Haredim Won't Join Gaza Protest March

Ultra-Orthodox spokesmen say they do not expect many Haredim to participate in next week's protest march to Gush Katif.

Both the Lithuanian rabbinic leadership and the heads of the two largest Hasidic courts, Gur and Belz, have generally dovish political views, and they therefore oppose Haredi involvement in shows of support for the settlers. This position trickles down to the yeshivas and to rank-and-file Haredi Jews. And since the Lithuanians, Gur and Belz are the hard core of ultra-Orthodoxy, community spokesmen do not expect to see multitudes joining the protest march.

"This is not the Haredi public's problem," said one spokesman.

"There is sympathy for the human pain," demurred Zvi Ya'akobson, who writes for the Haredi newspaper Bakehila. "And [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon is an ideological adversary. But going to demonstrations is not our way."

Gur and Belz yeshiva students are traditionally instructed not to take part in political demonstrations unless the rabbis grant special tradition - which they do only when issues of vital concern to the Haredi community are at stake. And this public is used to obeying its rabbis. Thus MK Yisrael Eichler of the United Torah Judaism party, who is a Belz Hasid, says that there is little concern about young people being swept up in the protests.

Last week, Housing Minister Isaac Herzog was given a cold shoulder when he visited several rabbis - including Shas's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and leading Lithuanian rabbi Yehuda Leib Steinman - on Sharon's behalf and requested that the rabbis issue a prohibition against participating in anti-disengagement demonstrations. But that does not mean the rabbis support such protests.

"They are trying to force us into this issue," explained Haim Cohen, political assistant to Lithuanian leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. "If we instruct students not to demonstrate, that would be admitting that our young men even have an interest in the disengagement. But this is not to our liking. A young man can't go to the cinema between study sessions. A demonstration is the same thing to us."

Added a 25-year-old yeshiva student: "No one will go to a demonstration where he might have his picture taken, or get in trouble with the police. That would damage his marriage prospects."

So who does engage in road-blocking and other protests? Haredi spokesmen all agree that it is the shababniks (undisciplined youths). But can the rabbis rely on their students during their three-week break from yeshiva, which coincides with the disengagement? The Gur and Belz communities plan to pay it safe by cutting the breaks short - and the rest of the time, the students will be in summer camp.