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Unlikely Shas Alliance Forged Over Conversion Compromise

The move represents a thawing of tensions between Aryeh Deri and Rabbi Moshe Yosef, who have long been considered rivals, and may signal the creation of a new alliance within the party.

The son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef gave former party leader and rival Aryeh Deri a green light to try and reach a compromise with the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community following Yosef’s controversial ruling okaying army conversions.

The move represented a thawing of tensions between Deri and Rabbi Moshe Yosef, who have long been considered rivals, and may signal the creation of a new alliance within the party against chairman Eli Yishai. Moshe Yosef was key in distancing the party from Deri after the former chairman was sent to jail for bribe-taking.

Aryeh Deri
Nir Keidar

On Sunday, the Ashkenazi rabbis agreed to call off a rally against Ovadia Yosef for the ruling after Yishai signed off on a rabbinical clarification saying the conversion would only be considered kosher for “sincere converts,” but both Yishai and Deri claim credit for the compromise.

Some in Shas say both claimants humiliated the spiritual leader.

On Sunday, Shas issued a statement against Deri, blasting him for taking full credit for the agreement between Shas, which is mostly Sephardi, and the Ashkenazi rabbis of the Eda Haredit.

Sources close to Deri say he was approached by several of Yosef’s sons late last week to use his contacts with the Ashkenazim to avert the rally.

They say Deri then approached Moshe Yosef for the go-ahead, knowing he would need his support.

Deri brought Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias, an independent force in Shas, into the circle as another supporter, along with a number of the leading rabbis in the movement, Deri’s people say.

On Monday, Deri, Moshe Yosef, Atias and their close associates refrained from declaring a new alliance which could challenge Yishai, but they did not deny the drama inherent in the cooperation among them. A source close to Moshe Yosef estimated he was motivated to join up with Deri by the evaluation that the latter would be able to put together an effective compromise, and was not intended to abandon his loyalty to Yishai.

Yishai said he was pleased with the way the compromise played out, which let Ovadia Yosef save face without backtracking, while still appeasing the Ashkenazi rabbis.