Friday, Oct 15, 2021

The Shas Saga Continues

After leading and influencing Shas for over 30 years, Aryeh Deri abruptly announced his resignation from the Knesset last week when leaked videos were taken out of context and publicized by the national media. Will he return home? Truth be told, despite his resignation from the Knesset with the reluctant agreement of the Moetzet Chachmei Hatorah of Shas, Deri did not actually leave his position as chairman of Shas and can still legally lead the party's list in the upcoming elections unless he erases his name from the Shas list, which must be submitted by January 29.

Deri asked the Moetzet to consider sanctioning this additional step, but so far they have not done so. This week, in particular, was no convenient time for such a proceeding, as the head of the Moetzet, Rav Shalom Cohen, was sitting shivah after the passing of his sister.

Although Deri insisted that his resignation from the Knesset was not a “spin,” but the real thing, in a subsequent interview with Channel 2 he intimated that he might have a change of mind, saying, “I do not yet know whether I will return; that is the absolute truth.” He also remarked, “A man who does not change his mind or is unwilling to listen to the opinion of others is not a real person but a donkey.”

In regard to the interview, a close colleague of Deri said that his decision to leave was serious, but the commotion it aroused induced him to say he might return.

Encouraged by the interview, former Shas Director Nati Lasri said, “I share the feelings of most people in Israel, and if I can adopt his style, ‘only a donkey’ really believed that Deri would leave politics permanently.”

Storm of Protest

Deri’s resignation had aroused a storm of protest.

Hundreds of Deri supporters erected a tent outside his Har Nof home where Rav Ovadia Yosef’s youngest son, Rav David Yosef, declared, “I call to Rav Aryeh Deri, Rav Aryeh come back. We will not rest or remain silent until Aryeh Deri returns to be the head of Shas.”

Deri, who had gone north to recuperate from stress, phoned his admirers in the tent and declared: “Your cry reaches up to the north. I love you and I am moved. I have not forgotten what Maran [Rav Ovadiah Yosef] said to me in the hospital before his passing. He held my hand and told me, ‘Promise me that you will continue my work.’”

Then, Deri added, “I would prefer that you – thousands of bochurim – learn another page of Gemara.”

MK Yaakov Litzman of UTJ joined other members of his party in asking Deri to prevent the destruction of Shas.

“I call on my friend Aryeh Deri to prevent the entire ship from sinking, chas veshalom, and to reconsider his actions towards continuing the holy work as head of Shas,” he said.

In a personal appeal, Chief Rabbi Rav Yitzchak Yosef wrote to Deri of the vital importance of carrying on.

“In my capacity as chief rabbi of Israel,” he wrote, “I am unable to be involved in political matters, but I have to, with this personal letter, express my appreciation for your activities on behalf of the holy Torah and religious life in Israel.

“I personally know the great role you have in establishing many talmudei Torah and preventing a major crisis at the beginning of 5774 [when the new government arose]. Thanks to you, many talmudei Torah continued to function.

“I personally witnessed the great affection that my great father, the gadol hadoros, had for you. In the last months of his life, when I came almost every day to visit him, I saw how he really enjoyed and rejoiced in our discussions with him… May you merit to raise the glory of Torah and increase Torah in the nation with nachas and good health for many years.”

“Employees of the movement, activists and representatives, will from now on deal only with the return of Aryeh Deri to the leadership of the movement and to the furtherance of its revolution,” Shas politicians stated. “Through his decision [to leave], he is leading to a situation that hundreds of thousands of citizens will have no one to look after them… Without Aryeh Deri, the Shas movement cannot survive.”

Eli Yishai’s spiritual mentor, Rav Meir Mazuz, who insisted that Yishai had nothing to do with publicizing the videos, citing the posuk, “Our hands did not spill this blood,” called upon Deri to return to his party.

Rav Reuven Elbaz met the Belzer Rebbe to discuss how to end the Shas crisis, and the Rebbe sent his representative, Yisroel Eichler, to Rav Amar to ask him to try to resolve the matter. Moetzet member Rav Shimon Ba’adani also met Deri and asked him to reconsider his course.

Condemnation of Past and Future Videos

Chief Rabbi Rav Yitzchak Yosef spoke to Shas member Lior Edri who took over Deri’s place in the Knesset and warned him that many challenges lie ahead.

“Be ready for struggles,” he told him. “How many bad laws did the previous [departing] government pass? 55 laws against the Torah and each one worst than the last. You will be in the Knesset for two months and may Hashem help that you continue afterwards as well.”

In the meantime, a special bais din comprised of Chief Rabbi Rav Yitzchok Yosef, Rishon Letzion Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron and Moetzet member Rav Shimon Ba’adani convened to condemn anyone publicizing more videos involving Rav Ovadiah.

“We say to all who publicized in the past and are thinking of publicizing in the future, ‘Beware of the coals of the wise, whose bite is the bite of the fox and whose sting is the sting of the scorpion,’ and the wound of whoever denigrates a talmid chochom will not heal, especially when speaking of the gadol of the generations, Rav Ovadiah Yosef,” they announced.

In regard to the videos aired last week, Deri said they signified nothing.

In a Facebook message, Deri wrote that he “recalled a recent conversation I had with Rav Ovadiah Yosef who was the spiritual father of this generation. Maran called me, took my hand and told me, ‘I ask you to promise me two things, to hear the cry of the poor and to continue the activities of education and my teachings among the youth.’ …Together, we will take action to fulfill this testament of Maran in every situation and in every way we can.”

At the same time as Shas was undergoing this crisis, danger came from another direction, as Chaim Amselam who left Shas to found his own party which failed to pass the electoral threshold in the last elections is trying to make a comeback.

With Rav Ovadiah gone, with copycat parties trying to garner Sefardi votes, and with politicians like Yair Lapid lying in ambush, it is imperative for the chareidi community not to be divided and waste the election and cause the reelection of a memsheles resha.

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