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The Last Word: Sage Advice

Shimon Breitkopf

MKs receive pivotal guidance from Rav Aharon Leib Steinman

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

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WISE WORDS MKs Moshe Gafni, Uri Maklev, and Yaakov Asher climbed back into the coalition by adhering to Rav Steinman’s political advice

O nly a few members of Rav Aharon Leib Steinman’s inner circle were permitted to visit him during his recent hospital stay, and Rabbi Moshe Gafni, the veteran Knesset member from United Torah Judaism (UTJ), was one of them.

The day before Rav Steinman was released, we sat down with Rabbi Gafni, and his fellow MK, Rabbi Yaakov Asher, who both shared some of the political wisdom they have learned during their many consultations.

The Torah world has flourished during the decades in which Rav Steinman has been an advisor to the Degel HaTorah faction of UTJ. The Central Bureau of Statistics reports that more than 140,000 students are learning in kollelim, yeshivos gedolos, or seminaries, while more than 30% of Israel’s elementary school students are enrolled in the chareidi system.

“Rav Steinman is the one who led this charge,” Rabbi Gafni says. “And he did it all quietly. In the mainstream secular media, they view him as a compromiser open to the winds of change. I would qualify that differently and say that Rav Steinman has a gift for giving the secular community a positive feeling, ensuring that the Torah world can grow in quality and quantity without arousing antagonism.”

It wasn’t always that simple, though.

In 2013, When Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party first joined Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition, government funding to yeshivos was cut and a punitive law was passed to coerce chareidim to enlist in the IDF.

MK Asher says that even though they were consigned to the opposition, chareidi parties took their wrath out on Lapid, and not Netanyahu, at least initially. “We didn’t want to burn bridges with the man who stood the best chance at being at the helm for years to come,” Rabbi Asher says.

But as the months passed, and the decrees became more draconian, MK Gafni and others began to drop their gloves and go after Bibi. Shortly thereafter, they consulted with Rav Steinman, explaining how matters were getting worse and they no longer felt that Netanyahu should enjoy immunity from their criticism.

Rav Steinman disagreed. “Don’t attack Netanyahu,” he recommended. “He’s just being the prime minister. He has no other choice. This is the only government he could have formed. Don’t attack him; we will need him yet.”

After hearing that advice, UTJ confined itself to fighting the coalition inside Knesset committees without making public declarations. A few weeks later, the government suddenly fell. Netanyahu called for new elections, and this time, Lapid’s mandates tumbled and the chareidim were back in the coalition.

“There is no doubt in my mind that had we continued the fight with Netanyahu personally, he might not have dismantled his government so fast. And who knows where we would be today,” Rabbi Asher says. “That’s a small example, but one that reflects how Rav Steinman examines each issue with wisdom, without clamor, and with tremendous concern for the Torah world.”

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