A Victory for Torah Jewry

After months of foreboding, capped by an Election Day fraught with the anxieties of low voter turnout and a long night of exit polls, the Torah community in Eretz Yisrael had reason to celebrate.

United Torah Judaism and Shas each gained eight seats in the Knesset, tied for third-largest party in the country, virtually ensuring a government in which chareidim will continue to have an important voice.

The outcome exceeded everyone’s expectations. Not a single poll predicted it. On the contrary, Shas struggled with discouraging poll figures all through the campaign; at one point there was even doubt that it would clear the electoral threshold for entry into the Knesset. As for UTJ, it will be sending its largest delegation ever to that parliamentary body.

With a combined force of 16 votes, UTJ will be in a better position than before to fight for the causes so vital to the Torah community: draft exemptions for yeshivah and kollel students, shemiras Shabbos, preservation of the sanctity of the Kosel, giyur according to halachah, Torah education without government interference and more.

Had the Blue and White alliance of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid won — as they initially thought they had — all of those concerns would have been placed at grave risk. Lapid has made a career of seeking to destroy everything Jewish in the Jewish state, and would surely have pursued his evil agenda if given the power.

Gantz’s remarkable challenge was aided and abetted by his pact with Lapid, and his statements about religious issues during the campaign belied the moderate image he tried to cultivate. Gantz made it clear that he was perfectly willing to sell out the most cherished Jewish values for the backing of the Reform movement and the votes of the militantly secular.

For awhile, it looked as if he had succeeded. But the polls — including the exit polls, supposedly more accurate than pre-election samplings — were wrong. Dramatically wrong.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu once again defeated the opposition and is on his way to an unprecedented fifth term. Whatever one may think of Netanyahu, the achievement cannot be denied. Despite what he termed the “witch hunt” to bring him down through highly publicized corruption probes and ceaseless personal attacks on him and his family, he fought back and won. The outcome of his legal battles remains to be seen, but for now at least he has a well-deserved moment of triumph.

The first party leaders he turned to on Tuesday night to open coalition talks were those of Shas and United Torah Judaism. Not only was this to be expected, given the consistent support they demonstrated throughout the campaign, but it augurs well for the future. After Likud, the chareidi parties constitute the second-largest faction in the coalition in the making, and the coalition agreement should reflect that.

No doubt, there will be considerable discussion about the inaccuracy of the polls. Millions of shekels were invested in them, sponsored by news outlets and the parties themselves, followed as if they were scientific revelations, studied for every nuance, and compared to each other for the minutest variations as if they were sacred texts.

In the end, what were they worth? Had the leaders of Shas believed them, they would have given up months ago. Moshe Feiglin did believe them, and was stunned to find that his vaunted party and his king-making role had vanished overnight.

The Torah community did not put its faith in polls or politicians. It put its faith in the great talmidei chachamim of the generation.

And above all, it was a victory for emunas Chachamim. Despite talk of dissatisfaction and disaffection within the ranks of Orthodox Jewry, when faced with this momentous decision, and in the privacy of the polling booth, they heeded the call of Gedolei Yisrael and voted for the parties they had endorsed — A kiddush Hashem on a national scale.

Well known is the Chazon Ish’s explanation that the most important reason to vote for chareidi candidates, beyond the specific issues in any given election, is the message it conveys to the world when tens and hundreds of thousands of Jews count themselves among the faithful. Regardless of the number of Knesset seats won or lost, a kiddush Hashem results just from the act of rallying to the banner of Torah and identifying with the Gedolei Yisrael.

Less well known is what he said in answer to the question, “If voting is a mitzvah, then what kind of mitzvah? Is it like eating matzah?” the questioner suggested?

No, replied the Chazon Ish, it is like eating maror.

Voting is a mitzvah, and like any other mitzvah should be performed dutifully and with joy. But it unfortunately comes with a bitter taste, as it entails participation in a secular contrivance not of our making. It draws the Torah community into a degrading atmosphere of mud-slinging and cynical media manipulation, and all too often provides our foes with a pretext to propagandize against the Torah.

But after matzah and maror there comes Hallel. We thank Hashem for deliverance from slavery in Mitzrayim and from our enemies who rise up in every generation to destroy us.

L’shanah habaah b’Yerushalayim!