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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
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‘Amalek’ Comment More an Expression of Shas Despair than Hate

The total failure of Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri to deliver on any of his promises bears serious ramifications for the party that relies on thousands of knitted yarmulke voters.
Rabbi Shalom Cohen of the Shas Party Council of Torah Sages, called the knitted yarmulke Israelis 'Amalek.'

Rabbi Shalom Cohen of the Shas Party Council of Torah Sages, called the knitted yarmulke Israelis 'Amalek.'
Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Saturday night has been for years an opportunity for the Sephardi Haredi party Shas’ spiritual leader, Rav Ovadia Yosef, to make headlines with some outrageous statements. In fact, as the Israeli media began to carry those statements, making them the focal point of many a Sunday morning conversations (Sunday is Israel’s Monday).

Initially, those statements were mostly against the Arabs, most notably the Palestinians, most emphatically the late Chairman Yassir Arafat. But as of Israel’s most recent elections, during the campaign and especially as it was becoming clear that the Jewish Home national religious party was going to be inside the coalition government while the two Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, were out—the great spiritual leader started frothing at the mouth cursing out his rivals.

He called them “Goyish Home,” he accused them of fighting and desecrating the Torah, he ridiculed their notion of being religious—how could they possibly be religious when they conspire, along with Yair Lapid’s burgeoning middle-class party Yesh Atid, to force thousands of yeshiva students into military conscription.

This past Saturday night, in Rav Ovadia’s synagogue in the Bucharim neighborhood in Jerusalem, a member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, Rav Shalom Cohen, dean of the Porat Yosef yeshiva, compared the national religious in Israel, whose noted symbol are the knitted yarmulkes—kippot srugot—to Amalek.

Just before Purim, many divrei Torah are said about the true identity of Amalek. Some say it is a real nation, whose goal in history is to negate whatever it is Jews are doing, because Amalek are the enemies of God, while we are the children of God. They see Amalek in every great enemy of the Jews, culminating in the Nazis and Ahmadinejad. Others talk about the Amalek within us, that fascistic component of our personalities that has no problem stepping on others, brutally if need be, just to get its way.

In that context, Rav Cohen’s note was blood curdling. Whether he had had too much of the glass of havdala, or truly believes it, he made the following clever spiel: “It says God does war against Amalek. So long as Amalek exists, the throne—kess is not complete. KS is an acronym for Kippa Sruga—knitted yarmulke. When will the throne-kess be whole? When there’s no longer a kippa sruga… Are these really Jews?”

Haredi journalist Israel Gelis says Rav Cohen’s poor choice of words should not be taken seriously. It’s part of a particular culture where heated expressions are thrown out with little consideration of their impact. Gelis says that on Shabbat he ran into Rav Cohen at the Kotel, and the latter said to him with a huge smile: “Did you see the name of the chief of the tribe of Naftali (as in Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett)? It’s Achira (Num. 1:15),” literally “brother of evil.” And he was very pleased with himself, adds Gelis.

Those things shouldn’t be taken seriously. But the total failure of Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri to deliver on any of his promises, says Gelis, bears far more serious ramifications for the Haredi Sephardi party that relies on thousands of knitted yarmulke voters.

Having lost out in the coalition building wars to Bennett and Lapid, Deri has forged an alliance with leftist Meretz and the Arab parties, to the point where he is more likely to vote with them against the Zionist coalition government than not. His rival in the Shas leadership, deposed chairman Eli Yishai, is a regular secret visitor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chambers—so secret the entire Haredi world knows about it. Yishai has been a reliable, steady partner to Netanyahu and other secular, right-wing leaders. At this point he is waiting for his nemesis to sink deeper in the political mud.

Life in the opposition is murder on a party like Shas, which used to utilize its government ministries to favor its Sephardi sector. Now, unable to bring home the paella, Shas is standing to lose much of its support to the new powers that be in the ministries they used to control: Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home.

Add to that the fact that Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef is not getting any younger, and you’ll understand the Shas angst.

Deri, incidentally, is expected to deliver on a huge promise: making one of Rav Ovadia’s offspring the next Sephardi chief rabbi. Should he fail, we might see a coup d’état in Shas’ future.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.

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17 Responses to “‘Amalek’ Comment More an Expression of Shas Despair than Hate”

  1. Bella Tonini says:

    Where is the Ahavas Yisroel? Sigh. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew whether you like his/her political leanings and or level (or lack of) of Frumkeit!

