Ovadia Yosef slams maverick Shas MK Amsalem

"Whoever tells yeshiva boys to go to work is lacking in faith in our Torah," rabbi says, referencing lawmaker's recent statements.

November 21, 2010 01:10
3 minute read.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef slammed MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem (Shas) in his weekly Saturday night sermon, in his first public reference to the maverick lawmaker, who on Wednesday announced that he wouldn’t return his mandate despite the growing animosity toward him in the party’s leadership.

“There are those who speak about yeshivot, as though they were created solely for great Torah scholars who will become rabbis and rabbinical judges, and if that doesn’t suit the person, he should go to work,” Yosef said of Amsalem’s doctrine, without naming him.

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Editorial: A righteous rebel
Amsalem: 'I'm not returning my mandate to Shas'

“These are not the voices of Torah, but against it; Torah learners sustain the world,” Yosef said.

“Whoever tells yeshiva boys to go to work is lacking faith in our Torah,” he said later in the talk.

The senior Sephardi adjudicator also responded to Amsalem’s claim that he is barred from speaking directly with him, and consequently his stances are presented in a distorted manner.

“There are people who talk against my family, my son David and Rabbi Zvi [Hakak, his son-in-law, with whom Yosef lives], as though they prevent people from coming to me. That’s not the way it is.

I determine who comes to me and who doesn’t. Anyone who wants to can come, pray, and we’ll meet. I never refused to meet anyone,” he said.

Yosef’s clear sentiment, expressed to an expectant public after two weeks of an aggressive smear campaign against Amsalem based on rumors, speculation and correspondence, might indicate that the Shas Council of Torah Sages, which Yosef heads, will convene to decide on the official ousting of Amsalem from Shas.

A meeting on the issue had been set for last Tuesday, but was called off, perhaps to hear what Amsalem would say after returning from a week in Canada.

On Sunday, Amsalem said that Yosef’s statements prove the validity of his argument that Yosef is only fed part of the information, since Amsalem had not said that yeshiva boys shouldn’t study, rather kollel students (married men with families) who are not cut out for the intellectually demanding lifestyle.

Amsalem also said that he was not seeking a short exchange with the senior rabbi after the morning prayers, but rather a serious sit-down meeting during which he could explain his stances.

Amsalem on Wednesday said that he had no moral right to return his mandate to Shas, since “My place in the Knesset belongs to the public that chose me and supported me.”

However, a direct imperative from Yosef would be very difficult for him to refuse, especially after his spiritual patron, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, told the MK in a letter that his future in Shas was in Yosef’s hands.

Sources close to Amsalem said that the MK would defy such a directive, if it should arrive, but pointed out that the fact that Yosef didn’t explicitly name Amsalem in the entire speech could indicate that the lawmaker might not be facing an ousting from the party.

Meanwhile, Mazuz himself slammed Amsalem in a letter from Saturday night, in which he prohibited speaking out against both Yosef and Yishai, and stated that it is prohibited to “mock kollel students who dedicate their lives to learning Torah in misery and poverty.

“Till we speak of ‘an ox that butted the cow,’” a classic talmudic topic that Amsalem had used as an example of the complicated halachic material put forth before a perplexed 14-year-old, “we’ll be talking about Homer’s poetry and Shakespeare’s stories, which high-school students squander their time on, without knowing who Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi or Maimonides are,” Mazuz said.

He also stressed that the interviews Amsalem has been giving in past days “are without my permission and my knowledge... and do not represent the [Kissei Rahamim] yeshiva,” which Mazuz heads.

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