Ultra-Orthodox Party Leader Recruits Religious Zionist Rabbi

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Eli Yishai carried on the shoulders of his supporters in Tel Aviv, after launching his new party 'Ha'am Itanu.' January 7, 2015. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Rabbi Moshe Hager-Lau, head of a religious pre-military academy, said this week he was joining the party of Eli Yishai, a defector from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Yishai broke off from the largely Mizrahi Jewish Shas last month and formed his own outfit, Ha’am Itanu.

Hager, a reserve colonel, is a prominent rabbi in the religious-Zionist community and a relative of former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. He is considered likely to wind up No. 4 on Ha’am Itanu’s ticket.

“For me this is the beginning of a real Jewish Torah movement that finally breaks down the walls of hostility between the knitted kippas and the ultra-Orthodox public,” Hager-Lau said. The knitted-kippas allusion refers to religious Zionists, many of whom vote for Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party.

As Yishai put it, “Anyone who thought [Ha’am Itanu] would be a sort of second Shas received a final answer today and sees that it’s a pure Torah party of the whole nation — ultra-Orthodox, religious, secular and observant,” Yishai said.

MK Yoni Chetboun, who has already defected from Habayit Hayehudi, called Hager-Lau’s move “a historic turning point after which rabbis and other prominent yeshiva heads will follow Eli Yishai.”

Avichai Rontzki, a former chief military rabbi who is No. 14 on Habayit Hayehudi’s ticket, said Hager-Lau’s joining Yishai’s party was “regrettable.”

“Are the members of Habayit Hayehudi not God-fearing or religious enough to make Israel’s Torah the center of their lives and make them committed to education, security, settlement and other state affairs?” Rontzki wrote on his Facebook page.

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