Livni Schmoozes Famed Rabbi in Move to Improve Image in Sector

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni and husband meets rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto to change her image as anti-ultra-orthodox; Pinto tells Livni religion should be separated from politics.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni and her husband Naftali Spitzer met last month with popular rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto at his Ashdod home, in a bid to repair Livni's image as anti-ultra-Orthodox. During the meetings, Livni assured Pinto that she feels a deep connection to the tradition she's witnessed at her parents' home, and that Judaism was part of her Israeliness. She said that some people, presumably her political opponents, were trying to change that reality.

Pinto told her that Judaism belongs to no party, and that everything must be done to separate religion from politics. He also advised Livni it was important to make the public aware of her deep connection to Judaism. Livni informed the rabbi she was concerned with both the diplomatic and the socioeconomic situation in the country, saying if she returns to leadership she will be more attentive to poverty and the underprivileged. Pinto replied that the greatest enemy of Israeli society was the hedonism and egoism of everyone only looking out for themselves. He said the multitudes of hungry children with no one to care for them stood as an accusation against the people of Israel.

Livni appeared to stress Judaism-related terms and references when she discussed Chief Rabbi Dov Lior at the Jewish Agency Conference yesterday. "Even in Jewish scriptures," she said, "the law of the kingdom was the law and it accompanied the life of Jews in exile, and must lead life in the Jewish state. This applies to everyone." Lior was briefly detained by police yesterday after endorsing the book "Torat Hamelech," which justifies the killing of non-Jews.

Livni's opinions on ultra-Orthodox politics have long since been a matter of contention between her and her main Kadima leadership rival, Shaul Mofaz. In May 2010, Livni said she was willing to join forces with Likud to stop ultra-Orthodox blackmail. Mofaz responded by giving an interview to an ultra-Orthodox newspaper in which he said: "There's a trend of attacking the ultra-Orthodox. There's a hate campaign against the ultra-Orthodox. I'm against that. I've read some of what Livni has been saying. I'm not sure I agree."

Mofaz and Livni also clashed on the ultra-Orthodox issue after the resignation of Ehud Olmert as prime minister and Livni's failure to set up a new Kadima-led government. Livni's associates blamed Mofaz for undermining the talks by conducting his own negotiations with Shas, while Mofaz insisted he was the only one who could close a deal with the ultra-Orthodox.

Pinto, who splits his life between Ashdod and Manhattan, is seen as a popular and successful Sephardic rabbi, despite his young age (38 ). He runs the Shuva Yisrael charity, and his court enjoys the patronage of ministers Yisrael Katz and Moshe Kahlon, and businessmen like Jacky Ben-Zaken and Ilan Ben-Dov. Pinto is opposed to politicization of religion and to amulets, despite his own disciples insisting he can perform miracles.