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Sage Gives Blessing to Merger of Two Haredi Parties in Israel

May 4, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Rabbi Eliezer Schach of Bnei Brak, the 96-year-old spiritual leader of the Mitnagid Degel Ha Torah party, has given his blessing to plans for it to reunite with its Hasidic rival, the Agudat Yisrael party.

Both parties are part of the haredi, or strictly Orthodox, bloc and hold seven seats between them in the outgoing Knesset.

The agreement was reached at an April 30 meeting Schach had at his home with Rabbi Pinhas Menachem Alter, a key member of Agudah’s Council of Torah Sages. Alter is also brother of the Gerer rebbe, a Hasidic leader with a wide following in Israel who has been ailing for many years.

The two rabbis shook hands and drank a toast. They were sharply criticized by the leftist Meretz bloc and by some media commentators for celebrating a political pact on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The agreement has to be endorsed by both parties’ central committees. But that is considered only a formality despite some muttering in the ranks of both haredi parties over the weekend.

Schach compromised by agreeing that Degel men will fill the second and fifth spots in the joint list. Until last week, he had been holding out for the second and fourth spots.

Alter, for his part, agreed that if the joint party wins only four seats, the fourth and fifth slots would be rotated after two years.

Agudah’s first three slots are to be held by the Gerer faction, the Menachem Porush faction and the Vishnitz faction.

The accord would place the Poalei Agudah faction, headed by veteran Knesset member Avraham Verdiger, in the sixth spot, which is considered unsafe.

This arrangement prompted Verdiger to signal that he might defect and run for re-election at the head of a separate list.

Also uncertain is the political future of Absorption Minister Yitzhak Peretz, who broke away from the Sephardic haredi party Shas two years ago and sits in the present Knesset as an independent.

Peretz is a disciple of Schach’s. There is speculation in haredi circles that the sage will install him as the No. 2 man on the joint Agudah-Degel ticket. But Peretz has said he would like to form his own party.

If he and Verdiger run alone, the effect could be damaging for the joint list. Disgruntled members of both parties who opposed the merger might desert en masse to vote for Verdiger or Peretz.

Meanwhile, the Chabad movement of Lubavitcher Hasidim published a formal announcement Friday scotching rumors that it is contemplating either setting up its own party, backing an existing party or otherwise playing an active role in the upcoming election campaign.

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