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United Torah Judaism
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United Torah Judaism

United Torah Judaism (יהדות התורה) (UTJ) is a small ultra-Orthodox Judaism political party in the Israeli Knesset.

It is actually an amalgum of two factions: The Degel HaTorah ("Flag of Torah") party that is guided by the rabbinic heads of Haredi Ashkenazi Jews who are Mitnagdim (those historically opposed to the Hasidim), together with the Agudat Yisrael (Agudath Israel "United Israel") party that is guided by the followers of Hasidism in Israel, and also consisting of Ashkenazi Jews.

Degel HaTorah's pre-eminent sage and guide is Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, well into his 90s, who lives in Jerusalem. Policy decisions are also weighed and decided by a Moetzet Gedolei HaTorah ("Council of Torah Sages"), a council of experienced communal rabbis, made up of mostly senior and elderly heads of Yeshivas all very learned in Talmud, devoted to halakha classical Jewish law, and guided by their knowledge and application of the classical Code of Jewish Law the Shulkhan Arukh.

The Agudat Yisrael faction takes its directions from the Hasidic rebbes, such as Ger, Vizhnitz, and Belz also steeped in Torah law and mysticism, who wield a lot of control over the daily lives of their followers (the "Hasidim").

Originally the two factions were united under Agudat Yisrael, but the late mentor and supreme guide of the non-Hasidic group, Rabbi Elazar Shach decided to break away from the Hasidic wing when it was clear that they would not follow his decisions and wanted to follow their own rebbes guidance instead. At that point he split from them, and created the Degel HaTorah party for the "Lithuanian" Mitnagdim Haredi Jews. He chose the name "Flag of Torah" as it would be a contrast to the well-known flag of the state of Israel that was a symbol of secularity (an "anti-Torah" symbol) in his opinion.

The UTJ party also has considerable influnce on the Sephardic Jews Shas party. In fact, the Shas party was founded by Rabbi Shach at an earlier juncture when he was frustrated with the policies of the Hasidic rebbes, so he turned to the Sephardic Jews who voted for the new Shas party in record numbers. Later, Shas broke with Rabbi Shach as it adopted its own independent political stance. Yet, Shas always "looks over its shoulder" to see what the Ashkenazi Haredi parties are up to, and usually goes in the same direction as it has similar needs and interests in the state.