The Shas Party has released a smartphone app which allows users to “follow” the activities of the movement's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef throughout the day, and a secularist group wants it banned.
Users of the app can receive a special virtual blessing from the rabbi. The app, called “Maran Shlita” (a combination of honorary titles by which the senior rabbi is known) is available free for Android phones.
Along with information about Rabbi Yosef's schedule, his writings, and a daily question and answer on matters of Jewish law, users can also watch his latest lectures via streaming video. Users can also send a letter directly to Rabbi Yosef, the app says, to receive a blessing from him. In several of the videos on a websites linked to the app Rabbi Yosef advocates voting for Shas, with Rabbi Yosef saying that doing so is a “mitzvah” and that those who follow his advice will “benefit.”
Committing to vote for Shas is not a requirement for those sending a request for a blessing from Rabbi Yosef, but in a letter to the State Election Committee, the secularist Hidush group asked Judge Elyakim Rubinstein to ban distribution of the app, claiming that it was designed to convince people to vote for Shas based on their receiving a blessing from Rabbi Yosef. The Committee has in the past banned promises of blessings in return for votes.
In response, Shas said that the app was for informational purposes only, and that no one was required to promise to vote for the party in any of its components. Rubinstein has not yet commented on the Hidush request.