United Torah Judaism
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|Ideology||Ashkenazi Haredi interests|
|International affiliation||World Agudath Israel|
|Colours||Black, white and blue|
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|Most MKs||8 (2019)|
United Torah Judaism (Hebrew: יהדות התורה, Yahadut HaTora) is an alliance of Agudat Yisrael, a Hasidic party, and Degel HaTorah, a Lithuanian Haredi party. Both are ultra-Orthodox political parties in the Israeli Knesset. It was first formed in 1992.
The two parties have not always agreed with each other about policy matters. However, over the years, they have co-operated and united as a voting bloc, in order to win the maximum number of seats in the Knesset, since many extra votes can be wasted if election thresholds are not attained under Israel's proportional representation parliamentary system.
When UTJ joined Ariel Sharon's coalition in 2004, it split into its two constituent factions of Degel HaTorah and Agudat Israel. Before the 2006 election, Degel HaTorah and Agudat Israel agreed to revive their alliance under the banner of United Torah Judaism to not waste votes, and to achieve maximum representation in the 17th Knesset.
The party won 8 seats in the 21st Knesset elections in 2019, which was up from 6 seats in the 20th Knesset elections in 2015. This is, so far, the best result of the party ever, making them the 4th-strongest party in the Knesset.
Before the establishment of Degel HaTorah and the formation of United Torah Judaism, the two factions were united under one united Agudat Yisrael party, but the late mentor and supreme guide of the non-Hasidic group, Rabbi Elazar Shach, broke away from the Hasidic wing when he concluded that the party was not representing all Torah Jewry. At that point, he split from them, and created the Degel HaTorah party for the "Lithuanian" Haredi Jews (also known as "Mitnagdim" by some). He chose the name Degel HaTorah, meaning "Flag of The Torah", to be a contrast to the well-known flag of Israel and its connection with the secular-dominated State of Israel (an "anti-Torah" entity, in his opinion). Rabbi Shach was known as an outspoken critic of the secular Israeli way of life.
The UTJ party also had considerable influence on the Israeli Sephardi Jews' Shas party. In fact, the Shas party was founded by Rabbi Shach at an earlier juncture when he was previously also frustrated with the policies of the Hasidic rebbes; so, he turned to the Sephardic Jews, and urged his own Ashkenazi followers at that time, to vote for the new Shas party, which they did in record numbers. Later, Shas broke with Rabbi Shach, as it adopted its own independent political stance under Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Yet, Shas always "looks over its shoulder" to see what the Ashkenazi Haredi parties are up to, and usually goes in the same direction, as it has similar needs and interests within the state.
Haaretz cited that some women activists have protested the fact that UTJ, along with other ultra-Orthodox parties, refuses to run female candidates for office. UTJ responded that they have the right to follow the Jewish laws of modesty, which separates roles of men and women, and maintain that they don't deny women the right to vote for any other Knesset parties of their choice. They add that ultra-Orthodox women will not vote for them if they elect women.
In January 2004, the party split back into its two factions following a disagreement over how to join Ariel Sharon's coalition, which had been negotiated by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv. Rabbi Eliashiv wanted the five MKs to have a three-month "waiting period" before accepting jobs in the government. Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, the Gerrer rebbe, however, thought that all Agudat members should accept positions immediately. The Agudat MKs argued that they should be entitled to follow their own rabbis' ruling, while their Degel HaTorah counterparts accused them of disrespecting Rabbi Eliashiv. The Agudat faction proceeded to follow the rebbe of Ger's instructions, with MK Yaakov Litzman accepting the position as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee. This infuriated Degel HaTorah and its leaders, and in response they left the party, dissolving a twelve-year-old partnership.
Reunification as a party
In December 2005, there was a meeting between representatives of the two factions, presumably to smooth over the ill-feelings of the previous year and to attempt to regroup before the March 2006 elections. A number of issues were worked out, such as Degel HaTorah's insistence on the joint list being equally divided between the two parties. (In the past, Agudat Israel has received slightly more votes than Degel HaTorah.) Degel HaTorah has reorganized itself. It has a fully equipped modern party office on Hamabit Street 10 in Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood. It conducted a party convention, its first in 15 years, in December 2005.
In early February 2006, Agudat Israel and Degel HaTorah agreed to run together as United Torah Judaism, despite the fact that the contentious "sixth seat" issue remained undecided. The two groups finally compromised by proposing dividing the sixth seat between two representatives on a rotating schedule (as was done in the last Knesset between the Belz and Vizhnitz communities for the fifth seat). This solution seemed to mollify the respective groups and paved the way for the re-establishment of a joint list for the 2006 elections, although the Belz court was reportedly irked that once again, it was being asked to sacrifice part of its representation.
