Eli Yishai
Eli Yishai Miriam Alster/Flash 90

A new twist in the apparently imminent possibility of a split in the hareidi Shas party occurred, as key senior rabbis in the Sephardic community vowed they would leave the party too, if former chairperson Eli Yishai breaks off due to heavy demands leveled on him by chairperson Aryeh Deri.

While Deri appears to have more support than Yishai from the Shas Council of Torah Sages, the prominent 70-year-old Rabbi Meir Mazuz who is dean of Yeshiva Kisei Rachamim has warned that he will leave Shas with Yishai, reports Walla!.

Yishai has sought Rabbi Mazuz's counsel in deciding how to respond to Deri's demands, which were delivered by Shas Council member Rabbi Shimon Ba'adani.

Rabbi Mazuz was not alone in delivering a letter to Rabbi Ba'adani, after it was co-signed on Thursday by Yeshiva Nahar Shalom dean Rabbi Benayahu Shmueli (53), in which the two laid out their intentions not to remain in Shas without Yishai.

"It is known that in recent days the Shas movement is lowering in the polls," wrote Rabbi Mazuz with the support of Rabbi Shmueli. "If there won't be unity, I will be forced to remove myself from the movement."

Yishai is expected to meet Deri on Sunday after hearing Rabbi Mazuz's advice on how to act, and is anticipated to likely break off from the party then.

That same day, outgoing Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the National Union party, which ran with Jewish Home but has been at odds with the party in unifying and over questions of ideology, will meet with Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett.

Ariel and Yishai have talked about breaking away from Jewish Home and Shas respectively and forming their own party, which polls show would gain seven mandates. Likewise, Yishai could run independently in forming his own party after leaving Shas - polls indicate he would get five seats, while Deri would be left with four.

Rabbi Raphael Cohen of Tzfat (Safed) said in the name of Rabbi Mazuz in an interview on Kol Berama radio on Thursday: "no one wants to separate. If the sides won't regain their composure, it's a huge shame."

Indicating the possibility of an Ariel union, Rabbi Cohen continued "there are additional communities like the 'hardal' (the term is a combination of 'hareidi' and 'religious Zionist' - ed.) and other sources from Jewish Home, each one has their natural dowry. There's nothing else but to understand that we need to work differently, with a different method, with cooperation before and after, and to unify later on."