Prayer and Voting in an Ultra-Orthodox Campaign Video

Yesterday’s Israeli election coincided with the weeks during which Sephardi and Mizraḥi Jews recite early-morning penitential prayers known as sliot in advance of the High Holy Days. (In the Ashkenazi rite, these prayers are not said until this coming weekend.) Thus a video, less than four minutes long and released by the ḥaredi Sephardi Shas party to attract voters, opens with scenes of people rising early to go to synagogue to the sound of traditional sliot melodies, saving explicit political content to the end. Shaul Seidler-Feller analyzes this advertisement, and what it says about religion and politics in the Jewish state:

The first [hint that the video has a political message] comes about forty-five seconds in, at which point the camera captures, if only briefly, a background Shas campaign poster with a photograph of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013), the late spiritual leader of the party. As the footage progresses, more and more of these “hints” are dropped as the actors, walking the city streets, take notice of a similar political poster, until, about halfway through, the message is made explicit. In a video within the video, projected onto two city buildings, Rabbi Yosef charges, “take the Shas ticket and place it in the ballot box. Shas builds ritual baths, builds study halls—[and by voting for it,] you made this happen!”

The actors arriving in the synagogue to recite sliot include both old and young, strictly observant and loosely traditional (note one young man who covers his head with a kippah before entering the synagogue), and, fascinatingly, both men and women.

Like any good campaign video, this one ends with a powerful slogan: “Our master [Rabbi Yosef] promised: Shas, your ticket for the Day of Judgment.”

The word rendered here as “ticket” is in fact a pun pregnant with religious significance: it can refer to an actual ballot or to the writ on which, according to the Zohar, God’s judgment for an individual is inscribed following Rosh Hashanah. Thus, Seidler-Feller concludes, “the message is clear: if you choose the Shas ticket at the ballot box, you will receive a favorable writ on Yom Kippur, the culmination of the sliot season.”

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Israeli Election 2019, Judaism in Israel, Ovadiah Yosef, Sephardim, Shas, Ultra-Orthodox

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem