Knesset Member Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, who recently quit the Shas Party because of ideological differences, has started a new movement that he says might run in the next elections.
Amsalem, who served in the past as rabbi of a large synagogue in Geneva, spent much of his time in Shas differing with his party colleagues on issues such as the matter of Torah study and work, IDF conversions, and the like. Amsalem feels that Kollel members [married men who study Torah full-time] must not rely on others to support them, and is in favor of accepting soldiers who convert to Judaism via the IDF program for such.
He explained today to Arutz-7’s Beni Tucker about his new party, named - coincidentally or not - Am Shalem (Complete Nation): “We want to promote all the political ideas that I advanced and that led to my departure from Shas,” Rabbi Amsalem (spelled differently in Hebrew than the words Am Shalem) said.
“We will encourage Torah together with working for a living and academic education,” Rabbi Amsalem said. “At the same time, we will strengthen full-time Torah study for those unique individuals who can do it. We will encourage sharing the public burden for all, we will behave with tolerance and unity, and we will bring about an end to division. We will endorse the controversial conversion issue according to the solutions that I suggested and that were agreed upon by our teacher Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.”
He was referring to a lenient ruling on the matter issued by Shas’ spiritual leader, but which Rabbi Yosef later toned down because of pressure brought to bear upon him from other hareidi-religious circles.
Asked if the new party would run in the coming elections, Rabbi Amsalem said, “We are checking that now. I can say that in the past few months, since my dispute with Shas erupted, I have had thousands of letters from people who identify with what I have been saying. We are not a new hareidi party, but rather one that welcomes all types of yarmulkes – black (hareidi), knitted (religious-Zionist), and even transparent (secular-traditional); everyone for whom Jewish tradition is important, is welcome among our numbers.”
Splintered Religious Public
If the party does run for election, it is likely to divide the religious public even more than it currently is. There are now four religious parties – Jewish Home and National Union on the religious-Zionist front, and United Torah Judaism and Shas for the hareidi public. Together they have some 25 seats in the Knesset – and National Union chairman MK Yaakov Katz says this number could greatly increase if all the parties run together on the same list.
On the other hand, another former Shas member, Aryeh Deri, is also considering starting a new party. Nationalist leaders, however, have publicized the fact that Deri has directly or indirectly supported withdrawals from the Land of Israel, and actually represents much more dovish/leftist views than does the hareidi public in general.
Rabbi Amsalem spoke out against mass hareidi protests, “hallucinatory Halachic decisions [presumably a reference to recent decisions regarding ancient burial caves],” and the like that “add no honor to the Torah.” MK Amsalem similarly said that the provision of religious services, such as the choosing of Chief Rabbis, must not be given to the hands of politicians, as “the public is sick of this combination, in which politicians have a hand in choosing rabbis and the like.”