Analysis / War Between Shas Leaders Reaches Oedipal Stage

Eli Yishai has morphed into an aggressive politician, brandishing the doomsday weapon, while Aryeh Deri prepares his own ammunition.

Michal Fattal

Just like the bloody encounter that Cain and Abel had with the ideas of Sigmund Freud, someone has decided that in the war between the two Shas brothers and rivals, Eli Yishai and Aryeh Deri, the right time has come to reenact the oedipal conflict by murdering the father figure.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the crowning glory of a generation – by whose name all the sides have sworn and will continue to swear for all eternity – is the murdered person whose blood is still seeping into the earth. Meanwhile, the two brother-enemies are still on their feet, themselves bloodied.

Yishai surprised everybody. For his whole career, he has been walking among us like just another politician. Even his close associates and friends claim that he is a survivor.

But now, frustrated after years of contempt from Deri and his associates, wounded to the depths of his soul by his dismissal from Shas’ leadership a year and a half ago, he has suddenly morphed into an aggressive politician.

Even people who have known Yishai for years never thought he would dare establish a party on his own. They never thought he would break the rules. His people have been threatening for some time to unleash “the doomsday weapon” – the homemade recordings that have come to be called “the black box.”

However, it is still not clear whether the explosion that took place now was deliberate, or whether someone just lost control of the bomb. Yishai is not the only one involved who has an interest in pulling out the aforementioned weapon.

The tapes, whose excerpts were broadcast on Channel 2 – including a recording where Rabbi Ovadia Yosef calls Deri “wicked" and "a thief," and says he will not betray Eli Yishai ־ first of all constitute a major human drama in the never-ending war between Yishai and Deri.

Generations of close confidants and meddlers alike have spoken for years about Rabbi Yosef’s ambivalent attitude toward Deri, who was too independent and sought to control the rabbi. And now there is proof of this, clear as day – the rabbi speaking in his own voice.

Why did he surrender and backtrack, several years after that scene was taped? Was Rabbi Yosef really put under pressure to dismiss his loyalist, Yishai?

The tapes could do terrible damage to Deri, who claims he is the successor and sole representative of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Deri can depend on the fact that some of his ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, constituency – who are used to hearing harsh statements from rabbis on occasion, and are in particular intimately familiar with the sort of comments made by Rabbi Yosef – will move on, past the recordings. But that will be much more difficult for others, especially the so-called traditional religious population.

Meanwhile, Deri is planning to come out with some ammunition of his own over the next few days – for example, letters written by Rabbi Yosef’s children and by the most important Ashkenazi rabbis supporting him. But that will not be enough to lift him over the electoral threshold, where several recent polls have situated him.

Deri’s loss is not Yishai’s gain. The tapes could work like a boomerang against Yishai, who, despite his denials that he was the source of the recordings, now looks – particularly to the Haredi public – like someone who has abandoned all restraint and is willing to destroy Rabbi Yosef’s life’s work just to bring down his rival.

But tapes of Rabbi Yosef in his private residence also give ammunition to the "heretics," who have been increasing in number over the years in Shas as well (such as Rabbi Haim Amsalem, for example).

This process can be attributed in part to Rabbi Yosef’s judgment, stemming from circumstances created in his court, and also because of the fundamental concept of “da’at Torah” (a mainly Haredi concept, in which the opinion of leading rabbis has a great deal of influence on all areas of life).

The members of the court, including the rabbi’s own offspring, have trampled this concept over and over. The tapes reveal how matters were run in Rabbi Yosef's household, sometimes involving major political personalities of his generation, and how mundane situations in one's home can be portrayed as decisions made with divine inspiration.

Now, as the war is being waged at full force, it is likely that the next stage will reveal even more about the inglorious reality that has enveloped the glory of the generation.