Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On what has happened to SHAS

I'll begin with a personal confession. I am in awe of Rav Ovadia Yosef. This might not be that terrible a confession, however being in awe of someone, especially a rabbi is clearly out of fashion.In the house I grew up I was certainly taught to respect rabbanim, but be in awe of them? that would probably be a little much. However I think that anyone who has read any of his halachic writings can't help but acknowelge that Rav Ovadia is unique. He is not just a great rabbi, he is a GREAT rabbi. He is probably the leading candidate to be the rabbi whos work will still be quoted 100 years from today. And so over the years, I've constantly defeneded his numerous badly worded outbursts, and kept saying that he should be judged by his psaks and not by his public "lighter" drashot.

Recently a weird scandal has broken out in Shas, regarding their Knesset member Harav Haim Amsalem. Harav Amsalem was quoted a few weeks ago in Ma'ariv as stating his views on a few subjects, as reported by the Jerusalem Post:

Amsalem’s message is straightforward and enlightened: Aside from an elite group of truly gifted scholars, most haredi men should serve in the IDF and seek gainful employment; haredi school children should be taught to respect the State of Israel and its institutions; they should also be taught math, sciences, languages and general knowledge that will prepare them for a productive life of self-sufficiency and dignity; conversions to Judaism for new immigrants from the former Soviet Union who came to Israel under the Law of Return and who serve in the IDF should be performed in a friendly, open, encouraging atmosphere; discrimination against Sephardi schoolchildren enrolled in Ashkenazi haredi schools must stop.
This led quickly to him being branded a traitor, and a psak written by Harav Ovadia himself calling him a thief if he does not resign from the Knesset. The problem is - It is not that easy to spot which ones of these doctrines is that far from Harav Ovadia's own psaks! 

Shas originally was not a standard haredi party. It used to pride itself that all of its Knesset members have served in the army. Its raison d'être used to be to fight discrimination against Sephardi jews. As pointed out in this article by Harav Beni Lou, Amsalem's views regarding conversions and  going out to work match those of Rav Ovadia (and are a continuation of the sepharadic tradition). So what is going on?

Due to my self addmitted awe of the man, I find speculating about him a little hard. However I think these  uncomfortable questions need a good answer.

Harav Lou seems to think that Shas has lost its way, and accepted the Ashkenazic haredi lifestyle. This seems to be an argument that Shas has sold out and ergo no longer holds the moderate views it did in the past. The other argument hinted in the article, and the one that seems to me to ring true is that Rav Amsalem has touched a much more sensative nerve. In this Haaretz piece (for some reason none of this story is being translated on their english website) Rav Amsalem voiced his views that rabbies should not be active in politics. The reason he gives is somewhat surprising - The rabbanim are just puppets, with people controlling their access to information. I strongly suspect that this is the real reason that Harav Amsalem has been kicked out of Shas. A dangerous idea such as free thought must be suppressed.

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