JERUSALEM (AP) _ Avraham Shapira, the ultra-Orthodox lawmaker known for his masterly political skills, died Monday at the age of 79 after battling diabetes and kidney disease, Israel radio reported.

Shapira was elected to Israel's parliament in 1981 and chaired the powerful finance committee for four years. He was considered the first ultra-Orthodox politician to successfully penetrate the secular corridors of Israeli politics.

He was an architect of the 1984-1990 national unity governments that united Israel's two main opposing parties in a successful effort to pull the country out of its worst-ever economic crisis.

The rabbi turned politician headed the parliamentary faction of the Agudat Yisrael party, a precursor to today's United Torah Judaism party. His personal influence was greater than his party's representation, which was never more than five legislators out of 120.

Jovial and rotund, he adapted to Israel's backslapping, meal-intensive political culture quickly and easily. He regarded the world of politics as a necessary evil in his party's battle to bring Jews a little closer to holiness. One of his crowning achievements was the ultimately successful battle to ban importing pork into the Jewish state.

``Now we can say to God we are purifying the Jewish people,'' he said in 1985, when he launched the first of a legion of bills to keep pork out of Israel. The fight was never 100 percent successful _ raising pigs inside Israel remains legal.

Born in Romania, Shapira immigrated to Israel in 1949.

The end of his political career, in the late 1980s, was marred by allegations that he used his influence as finance committee chairman to attempt to salvage his family's failing carpet monolith, Carmel. He tried to stop a journalist from publishing an unflattering biography, ``The Honcho.''

Shapira died at Tel Hashomer hospital in Tel Aviv and was buried Monday evening in Jerusalem. There was no immediate word on survivors.