The Jewish Press is proud to announce a new monthly column by the founder of the Shas Party, Member of Knesset Rabbi Nissim Zeev. In 1983, Rabbi Zeev, principal of Nevat Israel, Jerusalem’s first Sephardic Girls’ Seminary, initiated the creation of the “Sephardi Torah Guardians” as a local political party in Jerusalem with the aim of becoming a national party in 1983. Since that day his name appears as in the official registrar documentation as the Chairman of Shas, although he has delegated that role in the political sphere to Rabbi Peretz, then Arieh Deri and later to Eli Yishai. M.K. Rabbi Zeev is the “voice of Shas” worldwide. Upon the establishment of American Friends of Shas, M.K. Nissim Zeev joins the cadre of Jewish Press columnists to bring our readers insights and inside information on Shas activities and policies.
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The weekly Torah portion “Vayeitzei” recounts the journey of our Patriarch Jacob who departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran on a journey which would lead him to start a new family in a personal exile. On the way, he encountered “the place” which the Midrash says is Mount Moria, the site where Abraham bound Isaac on the altar and where the Beit Hamikdash would later stand. It is there that the Almighty appeared before him in a dream and said: I am Hashem, G-d of Abraham, your father and G-d of Isaac; the ground upon which you are lying, to you will I give it and to your descendant. Your offspiring shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out powerfully westward, eastward, northward and southward; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your offspring…Behold, I am with you; I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil; for I will not forsake you until I will have done what I have spoke to you about”.
In these few verses, the Torah outlines the story of the history of the Jews and the times of exile from the Holy Land. Sforno comments that Hashem’s reference that the Jewish people will be “as the dust of the earth” is connected to the text in Isaiah 51:23 – only after the Jewish people have become as degraded as the dist of the earth – “shall they spread out powerfully westward, eastward, northward and southward”.
As the founder of Nevat Israel, the first Sephardic Girl’s Seminary in Jerusalem in 1979, I realized that without political influence, the Sephardic community in Israel would not be able to develop its educational institutions. I established the Shas Party in 1983 as a national movement which at first ran very successfully for the elections in the Jerusalem Municipality, where I served for many years as Deputy Mayor, and later became national and ran for elections in the Knesset. The goal of the Shas Party from the onset was to be under the spiritual guidance of the Rishon Letzion, Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph and the Council of Rabbinical Sages under his leadership. Rav Shach z”l was instrumental in agreeing to this initiative and supporting it. This is what differentiates the Shas party from previous Sephardic movements. The goal of the Shas Party is to serve the interests and all edot hamizrach, Sephardic Jews – while striving for unity among all of Am Yisrael. As noted by the journalist Abraham Rabinovich in a feature article in the Jerusalem Post: “Shas represents an indigenous product sprung from the religious-political soil of modern Israel”.
While Shas has had great achievements in its goals for the Sephardic Jews in Israel in all areas of education and education and social justice, may challenges lie ahead in its activities in Israel. At the same time, Am Yisrael in the diaspora is facing great spiritual and physical threats and Am Yisrael is again being degraded as noted in the Sforno commentary.. The Jewish identity of the young generation needs to be strengthened through education and spiritual guidance, and the Jewish communities face renewed threats of anti-semitism and the rise of fundamentalist Islam. It is time for Shas to spread its wings and work with its brethren who are spread in the “west, the east, the south and the north” of the globe. We are taking the first step with the launching of American Friends of Shas in New York this week. I invite all our brethren to join forces with us “so that the nations of the world shall bless themselves through Am Yisrael” in the words of the Torah…..
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