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Ovadia Yosef

Shas Leader | Ovadia Yosef


On a Strange Piece of News

On January 2, 2011, Haaretz - the Voice of the Shin Beth - reported that Haim Amsalem, a member of the Knesset for the Shas Party, said that Shas was “turning a large populace of Israel's Sephardi sector into "anti-Zionists.” He added that “Shas had lost the spirit of Eastern Jewry,” and that “Shas had begun to flex its opinions to be more in line with Ashkenazi rabbinical leaders.” If all this wasn’t odd enough, last Saturday he called to ease the laws of conversion, and furthermore declared that the ultra-Orthodox population must enter the work force. Why what an almost anonymous member of the Knesset says is important? Does it show the extent of society manipulation enacted by the Shin Beth?

Shas and Ovadia Yosef

MK Haim Amsalem

MK Haim Amsalem

Shas is an Israeli ultra-orthodox religious political party representing Sephardic and Mizrahi Haredi Jews. It was founded in 1984 by dissident members of the Ashkenazi Agudat Israel, and in the last elections won 11 seats (out of the 120) in the Knesset. It forms part of Netanyahu’s coalition, with four members in the actual government. Since its foundation, the party has been under the ideological leadership of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Ovadia Yosef was born in 1920 in Iraq. In 1973 he was elected the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, post he held for seven years. He is widely recognized as a prominent Talmud scholar and leading halakhic authority. As such, his interpretations of the blasphemous Talmud are very important in the shaping of modern Israel. All of them oppose what MK Amsalem said.

"Restoring the Crown to its Old State" (leahzir atara leyoshna) is his mantra; it’s an excellent summary of his views. That means restoring the pride of Mizrahi Jews, which suffer from discrimination in Israel; it also means rejecting Kabbalah wherever it contradicts earlier writings, in other words, he isn’t a mystic. Yosef holds a Halakhically ambivalent view towards Zionism as the Atchalta D'geula (redemption’s beginning in Aramaic). Religious Zionists, in contrast, view Israel as the first flowering of the redemption. In 2010, Rabbi Yosef and Shas' Moetzet Chachamei HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages) approved the party’s membership in the World Zionist Organisation. Shas became then the first Zionist Haredi party in Israel. Yet, that’s only due to political interests and semantic tricks in the definition of Zionism. In an interview, he said: “What is Zionist? By our understanding, a Zionist is a person who loves Zion and practices the commandment of settling the land. Whenever I am overseas I encourage Aliyah. In what way are they more Zionist than us?” Reinforcing my claim of this being just a semantic trick are the small letters of the party’s ideology. Yosef opposes bringing civil actions to Israeli courts because they decide outcomes by applying Israeli law rather than Halakha. Rejecting the legal system equals to rejecting the foundations of the State of Israel, and thus disclose the intention of founding a future halakhic state, based on the Talmud.

In Netanyahu’s Mule I described the unholy alliance between Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Zionism, a 19th century event which enabled the foundation of the State of Israel. The alliance is still valid – just look at the nature of the Israeli coalition governments – but at certain point it will break apart; simply the differences between Jewish secularism and orthodoxy are too vast to enable a lasting reconciliation.

A Richter 10 Earthquake

In the beginning, the religious dichotomy of the Israeli Jewish society was irrelevant. The ultra-orthodox where few and were important only due to the Jewish religious legitimacy they gave to the Israeli administration.

Things changed rapidly. In The Cross of Bethlehem I described how certain social policies favored the ultra-orthodox parties and led to their exponential growth. Nowadays, they form around twenty percent of Israel’s Jewish population and continue enlarging their relative part. Their demands to social justice and religious amendments to the state structure are becoming harder to ignore.

For secular Zionists, these are unacceptable. Proud humanists, secular Zionists reject the Bible, God and any claims of social justice. “Grab and rob, ’cause we can,” has been their mantra since the late 1800’s. Others’ lands, lives and lore mean little to them.

The Shin Beth is not shy of manipulating reality, to say the least. Rabin was famous for rejecting intelligence reports of this organization, always demanding to see the raw materials. “Data cooks” he called them, and paid for that with his life. In the lawsuit of Avishai Raviv, which followed Rabin’s assassination, the shocked Israeli public found out the Shin Beth operated undercover agents within the Jewish population through Haagaf Hayehudi (The Jewish Department). Raviv – his operational code was “Agent Champagne” - practically convinced the assassin to carry out the crime. The Shin Beth is a clearly criminal organization which respects no law.

The recent words of MK Amsalem go sharply against Shas ideology; in an authoritarian religious party that demands a very strong conviction by the culprit that he won’t be touched by the establishment. It’s a sign the party fears an unbalanced retaliation, but by whom? The recent words of MK Amsalem go sharply in favor of the Zionists ideology. Moreover, he is wildly attempting to rewrite history. Ultra-orthodox Mizrahi Jews were never traditionally Zionists; in fact they opposed the establishment of a secular state. Thus, Shas cannot be turning Israel's Sephardi sector into "anti-Zionist,” as he claimed. Many of the Mizrahi Jews were forced to immigrate to Israel by the Mossad. Amsalem is intentionally manipulative here. Is this an attempt by the Shin Beth to change the political course of an important ultra-orthodox party in favor of the Zionists before a political Richter 10 earthquake in Israel?

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