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.”

Read more at Lehrhaus

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

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia