Rabbi Haim Amsalem with Nir Orbach
Rabbi Haim Amsalem with Nir OrbachCourtesy

Rabbi Haim Amsalem - the maverick Shas party MK who broke away to form his own party amid a high-profile struggle with his former party over Sephardic identity in Israel - met with the Director-General of the Jewish Home party, days after joining the religious-Zionist faction.

In breaking away from Shas back in 2013, Amsalem accused the Sephardic-haredi party of abandoning what he saw as authentic Sephardic/Mizrahi ideals.

He took particular exception to Shas's establishment mimicking contemporary Ashkenazic-haredi leaders' in promoting full-time Torah study at the expense of employment and serving in the army - values he said had always been integral to Mizrahi communities.

Following the Supreme Court ruling on the haredi girls' school in Emmanuel - which was found to have discriminated against Sephardic students - he chose to focus his efforts on fighting discrimination against Sephardi students. In doing so he violated the party's instructions not to respond or act on the issue, and raised ire among his fellow Shas members. Ultimately, they kicked him out of the party.

Amsalem's own party, Am Shalem, failed to garner enough votes to pass the threshold in the 2013 general elections, though several thousand Israelis did vote for him.

In 2014, he joined the Likud party, and even criticized the Jewish Home for its tough stance in opposing reforms to the conversion process in Israel.

But speaking to Arutz Sheva after meeting with Jewish Home Director-General Nir Orbach, Amsalem said he had come to realize that the Jewish Home was the only party which embodied the fusion of Torah on the one hand, and contributing to Israel society and Zionism on the other.

Amsalem enlisted as a Jewish Home party member at the end of last week, and announced his intentions to run in the next party primaries.

"It could be said that when I was a Shas Member of Knesset I was the token religious-Zionist there," he said.

"It needs to be understood that the Sephardic community in the country is Zionist," he added.

Unlike its Ashkenazic-haredi counterpart, United Torah Judaism (UTJ), Shas itself is a member of the World Zionist Organization. However, Amsalem accused the Shas leadership of straying from the path of authentic Sephardic values.

"From the establishment of Shas, they are the ones who pulled that public to non-Zionist positions and to where they are now - a culture of not working, to abandon proper education, and forgetting the traditions of their forefathers," he lamented.

"Who said that in order to be haredi you automatically need to abandon core curriculum, to abandon Zionism, or a life of working for a livelihood?" he asked hypothetically. "I deny that."

"It is possible to live a life of Torah and also to send off one's son to enlist into the Golani (infantry brigade); it is possible to learn (Torah) and also to bring home a salary.

"That's why I see myself as much closer to the religious-Zionist philosophy than to the Lithuanian-haredi one," he added.

Rabbi Amsalem said that by joining the Jewish Home party he hoped to strengthen the connection between the religious-Zionist camp and the Sephardic community. That relationship has seen some tension over the past few years, as Shas leaders including current spiritual leader Rabbi Shalom Cohen took to publicly attacking the Jewish Home party, in particular its leader, Naftali Bennett.

"We need to return the Sephardic community to its natural place, the closet place in terms of a worldview - that is religious-Zionism," he stated.

Orbach hailed Amsalem's decision to join the party, saying his joining was "part of the return to a large and healthy community, whose natural place is in the Jewish Home."