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Israel Political Parties: United Torah Judaism

United Torah Judaism (UTJ; Yahadut HaTorah Hameukhedet in Hebrew) was originally formed in 1992 as an alliance between two ultra-Orthodox political parties – Agudat Israel and Degel Hattorah. The party is currently lead by Yaakov Litzman.

UTJ represents the Israel's growing ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, community. It opposes the separation of religion and state, civil marriage, drafting ultra-Orthodox men for military service and any changes to laws that prohibit businesses from opening on Sabbath and holidays. The party has been successful in securing financial aid for the ultra-Orthodox community, including government stipends for large families. The party advocates for more inclusion of Jewish law within the frame of the state, saying that it aspires to “resolve, in the spirit of the Torah and the commandments, all issues that arise in Jewish life.” In September 1999, UTJ left the governing coalition to protest the shipment of a turbine to the Ashkelon power station on the Sabbath.

Regarding foreign policy and security, UTJ is a centrist party, which determines its positions based on religious concerns more than security or diplomatic considerations. UTJ has said that it is willing to join coalition governments that are dedicated to engaging the Palestinians in peace negotiations and was a member of the coalition government that carried out the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

In both the 1992 elections and 1996 elections, UTJ won four seats in the Knesset; and in the 1999 elections the party won five. In 2004, UTJ joined the coalition of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and subsequently divided itself back into the original Agudat Israel and Degel HaTorah parties. The split, however, did not last long and the two parties reunited to run on a joint ticket for the 2006 elections during which they won six seats. In the 2009 elections, the party lost one mandate but still won representation of five seats in the Knesset. In April 2009, UTJ joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling coalition.

In the January 2013 elections, UTJ regained its lost seat from 2009 and had a total of 7 seats in the Knesset.

UTJ came in third to last place during the 2015 Knesset elections, and held six seats in the 20th Knesset.

A week after officially splitting in what they called a “procedural” move, Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael reunited to run again as the United Torah Judaism party in January 2019. The main source of friction appeared to be the inequality of the distribution of seats in the previous election when 60 percent of the candidates on UTJ’s electoral list were from Agudat Yisrael and 40 percent from Degel Hatorah. Under the new agreement the parties would be assigned equal numbers of places on the UTJ list. Under the arrangement, Litzman remained head of the party.

In the April and September 2019 elections, UTJ won eight and seven seats respectively. 

Prior to the March 2021 election, MK Moshe Gafni, from Degel Hatorah, was given the top spot on the party list with Litzman dropped to number two.

Sources: The Israel Project;
“United Torah Judaism,” Israel Democracy Institute;
Raoul Wootliff, “Ultra-Orthodox factions reunite in ‘equal’ United Torah Judaism,” Times of Israel, (January 16, 2019).