Shas' follies

Rabbi Ansalem was born in Algeria and made Aliyah in 1970. A father of eight, he was elected to Knesset on the Shas Party List in 2006. Since Shas has made a point of claiming representation of the Jews from Eastern (Arab and Islamic) lands and to represent their concerns in the Knesset, Rabbi Ansalem appears uniquely qualified. But he made a mistake: he said that is time for the Ultra-Orthodox community to go to work and integrate into mainstream Israeli society. And for this, his colleagues at the Shas Party have branded him "Amalek", that is the enemy...

Rabbi Ansalem pointed out that the cycle of poverty that seems endemic to the Ultra-Orthodox community in general and the Oriental Ultra-Orthodox community in particular, can only be broken by integrating into the economic life of the State; to stop collecting payments from the government and become productive members of society. This is a revolutionary concept for a community where most adult males dedicate themselves to study Torah while receiving government payments and being exempt from Army service.

Rabbi Ansalem pointed out that today the main divide within Israel is the rift between obervant Jews and secular Jews; a rift that sometimes erupts in violence. He insisted that the only way to heal that rift is for Ultra-Orthodox Jews to assume their place in Israeli society and maybe even serve in the Army.

Rabbi Ansalem still believes that some people should be respected for their study of Torah and are genuinely entitled to Government subsidies. But in his own words: "There is poverty. Whomever needs to learn Torah, should learn; those who are not learning, should go to work. No one has ever put a mirror before Shas. No one has said 'look how you look' And they look bad!"

And for his crimes, Rabbi Hayim Ansalem has been expulsed from the Shas Party, branded "Amalek" and Party officials are demanding that he resign from his Knesset seat. He has also been provided with bodyguards by the Knesset because of the fear that he'll be attacked.

Folks, I don't know about you, but I believe that people like Rabbi Ansalem are what is needed to heal the religious/secular rift in Israel and maybe here at home. In the Talmud, Rabbis do not live off the public, but they have their jobs...merchants, shoemakers, carpenters, etc. Are the Rabbis of today hollier than those who gave us the Talmud?

Judaism tells us that we live in this world, and that our obligations are not other-worldly but on this world in which we live. The mitzvoth are not intended to separate us from others, but to bring us together in the task of perfecting an imperfect world. Reducing the dependency of the Ultra-Orthodox community on tax money might go a long way at improving the perception that secular Israelis have of their Ultra-Orthodox counterparts... and for Ultra-Orthodox to go to work side by side with their secular counterparts might help Ultra-Orthodox see beyond their own stereotypes and prejudices. The name of the game is "know each other", something that self-segregation and isolation is not exactly good for.

Being a productive part of a society teaches social responsibility and tolerance for our differences, making us realize that our differences make us stronger - not weaker. But when we claim that our differences makes us better than others and we seek privileges, we have separated ourselves of the the community, violating one of the most important warnings of the Rabbis of know, the ones who worked for a living.

In today's world, being a congregational Rabbi is a full time job as Rabbis well know. But being a professional student of Torah or anything else should be a privilege granted only to those who can contribute to the collective knowledge; kind of like a scholarship or a grant. Not an entitlement, but a privilege. Those who are studying only for their own amusement and to avoid responsibility should be called on it and send to work for a living for their own good.

I support Rabbi Ansalem and those who, like him, see the elephant in the middle of the room.



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