United Torah Judaism's candidate for Jerusalem mayor, MK Meir Porush, has received his first public endorsement from a major spiritual leader in the ultra-Orthodox community, two and a half weeks before the elections. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, on Saturday night urged his party's supporters to vote for Shas' list for the municipal council and for Porush on the separate ballot slip for mayor. "We must do everything we can to strengthen Jerusalem," he said.

Porush is focusing his campaign on the national religious sector, the same public for which secular candidate Nir Barkat is vying. Both men are convinced that this particular population will determine the election's outcome. However, in order to win, Porush, who is trailing behind Barkat in the public opinion polls, will have to unite the entire Haredi public. Rabbi Yosef is the first to publicly endorse his candidacy.

At the beginning of September, when Porush learned that Yosef had endorsed former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri as mayoral candidate, Porush visited the rabbi's home late at night, in an attempt to change his mind. Back then, Rabbi Yosef refused Porush's request, but Deri's mayoral bid fell by the wayside at the beginning of this month, after the Jerusalem District Court rejected his request to run because of moral turpitude, deriving from his conviction for accepting bribes and other offenses.

Of all his overtures toward the ultra-Orthodox factions, Porush has been most successful with Shas, and has signed an agreement with it whereby, in case he wins the elections, Shas' municipal faction would be granted the position of deputy mayor and other posts. With this in hand, Porush paved the way to receiving the endorsement of Rabbi Yosef, who in recent days has issued harsh statements about the "danger" that the post of Jerusalem mayor might fall into secular hands. Rabbi Yosef received Porush in his home on Friday.

Porush is still awaiting the support of the Ashkenazi Haredi parties, Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah. It seems that the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah, which was initially opposed to him, is now leaning toward supporting Porush, who may win the support of the party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv.

Porush's main problems lie within his own party, Agudat Yisrael (which represents Hasidic ultra-Orthodoxy), because of his quarrel with the party's central faction over an agreement he formulated with Degel Hatorah. The deal would split control of ultra-Orthodox education between Porush's own faction, "Shlomi Emunim," and the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah. A delegation of Gur Hassidic rabbis visited Rabbi Elyashiv's home last week in an attempt to forestall him from supporting Porush.