‘I don’t understand why it’s necessary to be under pressure. We must strengthen our learning, we must learn more, but there is no need for pressure.’”

Perhaps you have a more personal story, as well?

“Sixteen years ago, when my shidduch was redd to me, I was very hesitant,” he relates. “My wife had learned in a Bais Yaakov, but she hadn’t learned to be a teacher or run a preschool, and there was a sense, at the time, that only a girl who had learned one of the teaching professions was considered respectable enough. I, however, was offered a shidduch with a girl who had studied accounting. Having grown up in the yeshiva world, I was stung. It meant going against the accepted norms. I went to Rav Abba to discuss what was troubling me. ‘Rosh yeshiva,’ I said, ‘I am about to consummate a shidduch, but I have many doubts, because the girl didn’t study to be a teacher.’ He asked me what profession she had studied and I told him. He said, ‘Listen to me. There is nothing better than having your wife at home, and the profession she has chosen is one that she can practice at home. Be successful!’ His words filled me with confidence and calm.”

I turn to the subject of his new position.

You won’t have the opportunity to do much in the Knesset.

“True,” Edri confirms. “The Knesset is in recess now. There are a few committees that are still active during the Knesset recess, one of which is the Finance Committee. Perhaps I will make my contribution there in the time remaining until the elections. In any event, most of the Knesset members are preoccupied more with the election campaign right now than with their jobs in the Knesset.”

How long have you been involved with Shas?

“I was responsible for the first bnei Torah council founded by Shas in Netanya for the elections 13 years ago.”

A bnei Torah council focuses on the community of bnei Torah, in contrast to those that work with traditional youths, women or working men. The founder of the council in Netanya was Rabbi Shimon Gabai zt”l, who oversaw all the kiruv in Netanya and was a noted talmid chochom in the city.

Did you have a personal relationship with the leaders of the Shas party at the time?

“Yes. The political leadership of Shas closely followed the party’s activities in every city. As a result, I had a connection with the party’s Knesset members, with the heads of the central electoral council, and with the head of the party itself at the time, Eli Yishai.”

You are too young to remember Aryeh Deri as the party leader.

“I know Rabbi Deri only from recent years. I believe that he is one of the people who epitomize the concept of a true dynamic public figure.”

Following Rav Ovadiah’s Orders

Lior Edri can boast of a privilege that not many others had: He visited the home of Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l on dozens of occasions in the context of his work for Badatz Beit Yosef, the kashrus organization founded by Rav Ovadiah. The organization is headed by Rav Ovadiah’s youngest son, Rav Moshe Yosef. Edri is Rav Moshe Yosef’s right-hand man, and he oversees the department of Beit Yosef that deals with shechitah both in Eretz Yisroel and abroad.

Edri’s visits to Rav Ovadiah dealt, of course, with halachic shailos, and we ask for an example.

“I asked about his view on the subject of glatt Bais Yosef, about the preparations that had to be made before a team went to chutz la’aretz, and about other practical halachic issues.”

Can you tell us something about Rav Ovadiah that we don’t know?

“There is nothing about Rav Ovadiah that is not known. What I saw with my own eyes and what deeply impressed me, of course, were the same things that impressed everyone – his complete absorption in his learning, while he cut himself off completely from his surroundings. And the way he treated every human being was truly extraordinary.”

Can you give us an example?

Edri shares the last incident that he witnessed, which took place when Rav Ovadiah was between hospitalizations. The rov was sitting in his room, and the wife of an avreich came in, weeping. The doctors told her that they had found a problem with the baby she was carrying and she had to have an abortion. She asked for his brachah. The rov told her to sit down on another chair in the room, and he simply cried along with her. Then he said to her, “Don’t worry. Just a month ago, a man came to invite me to his son’s wedding. I said to him, ‘I am an old man and I don’t have time. I don’t know how much more time I have left to live, and it would be bittul Torah.’ But the man said to me, ‘Harav, this is your child!’ I asked him, ‘Why is it my child?’ And he told me, ‘When my wife was expecting this child, who is now about to get married, she was told that there was a problem and the doctors were opposed to her carrying the child to term. We came to the rav, and the rav told us that everything would be fine and the child would be healthy.’ When I heard that,” Rav Ovadiah concluded, “I said, ‘Okay. I will come to the wedding.’” He then reassured the woman, “Gveret, be calm and don’t listen to the doctors,” and he gave her a heartfelt brachah, continuing to shed tears along with her.