  2. Good riddance. Can't wait for the Siyum HaShas.

  3. Ch Hoffman says:

    Whether out of frustration, hatred, or just hard-core ignorance, the Shas leadership – both religious and political – has shown itself to be nothing but a funnel for money, totally devoid of principle.

  4. Anonymous says:

    BTW, unless you order it vegetarian, paella is a dish consisting of mussels and shrimp. Not a very good metaphor substitute for another form of trafe.

  5. Yori Yanover says:

    Well, serves me right for trying to avoid the B word…

  6. Maurice Orlanski says:

    White washing, rationalizing, making excuses will never make this right.
    So why are you trying to spin it, and say not to take it seriously?
    It is a serious issue.
    Hitler –yemach shmo- made sure to be inclusive when it came to jews.
    It did not matter what kind of kippa one wore , or did not.
    It did not matter if you wore a hat or how big the brim was, or if you didn’t wear.
    a hat, To him a jew was a jew , NO DIFFERENTIATION.

    The Baal Shemtov, The Berditchiver Rebbe, The Lubavitcher Rebbe spent their whole lives and being.
    In AHAVAT YISRAEL , always taking the side of ALL JEWS.
    To them we were JEWS no matter what you wore or didn’t.

    What make you better than those Tzadikim?
    What gives you the right to bash any jew by what they wear or don’t?
    Are you that small that you need to uplift yourself , by degrading others?


    Where is the outcry from the SO called Orthodox community against this Hatred?

    The silence is DEAFINING , that is part of the problem.

    OUR LEADERSHIP NEEDS TO SPEAK OUT , the fact that they don’t is frightening.


  7. Stuart Rosenthal says:

    Once a person's words leave his lips, the damage has been done; no matter his intentions.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The chareidi parties feel betrayed by the religious zionists as they are agreeing to a law that will go against the main ideal of the chareidim- that is to study instead of Army. Right or wrong, wouldn't you be angry? My main concern is that this may cause a big division between Modern orthodoxy and the more orthodox (charedi). We don't need this split since the essentially are both mitzva observant. We must all work to bring unity between these 2 groups. By the way the Sephardi were treated as second class citizens so Shas had to protect them. Still politics stink. Hashem help us. We need unity- its up to all of us. Easy fast my brothers.

  9. As a Jew I feel , offended , confused, incredulous, baffled and stunned by the statements of people that are supposed to have the "hook up" with G-d. I wish Hashem would reign for Himself instead of having people claim they are the ones to speak for Him.To be venerated as honorable one must be so first.

  10. Ch Hoffman says:

    Sephardi communities haven't been "treated as second class citizens" for the past 30 years; they've been trading on their old victimizations as shamelessly as Al Sharpton

  11. Dan Silagi says:

    I do not wear a knitted kippah. In fact, I don't wear a kippah at all. Just the hair on the top of my head.

    I am a Reform Jew, which means that many of the people who work for this publication don't even see me as Jewish, and probably many of its readership, too. But none of them have called me "Amalek" – yet.

    I guess I ought to consider myself fortunate that this jerk of a "rabbi" only considers MO as "Amalek," and ignored us secular Jews.

  12. Dan Silagi says:

    I do not wear a knitted kippah. In fact, I don't wear a kippah at all. Just the hair on the top of my head.

    I am a Reform Jew, which means that many of the people who work for this publication don't even see me as Jewish, and probably many of its readership, too. But none of them have called me "Amalek" – yet.

    I guess I ought to consider myself fortunate that this jerk of a "rabbi" only considers MO as "Amalek," and ignored us secular Jews.

  13. Robert Soran says:

    You aren't a good Jew. A good Jew wouldn't de-friend other Jews just because of different opinions. You did it. With me. Shame on you? Or just an emotional mishappening?

  14. Robert Soran says:

    You aren't a good Jew. A good Jew wouldn't de-friend other Jews just because of different opinions. You did it. With me. Shame on you? Or just an emotional mishappening?

  15. Dan Silagi says:

    If you read this publication, you'd know that I can be VERY hard on my fellow Jews, especially those on the far right. But there's a litmus test on the other side, and supporting BDS, including what the hypocrites at the EU did, goes over the line. The Palestinians are, at best, a bunch of hypcrites and their so-called "moderate" leadership supports Arab terrorism. They call all go straight down the highway to hell, and I'm more than happy to help arrange their journey.

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