Party’s Official Name: United Torah Judaism (UTJ)
Spiritual Leaders – Various rabbis
Political Leaders – none
MKs in current Knesset – 5
Latest Haaretz poll – 6
United Torah Judaism, which represents Haredi-Ashkenazi interests in the Knesset and government, is not a party in any real sense of the word. Rather it is a tense parliamentary alliance of the various power groups in the Haredi community. The two main factions are Agudath Yisrael, which encompasses most of the Hasidic movements and dynasties, and Degel HaTorah which is ruled by the “Lithuanian” (i.e. non-Hasidic) rabbis.
UTJ has no leaders or established hierarchy as its MKs are all literally representatives of the senior rabbis and large Hasidic courts (chiefly Ger, Vizhnitz and Belz) and beholden to them. The party’s senior MKs, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (for Agudath Yisrael) and Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (For Degel HaTorah), have no authority over the other MKs. In principle, while being a coalition member, the non-Zionist party does not have cabinet ministers. Litzman has full control of the Health Ministry (despite the fact that Netanyahu is officially Health Minister) and while he attends many cabinet meetings, he does not vote.
The party has no official position on issues of security and diplomacy though they have usually felt more at home in a Likud coalition. Some MKs, especially Meir Porush, are very close to the far-right while others like Litzman are “doves,” but in crucial Knesset votes they either abstain or vote according to their rabbis’ orders.
For decades, UTJ has had two main purposes in politics: to enlarge government funding of Haredi institutions (hence their consistent request for chairmanship of the Finance Committee in coalition negotiations), and to oppose any legislation eroding the “status quo” on matters of state and religion. Their main issue in the next Knesset will be to oppose any plan to impose national service on Haredi yeshiva students.
These elections, UTJ is facing a rival from within the Ashkenazi-Haredi camp in the shape of Netzach, a new list fielded by the followers of senior Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, a leader of a “Lithuanian” faction in Jerusalem, which threatens to take some votes away.