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The bar mitzvah celebration Aryeh Deri held for his son Wednesday resembled a showy political spectacle, with an impressive parade of political leaders. Above it all hovered the enigma of Deri's return to politics.

When Yehuda Deri was born, his father, then Shas Party chairman, was a defendant in court. When the boy was 4, his father was sent to prison for two years.

Thirteen years are a long time to spend outside the halls of power. The seven-year period during which Deri could not return to politics, because his offenses carried moral turpitude, have expired (depending on who's counting). Many believe Deri needs to prove he has not lost his clout.

Indeed, the event at the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem was heavily guarded, as befitting the numerous dignitaries. They included President Shimon Peres, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, chief rabbis, business magnates Lev Levayev and David Appel, and even former minister and partymate Shlomo Benizri, who begins his prison sentence next week.

But all eyes were on Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who holds the key to Deri's return to his home party. After several ups and downs following the trial, Deri's relationship with Yosef is once again being tested, now that Deri is searching for a political home.

"The relationship between the rabbi and Deri is much warmer than some people say," a relative of Deri's said. Yosef's granddaughter is scheduled to marry Deri's nephew next week, he said.

But meetings at family occasions are no indication of Deri's political future. Yosef had made it clear that while Deri could visit him anytime, the door to Shas remains closed to him, the ultra-Orthodox weekly Bakehila reported yesterday.

Having despaired of returning to Shas, Deri was setting up an organization - to be launched after the holidays - that would serve him as a political springboard, the paper reported.

Sources close to Deri swear they know nothing of these plans.

"All Aryeh told me is it's going to be huge," a rabbi and confidant of Deri's said at the bar mitzvah.

But a seasoned ultra-Orthodox politician there said, "Deri will never return to the leadership. They won't let him. They will hound him, they will tell him a thief cannot return to power."

Asked who "they" were, he said, "They are the left, the justice system. They will persecute him."

Yosef, the bar mitzvah boy's godfather, gave a short sermon. He did not say a word about the father's political future. He concluded with a series of affectionate slaps on the boy's cheek.

"Study a lot of Torah, will you?" he ordered. "Be a great rabbi."

Deri himself wished the rabbi good health, and said he hoped Yosef would officiate at his son's marriage as well.