Conflict of Interest in Bnei Brak
Haredi media focused this week primarily on the murder at the Ozar HaTorah school in Toulouse and on the death of Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, but other issues stirred under the surface.
The Migron Decision — The Haredi press probably dislikes Israel’s Supreme Court even more than they dislike religious-Zionist ideology, so this week’s Supreme Court decision requiring the government to dismantle the religious-Zionist West Bank settlement, Migron, provided opportunity to criticize both.
Yated Ne’eman attacked the religious Zionist right which “advanced the appointment of [Asher] Grunis to Chief Justice, and believed so deeply that he would advance their interests,” only to have him turn against them. Faith in God, the paper suggests, is a better political strategy. “It is not easy to admit mistakes… but at least in the future maybe this story will help people realize at least a little that blind faith in flesh and blood cannot help or save.” HaModia, in contrast, chose to attack the court, which remains a “flag waver for the radical left agenda,” and which “wants to take control of the country.” The paper called for a referendum on reforming the court’s authority.
Tzohar Law — The Yahadut Hatorah political party continues to oppose the so-called “Tzohar Law,” which would help weaken the Chief Rabbinate’s control over marriage. The law would allow couples to register to marry in Israel in any locality they choose and not only in the municipalities in which the partners live; the bill would thus make it much easier for couples to choose the more user-friendly religious-Zionist Tzohar rabbinic organization instead of the Haredi-led Chief Rabbinate. Yahadut Hatorah claims it would also allow untrustworthy rabbis to officiate at the Jewish weddings.
The law passed a Knesset committee this week, but Yahadut Hatorah threatened a coalition crisis and prevented the law from reaching a vote on the Knesset floor before the spring recess. Yated Ne’eman calls the law, “one of the most destructive and dangerous political deals which the Knesset has ever seen,” and claims that Tzohar has received funds from the hated left-wing organization, the New Israel Fund. Not trusting religious-Zionist rabbis to determine who is Jewish, and can therefore marry, Yated claims that Haredi Jews will be forced to “open private lineage records” and conduct marriages only between those whose Judaism can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Skeptics suggest that Yahadut HaTorah’s opposition stems less from considerations of Jewish law and more from a desire to maintain an existing rabbinical monopoly.
Scandals-of-the-Week Club — According to Ma’ariv, the legal counsel for the zoning board of the Haredi city of Bnei Brak’s is also the city prosecutor in charge of enforcing the city’s zoning laws and is also a lawyer in private practice who represents building contractors with interests in the city. It certainly sounds like a conflict of interest! (Hebrew)
In addition, four Haredi men were arrested for allegedly inventing a fictitious kollel (advanced yeshiva) to embezzle stipends from the Ministry of Education. Police are also investigating several rabbinical students who allegedly hired advanced students to take rabbinical exams in their place. Ma’ariv (Hebrew) is also reporting allegations that millions of shekels donated to the Haredi Zaka organization—responsible for handling bodies of victims of terrorist attacks in Israel—were being funneled into a private company, which used the funds for leaders’ personal expenses. Haredi print media discussed none of this, but the renegade website Yehi Or (let there be light), which prides itself on flaunting the unwritten Hareidi-media rules that limit the discourse, placed these scandals front and center.