Chaim Amsellem- Tomer Appelbaum
MK Chaim Amsellem Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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For some time now, MK Chaim Amsellem has been looking for a way out of Shas. It may be that a way out has found him, and sooner than he may have planned. Sources in the party have said that in recent days the spiritual leader of the party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, may ask Amsellem to give up his spot in the Knesset to the next in line.

The reason for the clash is the independent line that Amsellem seems to be toeing in recent months, a behavior which peaked during an interview he gave Maariv last week.

Sources close to Amsellem say that he does not intend to resign from the Knesset, but it would appear that collaboration with Shas will henceforth be purely formal.

The case of Amsellem gives insight into the troubled undercurrent in a party characterized by strict conformity imposed by Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

In an interview with Maariv, Amsellem criticized the political and spiritual leadership of the party, whom he charged with abandoning its moderate Sephardic traditions.

Publicly voicing criticism thus far made only in private, Amsellem focused on substantive issues and attacked the Shas decision to fall in line with the Ashkenazi rabbis over issues of conversion, rejection of secular subjects in education, evading military service and a lifestyle which focuses exclusively on the study of the Torah.

Amsellem said that he plans to establish a new party, and to join up with former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri.

Amsellem claims his views are backed by his spiritual patron, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, a leading Shas figure. However, following the interview, Mazuz issued a letter distancing himself from the MK, with whom he had close ties for years.

It appears that in the meantime Mazuz has given Yishai a letter which certifies that the MK no longer represents the rabbi in the Knesset on behalf of Shas.