“It was astounding to me to see the rav cry,” Edri relates. “He was able to relate to everyone on the deepest level.”

Was he generally machmir or meikil?

“All of his instructions to the Badatz were to follow the stringent opinions. He was machmir on everything. For instance, even though he allowed some avreichim to rely on the heter mechirah during Shmittah in order to minimize their living expenses, he told his son, Rav Moshe Yosef, to be machmir. He wanted even the consumers who follow the stringent opinions to be able to rely on our hechsheirim. His approach was that the Badatz must follow all the most stringent views.”

In what areas was he more lenient?

“He was never lenient with us. For the Badatz, every p’sak was the most stringent one possible. He was profoundly dedicated to the laws of bishul Yisroel. He followed the Bais Yosef’s opinion. When we asked him about glatt Bais Yosef, he placed his hand on the table and said, ‘Do you see how smooth this table is? That is how I want the lung to look.’”

What is special about the Bais Yosef’s opinion?

“The Bais Yosef – meaning Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch – is very strict on the subject of shechitah. He is much more stringent than the Rama, whose views are followed by Ashkenazim.”

Can you give us an example of one of his chumros?

“One example is the case of a lung that has a hole. Everyone holds that a hole in a lung makes an animal a treifah. But if there was a hole that was closed up by a sircha, the Rama considers it to be glatt, while the Bais Yosef rules that it’s treif.”

In what other areas was Rav Ovadiah machmir?

“He was very strict about matters concerning wine and the accepted percentage of water in wine.”

What does that mean?

“In order for a person to say the brachah of borei pri hagefen on grape juice, there has to be a certain ratio of juice to water. At Badatz Beit Yosef, we insist that the grape juice be no less than eighty percent of the beverage. Incidentally, we recently granted our certification to Kedem Herzog. Rav Moshe and I went to tour their winepresses in California and in Marlboro.”

Why do they want your hechsher?

“They realized that they need to be under a Sefardic hechsher due to the controversy over the required percentage of wine. You will find that certain bottles of grape juice are labeled ‘kosher even according to the view of the Bais Yosef.’ He was very stringent regarding the halachos associated with wine.”

Are there other companies in America under your supervision?

“We just began certifying the Rich company as well.”

Shas Will Yet Grow

Are you going to have to leave your job at the Badatz now that you are a member of the Knesset?

“Not in the meantime. I received approval from the Knesset legal advisor, Eyal Yinon, to continue my work, albeit with certain restrictions.”

In general, the law strictly prohibits a Knesset member from holding another job.

Is that because you are only a temporary member of the Knesset?

“Yes.”

Do you think you will be part of the next Knesset?

For the first time in our conversation, Edri is silent. He does not know how to answer the question. I try a different tack.

Do you have any idea which slot you will occupy on the list for the next Knesset?”

Once again, he answers diplomatically: “I was in the thirteenth slot before.”

If you are in the same slot this time, do you believe that Shas will receive thirteen mandates?

“Shas will grow, be’ezrat Hashem,” he says optimistically.

Despite Moshe Kachlon and Eli Yishai?

Kachlon, who previously served as a government minister and has broken away from the Likud to run on a separate list, is expected to receive nine mandates in the upcoming elections. Yishai, meanwhile, is also expected to siphon off votes from the religious Sefardic community. But Edri is still optimistic. “Despite everything!” he declares.