A complete nation?

According to a motto of the Am Shalem movement, which was created by MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, “it’s time for Israel to be a state with no religious extremism or coercion.”

Am Shalem event (photo credit: atara beck)
Am Shalem event
(photo credit: atara beck)
According to a motto of the Am Shalem movement, which was created by MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, “it’s time for Israel to be a state with no religious extremism or coercion.”
A pre-Jerusalem Day celebration organized by Am Shalem exemplified that ideal with a presentation that featured two women, including one who delivered an impressive Torah lecture related to the theme of the event: a demand for tolerance.
Renowned educator Shani Taragin holds a master’s degree in Bible and Talmud from Bar-Ilan University and is currently pursuing a PhD in Bible. A certified adviser on Halacha, she serves on the Nishmat women’s hotline to answer questions concerning the laws of family purity.
Indeed, her wealth of knowledge is impressive.
Nevertheless, the public has grown accustomed to hearing about women being hidden from the public in ultra-Orthodox circles as well as the abuse that follows when these restrictions are not adhered to. Even when dressed according to Halacha – as Taragin is – it is considered controversial in many religious communities for a woman to take center-stage and address a mixed audience, and even more so to lead a Torah discussion in full view.
The other female speaker, Tal Bar-On, 24, is a student at Hebrew University. Dressed respectfully – albeit not according to strict Orthodox standards – she said, “I love Jerusalem because I’m Jewish. Even though I don’t live a particularly Jewish lifestyle, I am [Jewish] and that’s why I’m here.”
It was a unique Knesset program; geared to the Anglophone community, the lectures were all delivered in English, except for Amsalem’s speech.
Rabbi Dov Lipman, a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Zionist and Beit Shemesh resident on the list of candidates for the next Knesset with the Am Shalem party, has been in the headlines in recent months for his fight against intolerance in his own city. A main organizer of the Knesset program and its emcee, he declared: “The goal of Am Shalem is that no one should have to identify which specific box they fall into.”
Polls indicate that close to 40 percent of Am Shalem support comes from the secular population, who “want to be part of the Jewish people,” he said.
In fact, the name “Am Shalem” means “complete nation.”
“The Am Shalem movement is bringing issues to the fore in Israel that no one else, unfortunately, is dealing with,” Lipman said, citing unity and Jewish identity as “issues that our [Am Shalem] leaders have made a priority.”
Am Shalem stands for “creating a modern and embracing Israel, a state resting on core Jewish values,” he asserted, explaining his belief in the need for a “combination of Torah and parnasa [livelihood]. One could be a Torah scholar and be educated and make a dignified living.”
“The strength of the Jewish people will always be through unity,” Amsalem told the crowd before elaborating on his party’s goals.
“Now the Knesset is dealing with one of the most important yet painful issues, the Tal Law. Hopefully it will bring unity in the end. We have to say, with respect, that whoever truly studies Torah day and night and does nothing else… not a few hours a day, but constantly, and this is a tiny group… this tiny minority is a blessing and they should continue being immersed in Torah,” said the haredi Torah scholar and former member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
“In my meetings with secular people, when we explain this to them, they tend to agree,” he continued. “But not for the thousands and tens of thousands. The status quo cannot continue.
The majority has to do national service [or] serve in the army, and be involved in society. This is unity. This is loyalty to Torah and to the state.”
The other point he stressed concerned immigrants and children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not recognized here as Jews. In 2010, he authored a book titled Zera Yisrael (Seed of Israel), which addresses the problem.
“We must find a solution for hundreds of thousands here and around the world who are not Jewish but have Jewish blood in their veins,” Amsalem stated. “They live among us; they risk their lives in the Israel Defense Forces, and they’re considered Jewish outside of Israel… We can’t push them away.
“It’s problematic; it’s not easy,” he conceded. “We have to do it according to Halacha. This is one of the main challenges of our generation.”
Apropos of Jerusalem Day festivities, media personality and east Jerusalem resident Yishai Fleisher, an IDF paratrooper with the reserves, discussed the topic of “The Special Home We Returned to in 1967.”
“This is not part of an occupation. It’s part of a ‘preoccupation.’ Those preoccupied [with Jerusalem] have been living here for 3,000 years… It’s not a settlement, but resettlement,” he said.
He praised Amsalem as one of today’s most profound thinkers.
Michael Freund, Jerusalem Post columnist and chairman of Shavei Israel, which has been bringing communities claiming descent from the lost tribes of Israel on aliya, stressed the yearning for Jerusalem across the generations. As a result of his organization’s efforts, among other successes, aliya from India of the descendants of the tribe of Manasseh should resume this summer.
Reading Zera Yisrael, “I found a kindred spirit,” Freund told the audience, citing the author’s “courage to defy the norm.”
The first time Bar-On heard Amsalem speak, she was inspired and wanted to get involved.
“I felt that finally I found a politician who speaks to me. I’m not religious, but Jewish. I grew up secular. I thought everything was black and white...“I always defined myself as a Zionist, but now Jewish is my essence.”
In her elaborate discussion on Jerusalem, citing numerous quotes and ideas in the scriptures, Taragin demonstrated that religious faith alone is not sufficient.
“King David spoke about the social aspects of Jerusalem, with all kinds of people, all different denominations, in a city of peace and unity.”
This is the Jerusalem to which Am Shalem aspires.