Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the leader of the radical "Jerusalem faction" of the Lithuanian Orthodox sect, announced Tuesday that he would not vote in Israel's elections for the 20th Knesset. Earlier this week, the rabbi said he would not give his vote for the United Torah Judaism party – for the first time since it was established – and later Tuesday, the sect's newspaper Hapeles reported that he decided not to vote at all.
However, Auerbach avoided giving explicit instructions to his followers on whether to follow suit or vote for a different ultra-Orthodox party. According to various estimates, the sect is includes some 25-35,000 voters, which may detract a seat from United Torah Judaism, and from the right-wing bloc as a whole.
This is a new record in the struggle of the 'Bnei Torah' faction, which represents the Lithuanian sector and stands against United Torah Judaism, a party that refuses to recognize it and grant it representation in the Knesset in the form of a list.
Rabbi Auerbach harshly criticized the United Torah Judaism leaders last week at an event held at the Jerusalem Payis Arena, attended by about 8,000 people, saying that: "Those who help them – are helping transgressors."
The article featured in Hapeles newspaper explained that the Haredi participation in the elections is designed only to declare their separation from the secular order. However, the article went on to say, the sector's parties do not represent this message, hence there is no point in voting at all. "The main goal of elections…cannot be implemented in these elections," the article said.
The United Torah Judaism party is an alliance of Agudat Israel (headed by Yaakov Litzman) and Degel HaTorah (headed by Moshe Gafni), two small ultra-Orthodox parties. After the passing of Degel HaTorah's rabbinical arbiter, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, about three years ago – a group was founded within it, based in Jerusalem, which goes against the leadership of its successor, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, claiming he was too much of a compromiser.
In the 2013 elections, the members of the "Jerusalem faction" voted for the United Torah Judaism, but in municipal elections at the end of the year demanded to be given representation in Degel HaTorah. When they were met with opposition, they left the faction and established independent lists in several cities. In Jerusalem, they decided to support mayor Nir Barkat and not Moshe Leon, the Shas and United Torah Judaism mayoral candidate.
Over the past two years, Rabbi Auerbach frequently spoke out against IDF enlistment legislation and the activities of the Knesset's Shaked Committee in charge of formulating a new bill for IDF service. The rabbi also instructed yeshiva students not to report to IDF recruitment centers. Consequently, a number of such students were arrested, leading the "Jerusalem faction" to hold several large protests throughout the country.