The Differences Between Charedi and Dati-Leumi Rabbanim
Even if you don't live in Bet Shemesh, the municipal elections are extremely instructive. For example, they bring out the differences between charedi and dati-leumi (national-religious) rabbis.
Here is a letter by local Charedi rabbonim in support of incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbol (click to enlarge):
And here is a letter by local Dati-Leumi rabbanim in support of challenger Eli Cohen (click to enlarge):
Note the striking differences:
The dati-leumi rabbanim "call upon" people to "work for" the election of Eli Cohen.
The chareidi rabbonim, on the other hand, say that it is an "obligation" to vote for Abutbol, and that it is "forbidden to separate from the community." They add that those who do so are in the category of "blessed is the one who fulfills this Torah" - with the unspoken but obvious inference that those who do not, are in the category of "cursed is the one who does not fulfill this Torah."
This is consistent with how one of the signatories, Rabbi Elimelech Kornfeld, said in an interview with HaModia that people have no right to choose who to vote for - they must follow (charedi) rabbinic opinion. Abutbol himself, at a recent community meeting, told the audience that his answers to their questions don't matter - they should vote for him because the Gedolim said so.
(I must add that one of the signatories to this letter later clarified that he doesn't think that people are actually obligated to vote for Abutbol, if they strongly feel otherwise. Personally, I think that this makes thing worse - why did he sign something that he doesn't agree with?)
In the ultimate example of this, Rav Chaim Kanievsky stated that anyone who does not vote for the charedi party is chayyav sekilah - liable for being stoned to death!
We see that charedi rabbonim use their position to exert maximal power and control over their followers. Dati-leumi rabbanim have more respect for their followers.
2) Positive vs. Negative.
The dati-leumi rabbanim speak only about the positive importance of voting for Eli Cohen.
The charedi-rabbanim speak about the negatives of voting for anyone opposing Abutbol - "chas v'shalom to vote for someone who is not Charedi or for a party that the Rabbonim do not approve of."
3) The Nature of Torah Values.
I don't think that it's reading too much into things to say that the Jewish values that are stressed by the charedi rabbonim in this letter are exclusively bein adam l'Makom - religious matters between man and God.
The dati-leumi rabbanim, on the other hand, not only speak about the importance of Shabbat and religious life, but also stress how Eli Cohen will be fulfilling the mitzvah of Ve'ahavta lereyacha kamocha.
This difference in values is consistent with the candidates' respective campaigns. Eli Cohen's campaign has been clean. Abutbol's campaign has centered upon character assassination, hate-mongering, and even physical violence. The Chadash newspaper, which is the mayor's mouthpiece, charged Eli Cohen five times the normal price for printing an ad - but then did not print the ad! (A criminal complaint is pending.) And see this post at "Life In Israel:" How Can They Support This?
For the charedi rabbonim, "Torah values" only refers to bein adam l'Makom; bein adam l'chavero can be sacrificed in support of that. For the dati-leumi rabbanim, bein adam l'chavero is of at least equal importance.
4) Sectorial vs. Community-Wide Concerns
The charedi rabbonim stress how Abutbol, and the charedi party, are the best for furthering charedi concerns and the interests of the charedi community.
In contrast, the dati-leumi rabbanim write about how Cohen is the best for all the residents of the city, from charedi through non-religious.
In fact, tonight I attended a rally of dati-leumi rabbanim in support of Eli Cohen (see picture at right). The constant theme was about how it is not a matter of Eli Cohen being the best person for the dati-leumi community, but about him being the best mayor for everyone. Eli himself spoke mostly about how he wants to make the city better for charedim. While Moshe Montag of the Charedi "Chen" party reportedly stated that he wants to take away the plot of land for Lemaan Achai, the non-charedi charity organization, the dati-leumi rabbanim stressed that they have no interest in advancing their own community concerns over those of charedim or chilonim. One rav spoke in dismay about how a charedi friend of his assumes that if Eli Cohen wins, there will be "payback" and subsequent favoring of the dati-leumi sector. The dati-leumi rabbanim just don't think in those terms! Unlike the charedi rabbanim, they are interested in the welfare of all Jews in the city, not just those of their own constituencies. (I plan to write a post with further discussion of this point.)
As I said, the Bet Shemesh elections are instructive for Jewish society in general.