Prayer and Voting in an Ultra-Orthodox Campaign Video

Sept. 18 2019

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.”

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

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror