Haredi Wars in J'lem Play Into Hands of Only Secular Candidate

On the eve of the Jerusalem mayoral election, the rift in the ultra-Orthodox community is widening further.

The Gerrer Hasidic group has thrown its support behind secular candidate Nir Barkat. Though this does not guarantee Barkat victory, it eats away at the backing enjoyed by his rival, ultra-Orthodox candidate Meir Porush.

Yesterday an emergency meeting was held at the home of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the leader of the "Lithuanian" or Mitnagdim non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox sect. Participants discussed the uncertainty surrounding Elyashiv's choice of mayoral candidate.

A letter released last week in Elyashiv's name has been subject to various interpretations in the ultra-Orthodox community and led to billboard campaigns by both supporters and opponents of Porush.

Today the Degel Hatorah party will carry its latest letter in its Yated Ne'eman newspaper; the letter will be signed by Elyashiv and call on voters to choose Porush. Degel Hatorah and Agudat Israel are key members of the alliance United Torah Judaism.

Still, the letter may do little to clear the fog surrounding the capital's municipal elections. On paper, the vast majority of the city's ultra-Orthodox are expected to vote for Porush, with the exception of members of the Gerrer sect, which continues to wage a relentless campaign against the candidate.

The group's leader, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, refrained Friday from joining a petition by a number of prominent rabbis endorsing Porush; it merely issued a letter to his flock calling on them to support the United Torah Judaism ticket (with which Porush is affiliated) for city council, making no mention of the mayoral race.

In recent days, an unofficial message has been circulating in the Gerrer community to escalate the war of words against Porush and give a boost to Barkat, who is already leading in the polls.

The animosity stems from the Gerrers' belief that Porush offended their rabbi when during his campaign, he drew up a secret plan that ousted them from their central position in the ultra-Orthodox education system. The sect represents the largest ultra-Orthodox stream in the country.

"We're going all the way in the war for the rabbi's honor, and we don't care what the results are or what they think of us in the ultra-Orthodox public," said one of its members.

Sources close to Porush believe the conflict is working in their favor and pushing ultra-Orthodox groups that were previously on the fence firmly into their camp.

"This war is uniting all of the enemies of the Gerrers in the ultra-Orthodox public, and there are many," said one member of Porush's campaign.