Reclaiming the lost spirit of Eastern Jewry

Haim Amsalem….at odds with the leaders of Shas (Photo: Alex Levac)

He’s been called a renegade and the bete noire of the Sephardi ultra-orthodox party Shas, but the Algerian-born rabbi and Knesset member Haim Amsalem simply wants to reclaim the lost spirit of Eastern Jewry. Zionism comes naturally to North African Sephardim who have never suffered the sectarian schisms of Ashkenazi orthodoxy. Traditionally, Sephardi rabbis combined a trade with Torah study, but in Israel the number of unemployed Haredi scholars has jumped to an unsustainable65 percent in 30 years. Amsalem believes the ‘lithuanisation’ of orthodox Sephardim is threatening to turn them into anti-Zionists and parasites feeding off the Israeli state. Haaretz reports:

MK Haim Amsalem, who has been at odds with the leadership of his Shas party for the last few months, accused the ultra-Orthodox faction Saturday night of turning a large populace of Israel’s Sephardi sector into “anti-Zionists”.

The rebel MK told an audience in the West Bank settlement of Beit El that Shas had lost the spirit of Eastern Jewry. He added the faction had begun to flex its opinions to be more in line with Ashkenazi rabbinical leaders who he claimed “carry no responsibility for what happens to the nation of Israel”.

Amsalem reiterated during his speech on Saturday night his calls to ease the laws of conversion, and furthermore declared that the ultra-Orthodox population must enter the work force.

“How many Rabbi Ovadia [Yosef]s will there be?” he asked, in reference to the spiritual leader of the Shas party. “Just one in a generation. Everyone else can work.”

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  • Just noting the trend. I was really suprised to see how many yeshiva students in merkaz harav and yeshivat hakotel became some sort of… professional students.
    This mentality is not taking over only ultra-orthodox sephardim. Even religious zionists are being dragged into it. In small numbers, but growing.

  • Rabbi Amsalem is right about most of the issues. There is now as Sammish indicated a Haredi army unit, the Nahal Haredi, which is in charge of the Jordan Valley's defense. But it ought to be larger. It might flip out the Arabs if the Nahal Haredi were also assigned to stand guard at Jewish holy places, like Rachel's Tomb. So it might be a good idea.

  • What does “a bunch” mean? Saying “a bunch" does not say much quantitatively. I know that they are also "a bunch" of Haredim who serve in the IDF (and maybe work too, I am not sure)…
    It is an empirical question, but regardless the results will show that the overwhelming majority (more than 50%) still rely on government handouts and subsidies.
    I think Haim is only pointing out the fact about the drastic change occuring in Sephardic Judaism in terms of its relationship between "professional devotional study and careerism" and " the usual work labor other than Talmudic study”… I think Haim has a point when he makes a value judgement about this change by deploring its trend. The idea that it is detrimental for the Israeli society cannot be easily accepted, but the idea that is it changing Sephardic Judaism in a negative way is perhaps less problematic.

  • This trend is not only among them. I know a bunch of religious zionists who refuse to work and to serve.


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