Elections 2009 / Shas 'Leading Lady': My True Career Is Home and Husband

Yehudit Yosef, known as the party's strongwoman, is Shas' answer to Tzipi Livni's feminist campaign.

Shas has pulled out a leading lady of its own to combat Kadima leader Tzipi Livni campaign. But Yehudit Yosef, daughter-in-law of the party's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is a woman whose "true career" is housewife.

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Yehudit Yosef has long been known as the party's strongwoman, an expert in pulling strings behind the scenes. But on Monday, she gave her first public appearance, to a packed Jerusalem hall of women Shas supporters.

Ever since Rabbi Yosef's wife died, 16 years ago, Yehudit has assumed the place of the woman behind the throne. She, her husband Moshe - Yosef's youngest son - and their nine children share Yosef's Jerusalem apartment, but her job goes far beyond housekeeping. She also helps run the party, and within Shas, she is widely credited with having influenced her father-in-law to choose Eli Yishai to succeed Aryeh Deri as the party's chairman.

That did not endear her to Deri's supporters, but with time, those wounds have healed. Hence her appearance at Monday's rally.

This was not a standard campaign event: Women were bused in from all over the country, and the program included a visit to the Western Wall, a lecture and a performance that combined singing with stand-up comedy. Yehudit's speech, however, dealt mainly with the life of a religious woman in general - "we need to be proud of this, that our true career is our home, our children, our husband" - and life with Rabbi Yosef in particular, with an emphasis on his devotion to Torah study, to the party and to his own family.

"I know how concerned he is about women's issues, how he educated his children to take care of their womenfolk so that they would not lack for anything," she said. "When he gives his class on Saturday night and comes to the issue of women, he gives them a lecture on how to treat a woman, what to do for her, how to behave, what to buy her, and so forth. It's such a lovely thing."

Only at the end did she get down to the traditional business of rallying the troops to get out and work for the party. "They say of us, 'Through the merit of righteous women Israel was redeemed, and through their merit it will be redeemed,'" she said. "Do you understand the meaning of this thing they say of us? If they say such a thing of us, it means 'yes we can,' praise God. If the rabbi devotes his entire being, what can we say? We cannot sit on the sidelines."