Twenty one years ago, Shulamit Aloni’s Meretz party and Aryeh Deri’s Shas party needed to sit together in a coalition.
Aloni assured the public that there would be no problem. They would give Shas the (taxpayer) money Shas wanted and Shas would support the Labor government through its peace talks with the PLO.
When asked what they would do if Shas refused to join the government, Meretz’s Yossi Sarid mocked the very question. Shas can’t survive outside the government. They need our money.
Unmentioned was that Meretz would also support continued Haredi control of all the seats of religious power. It would be wrong to say that giving the Haredim control of the religious authorities was a compromise on Meretz’s part. Quite the contrary, it was an added bonus. Meretz and Shas were engaged in a dog and pony show. Meretz benefited from how despicable its supporters found Shas, and vice versa. An added benefit was how Haredi control of marriage, divorce, funerals, conversion, etc. made Judaism appear rotten and retrograde in the eyes of many Israelis. Even better, the arrangements kept the Haredim out of the army and the work force. This limited contacts between the two groups and helped each see the other as de-humanized pariah.
Meretz and Shas appeared to agree that their biggest enemy was not each other, but the National Religious Party, with its insistence that Judaism and the Torah were alive and relevant for all Jewish people.
Which is why the current partnership between Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett is so astounding and potentially significant. Lapid and Bennett insist that the Torah and its scholars cannot be confined to the Beit Midrash. They’re committed to reshaping the relationship between the Jewish State and Judaism. The new relationship is expected to include less coercion and greater exposure to Jewish tradition. They promise a society that is more fair, more free, and more Jewish.
Twenty one years ago, Meretz talked as though they were the Torah world’s pimps. Meretz funneled taxpayer money to Shas in exchange for Shas’s support on key issues like bringing Arafat and his men in from Tunisia.
At the time, a religious friend of mine was working with a Sephardi contractor.
“Don’t call on Shabbat,” the contractor said.
“Of course I won’t call on Shabbat, we’re both religious.”
“I know,” the contractor replied. “But Rav Ovadiah said you can do anything for money.”
Thus was the degradation of the Torah and its scholars under the Aloni-Deri partnership.
Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett promise a different partnership. I pray they succeed.