UTJ MKs told reporters that any decision to join future government coalitions will be dependent on achieving two "central posts" to be split between Agudah and Degel. Similarly, in order to avoid the problems that led to the 2004 split, disagreements about joining a coalition will not be determined by a majority vote of MKs, but rather taken to the party's rabbinic leaders.
Various media interviews with the party's Knesset members confirmed that it would strongly consider joining a coalition with the Ehud Olmert-led Kadima party, should it be offered to them after the elections. In March 2006, the rabbinical leaders of UTJ, including Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, issued public declarations urging the Haredi public to vote for the party's list. In the election, the party increased its mandate by one to six seats.
United Torah Judaism (Yahadut HaTorah – UTJ) is a coalition of two ultra-Orthodox parties, Agudat Israel and Degel HaTorah, which submitted a joint list in the 1992 election, in which it won four Knesset seats. In the 1999 elections, UTJ won five Knesset seats. UTJ wants to maintain a status quo relationship in regard to religion-and-state issues. The party has no uniform opinion on the issue of increasing settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Structure and constituency
UTJ was always a coalition of two factions:
- The Agudat Yisrael ("Union of Israel") party that is guided by the followers of Hasidism in Israel, and also consisting of Ashkenazi Jews. The leading members of this party are the followers of the Ger, Vizhnitz and Belz Hasidim.
- The Degel HaTorah ("Banner of the Torah") party that is guided by the rabbinic heads (usually the leading rosh yeshivas ("deans") of the Lithuanian yeshivas) of non-Hasidic Haredi Ashkenazi Jews.
The Agudat Yisrael faction takes its directions from the Hasidic rebbes of Ger (Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter), Vizhnitz (Rabbi Yisroel Hager) and Belz (Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach). Policy decisions are also weighed and decided by a Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah ("Council of Torah Sages"), a council of communal rabbis, made up of mostly senior and elderly rebbes.
Degel HaTorah's pre-eminent sages are Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, of Bnei Brak. Policy decisions are also weighed and decided by their own "Moetzes" (Council) of experienced communal rabbis, made up of mostly senior and elderly rosh yeshivas.
|Agudat Yisrael||Religious conservatism||Hasidic||Yaakov Litzman|
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|Degel HaTorah||Religious conservatism||Litvish||Moshe Gafni|
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|1992||Avraham Yosef Shapira||86,167||3.29||7th||
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|18th Knesset (2009–2013)||5 Seats: Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni, Meir Porush (replaced by Yisrael Eichler on 6 February 2011), Uri Maklev, Eliezer Moses|
|19th Knesset (2013–2015)||7 Seats: Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni, Meir Porush, Uri Maklev, Eliezer Moses, Yisrael Eichler, Ya'akov Asher|
|20th Knesset (2015–2019)||6 Seats: Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni, Meir Porush (replaced by Ya'akov Asher on 24 May 2016), Uri Maklev, Eliezer Moses, Yisrael Eichler|
|21st Knesset (2019)||8 Seats: Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni, Meir Porush, Uri Maklev, Ya'akov Tessler, Ya'akov Asher, Yisrael Eichler, Yitzhak Pindros|
|22nd Knesset (2019–)||7 Seats: Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni, Meir Porush, Uri Maklev, Ya'akov Tessler, Ya'akov Asher, Yisrael Eichler|
- "Guide to Israel's political parties". BBC News. 21 January 2013. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
- Tharoor, Ishaan (14 March 2015). "A guide to the political parties battling for Israel's future". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
- "Israel Election 2019: Nearly All Right-wing Parties Declare They Will Recommend Netanyahu to Form Coalition". Haaretz. 10 April 2019. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
- Kershner, Isabel (20 April 2019). "Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Parties Embrace Technology and Emerge Stronger". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- Kaplan Sommer, Allison (8 December 2014). "Threats and backlash for ultra-Orthodox women seeking political voice". Haaretz. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
- Yahav, Telem (18 December 2012). "Haredi parties: Women have different role". Ynetnews. Retrieved 25 April 2016.
- Wagner, Matthew (9 February 2006). "Degel, Aguda on verge of reuniting". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
- Kahn, B.; Ariel, Y.; Zissman, A. (15 February 2006). "United Torah Jewry and Shabbos — Agudas Yisroel-Degel HaTorah Submits Joint Knesset List". Chairedi.org. Dei'ah VeDibur. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
- Ettinger, Yair (9 February 2006). "Deal over final makeup of UTJ list to go down to the wire". Haaretz. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
- Fendel, Hillel (23 March 2006). "Hareidi UTJ Party Hints: We Will Join Kadima Government". Israel National News. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
- "Israel Political Parties: United Torah Judaism". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Yahadut HaTora.|
- United Torah Judaism Knesset website