Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
Rabbi Ovadia YosefIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, had harsh words on Saturday night for the chairman of the Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid.

During his weekly Torah lesson, Rabbi Yosef said Lapid “hates yeshivas” and said he is “contemptible”. Lapid has demanded that hareidi yeshiva students be drafted into the army as a condition for his entering the coalition.

According to plans promoted by Lapid, only 400 of the top scholars in yeshivas would receive exemptions from military service. Everyone else would have to serve in the army, or at least national service. Lapid has repeatedly said that he does not intend to compromise on this position.

During his lesson, Rabbi Yosef told a parable about a king who consults with his associate, who in turn advises the king not to invite the “yeshiva hater” to his coalition.

“There was a king who had one minister who he loved very much, each time the minister would come to the king, they would converse about defense and about the coalition and the opposition, and the minister would give him advice on what to do,” he said.

Rabbi Yosef added that the minister's advice was, “Do not go with Lapid. This man is contemptible, he hates the yeshivas.”

During the election campaign when Shas’s poll numbers were down, Rabbi Yosef also attacked the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), accusing its members of “uprooting the Torah” and calling the party “the Jewish Home of the gentiles.”

Rabbi Yosef’s ostensible reason for the attack was a statement by Jewish Home member Ayelet Shaked, a traditional but not normatively religious woman, who said she was in favor of civil marriages. He may have also been irked by the fact that Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett had publicly declared that his party would like to have the Ministry of Religious Affairs, currently held by Shas, in the next government.

Last week, an article in Shas's weekly pamphlet called Bennett "the man with the eye-sized kippah" and added that "this kippah is, indeed, worth half a shekel."

The article also questioned Bennett's ability to appreciate Torah study.

Shas co-chairman, Minister Eli Yishai, subsequently called MK Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) and apologized for the editorial.

Bayit Yehudi is a prospective partner in the coalition with Lapid and has advocated for equal sharing in the burden of army enlistment but has also promised to strengthen Torah study.

MK Ariel said in an interview published Friday that the hareidi leadership is sowing unnecessary panic regarding the plans to enlist hareidi men to the military and national service.

Ariel told hareidi newspaper Hamevaser that Lapid is not against allowing Torah students to be exempted from service.

"He is not trying to close down the yeshivas," explained Ariel. "He recognizes the Torah students. There is an argument about numbers, about goals, about cancelling discounts. Not about throwing people into jail."