(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Shas party is set to hold a mass commemoration event for its late spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on Sunday night at the new 15,000-capacity Payis Arena in Jerusalem.
Yosef, a revered rabbi and arbiter of Jewish law, was beloved by large cross sections of the Sephardi public – haredi, religious and traditional. He passed away in October and Sunday night’s event will mark the end of the 11-month mourning period observed by close family, as well as the end of a month-long series of events around the country organized by Shas in honor of the rabbi.
Questions have been raised repeatedly about the cohesion of the Shas party since Yosef’s death due to internal bickering, as well as the loss of its charismatic, vote-winning spiritual leader; an event staged by Shas to mark the beginning of the month of commemorative events had been expected to draw thousands, but just a few hundred Shas supporters and activists turned up in what was largely described as an embarrassment for the party.
A poll in Ma’ariv
published just before Rosh Hashana gave Shas just seven seats in the Knesset if elections were to be held today, compared to the 11 seats it currently holds.
A separate poll carried out by the Rafi Smith Institute for Globes gave Shas nine seats, however, and a poll for Channel 2 published in August gave the party eight.
The period following the end of the 11-month mourning period for Yosef could well be a tumultuous one for Shas.
Former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who enjoyed a close relationship with Yosef until just months before Yosef’s death, is widely believed to hold his own political pretensions to become the “spiritual leader” of a political party.
Amar was thought to be in a prime position to inherit the Shas spiritual leadership but fell out with Shas party chairman MK Arye Deri and subsequently with Yosef himself a few months before he died when efforts to allow Amar to stand for a second term as chief rabbi were nixed by Deri.
Associates of Amar have said he would not take any political steps until the mourning period for Yosef was complete, a period which is now at an end.
Shas MK and former party chairman Eli Yishai has had an extremely poor relationship with Deri since the latter succeeded in ousting him as party chairman.
One alternative for Amar that could torpedo any political aspirations Yishai has away from Shas is if the rabbi decides to run for the position of Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem, the elections for which are set for October 21.
Rumors have swirled that Amar is readying himself to run and that Deri could even support him as Shas’s candidate although his associates have denied and vehemently that he is interested in the position.
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