Prayer and Voting in an Ultra-Orthodox Campaign Video

September 18, 2019 | Shaul Seidler-Feller
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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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