A view of the Old City of Jerusalem..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Rabbi Haim Amsalem, a former Shas MK who became an outspoken critic of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) establishment, submitted his candidacy for the role of Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem on Monday.
Elections are scheduled for October 21, although several petitions have been filed by haredi political parties against the process since the date was announced last month.
Amsalem served as an MK for almost seven years, but had a serious falling out with the Shas leadership in 2010 for publicly criticizing the party over a highly contentious court case concerning discrimination against Sephardi haredi school girls in Emmanuel.
Ever since, the rabbi has frequently expressed support for policies that are at odds with the mainstream haredi political parties. He supported increasing haredi enlistment in the IDF, although objected to strict limits for the number of yeshiva students who could gain an exemption, and backed increased haredi participation in the work force.
Amsalem is a respected authority in Jewish law and has authored several books, including one, Seed of Israel, advocating a lenient approach to the conversion of Israeli citizens of Jewish descent who are not Jewish according to religious law.
After presenting the relevant documents to the Religious Services Ministry, Amsalem said that Jerusalem needed a unifying rabbinic leadership and one that would help all of its residents, regardless of their level of religious practice.
“We are in a period rife with religious tensions in the holy city of Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel and the Jewish world, a city in which Jews, Arabs, haredi, secular, religious and traditional people all live alongside each other,” Amsalem said.
“Extremists from any quarter and of any stripe must not be allowed to take control, to stoke the fire, and to undermine the integrity and the stability of this city,” he added.
“Jerusalem is in need of tolerant and welcoming rabbinic leadership that does not belong to any particular sector or is available to one particular gender, but rather a rabbi of all Jerusalem’s citizens who can unite people and draw them close regardless of whether they wear a yarmulke, a shtreimel or nothing at all.”
Amsalem said that his authority as a respected and published author on numerous fields of Jewish law would allow him to “unite different factions of the Jewish people.”
Back in April, Amsalem joined the Likud and said he would contest primary elections for a place on the party’s electoral list for the next elections.
He established the Am Shalem party ahead of the 2013 general election but did not pass the electoral threshold for entry to the Knesset.
Another possible candidate for the position of Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem is former national Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, although his associates have repeatedly denied he is interested in the job.
A bitter feud erupted between Amar and Shas chairman MK Arye Deri last year, after Deri stymied Amar’s efforts to be reelected as chief rabbi.
But the Shas chairman told haredi reporters on Monday that there was no argument between the two.
“I respect everyone, I respect Rabbi Amar, there is no argument at all, there is no difference of opinion, anyone who wants to be together with us they are welcome,” the haredi news website Kikar Hashabbat reported Deri as saying.
Amar is thought to still harbor aspirations as a spiritual leader with political influence, and has national recognition, credentials as an authority in Jewish law, and a degree of grassroots public support.
Some political commentators have said that Deri would like to defuse the possibility of Amar starting his own political movement by giving Shas’s backing to him for chief rabbi of Jerusalem, but it remains to be seen if the former chief rabbi is interested in the job.