Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
MKs Yitzchak Goldknopf and Moshe Gafni at the Knesset plenum, December 20, 2022.

The Lithuanian Degel HaTorah faction of United Torah Judaism, headed by MK Moshe Gafni, attacked the Chairman of Agudat Israel and UTJ MK Yitzhak Goldknopf who is seeking membership in Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s political-security cabinet for the first time in the history of Haredi participation in Israeli politics.

The Ministerial Committee for National Security Affairs, a.k.a. the Political-Security Cabinet, is a special ministerial committee entrusted with the formulation and implementation of government policy in matters of international relations and national security. The limited-membership committee is chaired by the Prime Minister. The permanent members are the Foreign, Defense, National Security, Finance, and Justice Ministers, with additional ministers chosen by the PM.


According to the coalition agreements signed between Agudat Israel and Likud, Goldknopf would be the first UTJ representative to serve as a full member of the political-security cabinet. However, on Saturday night, Gafni sent a poignant letter to Netanyahu, stating that, among other things, that UTJ’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, does approve of the membership.

“Degel HaTorah opposes accepting the position by a UTJ minister who bears responsibility for all government actions, including decisions against the Halacha,” Gafni’s faction said in a statement Saturday night. “All the more so when he is a member of the security cabinet, where decisions are often made after the ministers are informed about all the preceding actions, especially when it comes to human lives.”

Traditionally, for the above reason, Haredi politicians avoided ministerial positions where they would inevitably be obligated to support government decisions that negate Jewish law. This is why UTJ’s former chairman, Yaakov Litzman, also a Hasid, preferred serving as deputy health minister until he was forced to accept the ministerial post by law. Goldknopf, who initially wanted the Finance portfolio and only later settled for Housing and Construction, is a bird of a different feather.

Many outside UTJ have questioned the moral validity of allowing a politician who not only didn’t serve a day in the military (the same could be said about Itamar Ben Gvir) but whose party objects to drafting its voters into the military (unlike Ben Gvir).

Gideon Levi opined in Haaretz on Sunday (A Shtreimel in the Cabinet? God Forbid) that “Goldknopf is not a candidate to be the Chief of Staff, nor a Corps Commander, and he has a full right to participate in every decision, even in the holy of holies of security. He represents a large public that the secularists have not been able to conscript. Placing the right to decide on matters of war and peace only in the hands of those who have served, or who are not Haredim, is a dangerous act. It is an opening for further prohibitions. Let’s say right away: Arabs also have the right to participate in the security decisions of their country, if indeed it is their country.”

The Lithuanians in UTJ also stated that they were surprised to see that Likud and Agudah had signed several, separate understandings that bypassed Degel HaTorah.

The coalition agreement between the Likud and UTJ includes more than 120 sections, most of which dealing religion and the state, the economy, and Haredi education. Among other things, Netanyahu’s government will enact a constitutional basic law: Torah study; a law overriding the High Court’s ruling on the Women of the Wall; amend the Law of Return to eliminate the grandson clause; and curb commerce on Shabbat. The agreement gives UTJ veto rights over matters of religion and state, and animal welfare.


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