Sderot Sought Support, Shas Head Offered Prayers

The Shas spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, met residents of Sderot yesterday but would not be drawn on political questions such as whether the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic party might quit the government.

"I can do nothing but pray for you," said Rabbi Yosef to his guests, who met him in his synagogue.

"What I can do is to send messengers to the defense minister to take a hard line. There is nothing to do but have faith in our heavenly father."

In recent days, Shas leader Eli Yishai has threatened to take his party out of the government due to the peace talks with the Palestinians.

Rabbi Yosef, meanwhile, had agreed to a request from the leaders of Sderot synagogues to be granted an audience. About 20 representatives met with him, including some from the protest camp set up by Sderot residents in Jerusalem.

They asked the rabbi for more than just advice on how to act under rocket fire, and tried to extract from him a political statement on Shas' remaining in the government in light of the continued bombardment and the freeze on construction in Jerusalem.

Sderot visitors disappointed

But Rabbi Yosef remained true to the order he gave Tuesday to Shas leaders to lower their profiles, and the visitors from Sderot left disappointed.

"We do not feel we received answers. The answer we hoped for was that he would do something, call for a resolution [to the crisis]," said Sderot's Ariel Bar-Eli, one of the participants in the meeting.

"The answer we received was that we will continue to risk our lives, and Shas will support that," said another resident who identified himself as Haim.

The rabbi also avoided answering questions on how to act in synagogue when under a rocket attack. He simply blessed his visitors, saying that "with the help of God soon it will be over .... We need to pray to the Holy One Blessed be He."