MK Haim Amsalem launches new social movement

Movement centered around "true principles" of Sephardi halachic way, social activism; to be called Am Shalem, "A complete people."

By JONAH MANDEL
January 25, 2011 18:24
2 minute read.
Shas MK Haim Amsalem

Amsalem 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Maverick Shas MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem on Tuesday launched a new social movement that will strive to return the crown of moderate religious and Sephardi social activism to its former glory, as per the founding principles of Shas that he says are now no longer the spirit of the party.

Named Am Shalem – the Hebrew translation of Amsalem's Morrocan name which meaning “a complete people” – the new movement will fight racial discrimination in schools, promote the moderate Sephardi halachic approach in public life, encourage haredi children to learn core-curriculum subjects and their parents to partake in the labor force. Amsalem's insistence on these ideals, which he claims reflect the true tradition of Sephardi Judaism as well as of Shas, turned that party's head Eli Yishai and eventually the movement's spiritual leadership against him, and in November the four-man Shas Council of Torah Sages, headed by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ordered Amsalem out of the party. Amsalem remains firm in his refusal to return his mandate.

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An aide to Amsalem told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the new movement is at this very preliminary stage a social, and not political, movement. He also stressed that its initiator was not Amsalem, rather it was the outcome of a grassroots movement that saw in the MK a leader who represented their beliefs. The aide noted that many activists were involved in forming the movement, but said they wished to remain anonymous at this stage.

Amsalem has long been speaking of the need to break away from the haredi-Ashkenazi “Lithuanian” stringency that dominates the rabbinic world, in favor of a return to the moderate Sephardi tradition of adjudication. Amsalem raised the ire of the Lithuanian rabbinic establishment months ago following his book Zera Israel (Seed of Israel) that promotes an alternative, moderate approach to conversions within mainstream Halacha. Amsalem claimed all along that his approach on that topic was in line with rulings of Yosef, and the senior Sephardi adjudicator proved that true by recently approving the military conversions after their halachic validity was questioned.

In a Tuesday morning interview on Channel 2, Amsalem took his openness a notch further when he announced his support of letting people wed outside of the religious framework of the Chief Rabbinate, which is currently the only legal way for Jews to marry in Israel.

“If there is no alternative, civilian marriages should take place,” he replied to a question. “Do you want people to be left stranded [without a framework to marry in]? I'd like everyone here to marry in the halachic way I believe in... but I can't force my beliefs on others, and not offer an alternative to those who don't accept it.”

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