Blow to Shas as Prominent Rabbi Throws Support Behind Rival Party

Shift of support challenges loyalty of crucial network of yeshiva student activists.

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Shas leader Arye Dery
Shas leader Arye DeryCredit: Olivier Fitoussi

A blow to Shas: Rabbi Yoram Abergel, one of the leading Sephardic rabbis, has shifted his support from Shas to MK Eli Yishai’s Yahad party. The support of Abergel, who heads a large network of kollels (yeshivas for married men) eats into the hardcore activist network on which Shas chairman Arye Deri is depending – Sephardi Haredi yeshiva students.

“I’m voting for the Yahad movement headed by the great gaon (outstanding talmudic scholar) Rabbi Meir Mazuz, and it’s important to strengthen him in joy and unity and to vote Yahad,” wrote Abergel in a letter to his followers, which was publicized yesterday.

Abergel explained he was publicizing his opinion “because tens of thousands of voters have doubts about my opinion regarding the election.” He added a reference to Shas in his letter: “I would ask my friends from the Shas movement to accept my considerations with understanding and joy, and after election day we will do everything possible to unite the ranks and to cooperate for the sake of heaven, because we all have one goal, to gladden Maran of blessed memory (a reference to the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef), who all his life loved unity and strengthening tradition in all parts of the nation.”

Abergel’s network of kollels, Kol Rina – Rav Pe’alim has about 2,500 registered male students, and the community itself numbers about 15,000 people. According to associates of the rabbi, his indirect circles of influence, which also include religious Zionists and those who define themselves as “masorati” (“traditional” but not Orthodox) are far broader.

Abergel announced last December, before Yishai left the party, that he was abstaining from the upcoming election and would not announce whom he would support. Already then it was bitter news for Shas, which in previous elections relied on the support of the Netivot rabbi and his many students as activists in the field. Now the rabbi is joining the rival party.

After Mazuz, a top-ranking Shas rabbi, Abergel is the leading Sephardi Haredi rabbi abandoning Shas in favor of Yahad. The list of rabbis supporting Yahad is lengthening. Until now most have been disappointed members of Tekuma and Habayit Hayehudi, such as rabbis Dov Lior, Shmuel Eliyahu and others, as well as rabbis identified with the Har Hamor yeshiva faction headed by Rabbi Zvi Tau.  

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