As former Shas leader Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai seeks to digest the events of last week, being unseated as the undisputed leader of the party, persons affiliated with the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Kisei Rachamim, HaGaon HaRav Meir Mazuz are saying “We warned you”.
Rav Mazuz is viewed as the mora d’atra of Jews from Tunisia, and generally speaking, is not involved in the politics and day-to-day workings of Shas. Nevertheless, when Yishai pushed for ousting MK Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, they warned him of the ramifications, but he did not adhere to their warning. Rav Mazuz does have what to say and his influence is significant.
Chadrei Chareidim reports that when Amsellem entered Shas Yishai was told by the rookie MK’s supporters “this is the person who will take care of your Deri problem and the threat of him returning to the party.” The report states that even the wealthy party supporters told Yishai to work with Amsellem, but this was not to be.
In the beginning, Yishai distanced himself from Amsellem, who is viewed as being significantly more learned than he but at some point, Yishai felt threatened by Amsellem and worked to get rid of him. Allies warned that this was not the correct choice, instructing Yishai to give Amsellem his respect along with responsibilities commensurate with his stature as a talmid chacham, adding “one day you will need him against Deri when the latter wishes to return” but Yishai would not hear of it.
Despite the fact that Amsellem’s parents came from Morocco they moved to Algeria and when he was six-months-old, they arrived in France. Amsellem’s wife if Tunisian, as is Rav Mazuz Shlita, and he became part of this community and enjoys their support. Until he ousted Mazuz, Yishai power base originated from the very same community but he lost the backing for refusing to permit Amsellem to remain.
Amsellem sustained some heavy blows by being ousted, harsh statements leveled against him by Yishai, and more importantly by Chacham Ovadia. When Rav Ovadia asked Rav Amsellem why he was getting into controversy with “Rav Eliyahu [Yishai]” Amsellem told the gadol hador that Yishai was seeking controversy with him and things are not the way they appear.
Ultimately, Yishai succeeded in persuading Rav Ovadia to oust Amsellem, a move that was not understood or accepted by Rav Mazuz. He was told to keep Amsellem in the party, adding he is a talmid chacham, but Yishai was adamant in his decision to remove him from Shas’ lineup.
Today, Yishai may be looking back with a distant fondness on the days when Amsellem was on board and Yishai rain Shas’ affairs, as opposed to being cochairmen along with Aryeh Deri and Ariel Atias, with the hope the latter will be the peace-keeper.
One must remember back in the day when Deri was dropped as party leader Rav Ovadia did not consider Yishai as his replacement. There were others viewed as more suitable but Rav Mazuz pushed, as persons close to the rav are aware just how much he admired Yishai and how he used his weight to have him pushed into his current post.
After the fact, Yishai is not viewed as having been loyal since he acted against the rav’s interests as explained above. There was a time when Rav Mazuz required something, Yishai would leave Yerushalayim during the predawn hours to daven vosikin with Rav Mazuz in Bnei Brak, then to meet with him, but it appears those days are in the past, as is Yishai’s control of Shas and while MK Rabbi Chaim Amsellem launches his election campaign under the banner of his Am Shalem party.
A Bit About Rav Amsellem
Born in 1959, Rabbi Chaim Amsellem arrived in Eretz Yisrael with his family at the age of 11. He received smicha in 1980, and was certified as qualified to serve as the rav of a city in 1990. He served as the rav of Sharsheret for seven years and then a rav in Netivot. Simultaneously, he established yeshivot in southern Israel as well as heading the Baba Sali Kollel. From there he moved with his family to Har Nof, Yerushalayim, and later served as the Sephardic Rav of Geneva.
He has written seforim, including chidushim on the Rambam, a SHuT on Shulchan Aruch, in addition to a number of seforim on hashkofa matters. In 2006 he was elected to Knesset as a member of Shas, the representative of Rav Baruch Abuchatzera. In the 18th Knesset he was reelected under Shas and eventually broke away to form his own party. In addition to Hebrew he speaks Arabic and French.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)