"My opinion is my opinion, but the opinion of a Torah sage determines matters." This admission, by MK Haim Amsalem of Shas, was recently reported in the minutes of the Knesset. His remarks were made during a debate in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on the "Shai Dromi bill," which absolves from criminal responsibility anyone who kills an intruder into his home or business. "I will request an audience with the rabbi once more and get clear instructions before the second and third readings," the MK continued.
Not one member of the committee, most of whose members are secular, showed surprise or protested. The debate continued as if there were nothing more normal, in a modern democratic state, than for representatives of the public to get instructions from religious figures.
In another few days, the opinion of the "Torah sage" - via the offices of Amsalem and 11 of his colleagues in the Knesset faction - may determine the fate of the government of Israel. Shaul Mofaz is preparing his skullcap for his pilgrimage to the home of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas' spiritual mentor, in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood. And it will be interesting to see whether Tzipi Livni covers her head before going there to ask for the support of the soldiers of Shas. It might be worthwhile for the leading candidates in the race for Kadima's leadership to think of a nice gift too. At the end of the month, the man who decides will celebrate his 88th birthday, may he live until 120!
The seasonal occupation with the abuse that Rabbi Ovadia likes to direct at the secular population diverts attention from the crux of the matter: A fundamentalist, chauvinist, ethnic party (its members are all ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi men) has turned from a political curiosity into a legitimate, substantial body. Even the conviction of five of its activists - cabinet ministers Aryeh Deri, Rafael Pinhasi (today secretary of the Council of Sages) and Shlomo Benizri, and MKs Yair Levy and Ofer Hugi - has not affected the movement's validity. If Deri can overcome the formal legal obstacle of moral turpitude, a considerable proportion of the secular sector of the capital will assist this freed convict to be elected mayor of Jerusalem.
Contrary to its Ashkenazi sister, United Torah Judaism, Shas does not make do merely with fulfilling the unique needs of those who elect its MKs, in the yeshivas and among needy sectors of the population: Rabbi Ovadia sends his people deep into the heart of the establishment and instructs them to intervene also in matters of war and peace.
The "peace camp's" hope - based on the rabbi's ruling that the sanctity of human lives is more important than that of the land - has twice been dashed. In September 1993, he instructed his men to leave the government of Yitzhak Rabin in protest of the Oslo accords. In July 2000, the rabbi withdrew Shas from Ehud Barak's government, so as to foil the Camp David summit.
The dozen MKs and ministers of Shas today fulfill the function in the government that the dozen MKs from the Likud fulfill in the opposition. True, they signed basic guidelines according to which the government, through negotiations with the Palestinians, would attempt to bring about the determination of permanent borders of the country, as a Jewish and democratic state. But this did not disturb the faction from announcing that the rabbi had instructed the leader of the movement, Eli Yishai, that negotiations could not be held with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, "since he does not have control of the authority's territories." Yishai threatened to resign from the government if the negotiations included the subject of Jerusalem. His colleague, cabinet minister Meshulam Nahari, attributed the decision to unfreeze building in East Jerusalem to "an ultimatum delivered by Yishai."
Yishai announced that Shas would also not lend a helping hand to bringing about peace with Syria ("Is it fitting to transfer our northern front into the hands of the axis of evil?") in return for the Golan Heights ("The people of Israel have not yet recovered from the wounds of the wretched eviction from the Gaza Strip, and there are those who are illegally conjuring up yet another eviction").
The chief of staff of the Torah sages has hitched a ride on the Hamas bandwagon regarding the release of murderers of Jews, in order to demand clemency for Jews with the blood of Arab passersby on their hands, such as Ami Popper, or Gur Hemel, who murdered an old Palestinian man by hitting him with stones.
The candidates for the leadership of Kadima would do well to agree that whoever wins the race for the party chairmanship will save us the ceremony in the rabbi's house. If he instructs his minions, who are called "the representatives of the public," to dictate the terms of the new marriage contract - let them invite him to meet them at new elections. And in that event, let MK Amsalem check out with the Torah sage whether he believes that it is also just to absolve from criminal responsibility an Arab who attacks a settler who intrudes on his land. Just out of curiosity.
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