Rabbi David Stav did not know that he was in Shas' sights. He did know that he was doing his job in the best possible way: supplying religious services that won widespread praise, while also curbing expenses and remaining free of political influence.
But none of that matters to Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi (Shas), who recently sent a letter to the Mayor of Shoham, Gil Livneh, informing him that he must set up a religious council in his town to replace the municipal religious services department run by Stav, the community rabbi.
Livneh rebelled. In his view, a religious council would simply waste money on a plethora of political appointments and thereby increase tension and alienation within Shoham. But Margi insisted. The law allows him to demand the establishment of a religious council in every community - and there are already 133 such councils, which serve as bottomless pits of political appointments and waste. Just recently Margi appointed dozens of new members to these religious councils, including council heads who earn the same hefty salary as mayors.
Due to this extravagance, the religious councils suffer from chronic deficits. But to this, too, Shas found a solution: Last week it mobilized the governing coalition to support new regulations under which financially solid municipalities would transfer NIS 27 million to finance religious councils in less well-off communities. In other words, the nonreligious public will be forced to make do with less education, less welfare and less sanitation for the sake of further inflating the superfluous religious councils.
Nor did Shas stop there. Last week it tried to get the Knesset to pass the "Jobs Law," whose goal was to increase the number of deputy mayors in various cities so that Shas (and other parties) would be able to appoint a few dozen more political hacks to unnecessary positions. Interior Minister Eli Yishai thereby tried to correct the "injustice" done by his predecessor Avraham Poraz during Ariel Sharon's government. Poraz succeeded in getting rid of 130 unnecessary deputy mayors, but Yishai wanted to "restore the ancient glory" - at the expense of municipal taxpayers throughout the country.
In the end, the bill as initially formulated did not pass. But what remains of it is outrageous enough: The number of deputy mayors in Jerusalem will rise from six to eight, with the two new positions going to Shas and the other ultra-Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism. In other words, this is an overt political bribe at the expense of Jerusalem's taxpayers.
Now Shas is trying to pass an amendment to the business licensing law that would require anyone seeking to open a grocery store or restaurant, as well as movie theaters or other places of entertainment, to pledge not to open the business on Shabbat. Shas is also pushing the "Chametz Law," which would forbid the sale of chametz (leavened bread) on Pesach, even if it were displayed inconspicuously, inside the store. This is religious coercion that will generate hatred for Jewish tradition.
And not long ago, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of UTJ decided to transfer NIS 65 million from the budget for life-saving drugs to dental care for children. Here, too, we are talking about a cynical transfer of funds from the general public for the benefit of Litzman's constituents. After all, it is clear that when the "criteria" for state-funded dental care are set, most of the money will end up going to ultra-Orthodox children.
Shas' behavior was completely predictable. Just as you cannot teach a bird to fly backward, it is impossible to demand statesmanlike behavior from Shas. Shas entered politics in order to extort as much as possible for the benefit of its own elites. This is clear from the examples above, and it is also clear from the coalition agreement the party signed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is entirely focused on its own community: It mandates increased funding for ultra-Orthodox schools, yeshiva students and child allowances. It is also clear from the fact that Shas educates its elites not to serve in the army and not to work. Let the secular donkey carry the burden on its own.
Therefore, the real criticism must be aimed at the one who gave Shas this power, the one who capitulates to it on every issue, the one who gave it control over all the civilian ministries that determine the public's quality of life - the Interior Ministry, the Housing Ministry and the Religious Services Ministry (along with giving the Health Ministry to UTJ) - and thereby enabled it to extort even more, increase its power and harm the nonreligious majority. For as the Talmudic saying goes, "it's not the mouse that's the thief, but the hole [where he hides his cheese]." And Netanyahu is the one who gave Shas the biggest hole it ever had.
Now its enormous power has gone to its head. And that is why the rabbi of Shoham should be worried. He would be wise to begin looking for a new job.
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