Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman's speech was exceedingly brief and succinct, but its message was clear – get out and vote for the Ashkenazi haredi United Torah Judaism Party (UTJ) in next week's national Knesset election or you'll cause a massive chillul HaShem (desecration of God's name).
Above: Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman (sometimes spelled "Shteinman")
The so-called "mainstream" Ashkenazi non-hasidic haredi Degel HaTorah political faction held a massive rally in Bnei Brak to get out the vote for the Ashkenazi haredi United Torah Judaism Party (UTJ) in next week's national Knesset election. Degel HaTorah controls half of UTJ (the other half is hasidic and is controlled by the Gerrer Rebbe and other hasidic leaders).
Like with any other haredi political party, most of the speakers were top haredi rabbis who exhorted the tens of thousands of haredim in the crowd to vote for UTJ and, more importantly, against the "war against Torah" that the rabbis say is being waged by UTJ's enemies.
But when Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the 102-year-old undisputed rabbinic leader of Degel HaTorah, spoke, there was an unwelcome surprise for the assembled haredim, as the Jerusalem Post reports:
…As the leading rabbis ascended to the stage, including the head of the non-hassidic haredi world Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, thousands upon thousands of men clapped their hands jumping up and down in celebration of the Torah sages in front of them.
When it came to Shteinman's turn to address the audience he spoke for all of 50 seconds, in his quiet and somewhat slurred Hebrew.
The 102-year old rabbi called on the haredi community to go out and vote saying barely audibly even over the sounds system "it is in your hands to determine if there will be a sanctification of God's name or a desecration of His name."
The excitement of the audience was notably dampened by the brief and uninspiring words, with the organizers continuing swiftly to the speeches of the more vigorous rabbinical leaders of the community.…
Update 3:02 pm CDT – In a much more detailed and insightful article, Ha'aretz adds two key points. The first that Degel HaTorah's #2 rabbinic leader Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky warned haredim at the huge rally that those who don't vote will be guilty of blasphemy.
The second important point is that analysts believe Degel HaTorah is crumbling as younger haredim move to Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach's renegade Bnei Torah Party because they like Auerbach's vehement opposition to the draft of haredi yeshiva students into the IDF. If Degel HaTorah doesn't deliver enough votes next week. Auerbach's party will gain even if it has no Knesset representation, and the hasidic half of the United Torah Judaism Party, the Agudath Israel faction, may walk away from its partnership with Degel HaTorah or wrest primary control of UTJ away from Steinman and his aides.