Haredim Approve New Group to Run Education Network, in Slap to Gur Hasids

Leaders of Israel's ultra-Orthodox community approved the establishment of a new association to run the independent Haredi education system, at a Jerusalem meeting yesterday. The new association would replace the current one, established by the Gur Hasidic sect decades ago.

The initial moves toward establishing a new association were made several months ago. In a rare step, Gur turned to civil court in an attempt to thwart it.

Dozens of security guards and police secured the conference venue, Novotel, in Jerusalem. Guards were instructed not to let anyone in who did not have an official invitation.

"We were warned that people might try to crash the conference or phone in a false bomb threat," a guard said.

In addition to Hasidic leaders, two of the most important figures in the non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox world, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, were also present. They praised the Haredi unity expressed by the presence of three significant groups: the Council of Torah Sages of the non-Hasidic Degel Hatorah, and representatives of Agudat Yisrael from Israel and the United States.

Still, the conference may signify a new split in Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodoxy. It was a resounding slap in the face of the Gur Hasids, the largest Hasidic group in Israel. The group's leader, the Gerer rebbe, declined an invitation to the summit, and and his representatives had tried to foil the conference.

The struggle for control of the independent Haredi education system, one of the key positions in the ultra-Orthodox world, began in June 2008. The Gur Hasidim are struggling to maintain their hegemony in the face of challenges by a coalition of the smaller Hasidic sects in Agudat Yisrael, represented by MK Meir Porush, and the non-Hasidic Haredi Degel Hatorah party.

Porush, who had run for mayor of Jerusalem last year, won the support of Degel Hatorah after making a secret deal to redivide control over the Haredi education system, with Gur retaining control proportionate to its population. The outcome was a rift in the Haredi community, leading to a secular candidate winning the mayoral elections.

When asked whether the move yesterday was another step in this war, Rabbi Menahem Porush, father of MK Meir Porush answered: "subconsciously, yes."