Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, who broke away from Shas and launched his Am Shalem Party interviewed with Israel’s TV’s Ulpan Shishi program which was aired on Friday night. The program was of course videoed during the week.
The rav explained how Maran HaGaon HaRav Ovadia Yosef Shlita is kept in the dark by those who run the party, addressed widespread corruption in Shas and proudly spoke of his platform, one that includes teaching chareidim the ‘core subjects’ to permit them to one day earn an livelihood. He sees nothing wrong with chareidim working for living and challenges what has become the typical chareidi lifestyle in Eretz Yisrael, perhaps the Sephardi version of the “Tov Party” which also seems to feel that it is time to return to the days of yesteryear, when chareidim were less extreme, more moderate, and worked for a living without compromising their Torah lifestyle. He feels the gedolim of the last generation were on a higher level and they toiled to earn a livelihood and he is tired of seeing all the rabbonim collecting money and living in poverty while no one is permitted to work.
Shas’ newspaper referred to Amsellem as “Amalek” and backed the decision to oust him from the party. As a result of his willingness to speak out against Shas and the chareidi norms, Rav Amsellem now travels with a bodyguard assigned by the Knesset security officer as he has been the subject of threats.
“Their goal was to destroy this shul” Amsellem explains, referring to his beis knesses, adding “the type of war Shas is waging [against me], there is no G-d. There is no tzibur of mispallalim for HKBH is not present there”.
Rav Amsellem explains Har Nof if the heart of the Shas General Command, while Rav Ovadia lives on Kablan Street surrounded by his sons. The rav lives in the same building as Shas Minister Rav Atias and when asked if they still speak with one another, he responded “It does not occur too often but yes, we still nod to one another with our heads”.
The rav tells that as a young man he returned home from shul one morning at 8am and was told by his wife “They called from Rav Ovadia and he wishes to speak with you”.
“What, with me. It’s like speaking with Moshe Rabbeinu. What could such a man want from me? He gave me smicha at the age of 20” he explains, showing his close connection with the rav that dates back before the Yishai era. When he met with the rav he learned that he was being enlisted to assist in launching the party.
Regarding the so-called core subjects, math, science, and English, the rabbi questions what is contrary halacha by learning four times four is sixteen, adding this will facilitate learning Torah as well. Amsellem stresses this is not a change in his hashkafa. He has always supported learning secular subject matter and will continue doing so in the future.
The tensions between Amsellem and Eli Yishai increased about two years ago when the news broke of widespread discrimination against Sephardi girls in chareidi Ashkenazi schools. He defied Yishai who instructed him to remain silent, and he began granting interviews to any and all news stations willing to have him. “You must understand that Shas is the outstretched hand of the Ashkenazim and they must remain in line”.
“My son learned in the Chevron Yeshiva so what makes him elite? Nothing, he is not special”, seeking to show that while the yeshiva was good, there are also Sephardi mosdos.
When asked by the reporter in his home why he still has a prominently displayed picture of Maran R’ Ovadia on his wall, he proudly states “He is not responsible. He believes what they tell him. The picture will never be taken down. This is what it is in Shas. There are two ways out, either prison or your own party”.
The rabbi explains the revenge comes in many ways, and his son cannot get into a Sephardi yeshiva. When asked what kashrus he uses, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, he says Beit Yosef and other high-end kashrus.
And you don’t have a problem eating this when you know the money goes to Shas?
If only that were the case that would be good. The money goes to the small group that controls the badatz. When the badatz was started everyone thought the money would serve the Sephardim, the poor among us. Over the years we have all learned this is a private company.
Who is in charge?
Rabbi Moshe and Yehudit Yosef.
The question remains just how well will he do in the election since this time around, he is not running under the Shas banner but on his own. The Am Shalem Facebook page has 79,000 likes, but likes are not votes.
When asked about the return of Aryeh Deri Amsellem does not foresee any significant change “For doing so would be tantamount of kicking the hashkafa of Bnei Brak and since Shas is an extension of the Ashkenazi litvish community, this will not and cannot occur.
Amsellem proudly announces he wishes to see chareidim become educated, earn a living and continue living a Torah life as it used to be in the past, rejecting the prohibition that has been placed on these realities.
Shas officials declined to respond to Amsellem’s accusations.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)