MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem’s name has become synonymous with solving fundamental problems within the State of Israel. His battle against racism and discrimination (which received significant praise in the annual report of the State Comptroller), his writings allowing for leniencies within halacha to solve the conversion crisis, and his encouragement of Haredim to study general studies, join the work force, and serve in the IDF left him chastised and excommunicated by the Shas party. MK Rabbi Amsalem’s strong ideology and intense desire to address these and other critical issues plaguing the State of Israel from within, has led to his forming a new political movement called “Am Shalem.”
The Am Shalem movement, under the leadership of MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, seeks to create a substantial public and political force which will succeed in bringing about a radical and significant change and improvement in the nature of the relations between the myriad components of Israeli society: Haredim - Religious Zionist – Traditional - Secular; Sephardim – Ashkenazim; Right wing – left wing; Jews – gentiles, and more.
Like all citizens of the State of Israel, Am Shalem hopes for the day when peace will come to our land. However, until that time comes and as we continue to work towards that dream, Am Shalem seeks to return the social issues which are vital to the State, to Israeli society, and to the existence of the Jewish people to the forefront of the national political agenda and to solve the most burning problems as outlined below.
Am Shalem is now beginning its difficult path to creating a better and more unified nation and country.
Livelihoods with Dignity
Hundreds of thousands of Jews in the State of Israel live below the poverty line or close to it. Entire populations, especially in the periphery, are not able to sustain themselves with dignity. In the Haredi population, work has become illegitimate, a development which has not only led this entire population to poverty but has also lowered the value of Torah and religion in the eyes of their fellow citizens. This runs counter to the way of Torah sages in the past who combined Torah with “parnassa.” The movement seeks to change the status quo in which an entire generation has been born into a life of poverty and whose sustenance is predicated on government subsidies by implementing the following actions:
1) The establishment of a network of quality, public Haredi schools in which students will be taught Torah and general studies on a high level leading towards full matriculation certificates. (Rabbi Amsalem is already hard at work trying to establish a private Haredi high school of this kind.) Am Shalem will also establish an academic institution of higher education in the “Yeshiva University” model in which all students will study toward academic degrees alongside their Torah studies and the option of studying for Rabbinic ordination. The above will be accompanied by a campaign to educate the Haredi public about not only the legitimacy of these institutions but also the special pride which its students and parent body should experience.
2) To facilitate the integration of Haredim into the workforce, Rabbi Amsalem has established a forum consisting of hi-tech entrepreneurs and managers. Am Shalem will continue to expand this forum which will both create and encourage local initiatives in the hi-tech industry in order to help integrate Haredim.
3) The key to earning a dignified livelihood is access to higher education. Am Shalem will work to pass legislation to encourage higher education among the youth of development towns and lower income neighborhoods. The law would dictate that the children of a person who lives in a development town or low income neighborhood for more than 15 years will be entitled to significant tuition subsidies towards university studies.
4) Canceling the V.A.T. tax for those who provide basic life necessities such as basic food items, medication and clothing
Equal sharing of national burdens
From the time of the establishment of the State of Israel until present times, we have needed a strong army to protect us, with God’s grace, from those who seek our destruction. Am Shalem sees the joint participation of all segments of society in bearing the burden of national defense as critical to our national success in Eretz Yisrael and will work to solve the problem in the following ways:
1) Requiring those who are exempt from IDF service by the State to serve in national or civil service for an equal period of time. Those who do so will be recognized as having served the State with the benefits that come from such recognition.
2) Work to increase and adjust existing programs for Haredi youth to serve in the army and dedicate resources to educating the Haredi population regarding the necessity of contributing its fair share to the nation through such service, a process which Rabbi Amsalem has already begun.
3) Establishing Yeshivot Hesder for Haredim to enable the combination of Torah studies and army service with sensitivity to the needs of the Haredi population. Rabbi Amsalem has already begun the process of establishing this option.
4) Ensuring that the State continues to view those select few who are completely and totally dedicated to Torah study as the elite of the nation and are supported comfortably by the nation. Their Torah study would be treated as their fulfillment of national service. This group will be chosen and monitored based on clear parameters.
Combating discrimination and racism
Am Shalem will combat discrimination of any kind with all means at its disposal and will confront and work to solve any revelation of racism. The movement has set a goal to establish legislation declaring the equality of human worth and equal opportunity for all citizens. Am Shalem will work to accomplish this in the following ways:
1) We will promote legislation to withhold funding from any institution suspected of discrimination. (Rabbi Amsalem earned the praise of the State Comptroller in his annual report as a person who “the Ministry of Education should learn from regarding how to deal with discrimination.”)
2) We will establish a hotline and an e-mail service to combat discrimination and racism. Attorneys will be available to provide free legal services to victims of discrimination. Rabbi Amsalem’s Knesset office is already engaged in dealing with complaints of these kinds and will continue to do so until this plague is removed from the State and our nation.
3) We will work towards enacting legislation to protect weaker populations from discrimination with a focus on improving the standing of the Ethiopian community.
A complete reshaping of the Chief Rabbinate
The Chief Rabbinate is controlled by extreme and anti-Zionist organizations. Am Shalem will work to establish a Rabbinate which exudes love of fellow Jews and the sharing of the beauty of Judaism to all Jews. Rabbinic and religious services must follow the path of Bet Hillel with a tolerant approach and a sensivity to the general public’s legitimate fears of religious coercion. Rabbi Amsalem has already demonstrated this approach in his Rabbinic positions for decades. This revolution will be carried out in the following ways:
1) The establishment of a state committee to define the role of the Chief Rabbi, city Rabbis, and neighborhood Rabbis.
2) The establishment of a committee to choose Rabbis similar to the committee to choose state judges. The committee will be comprised of both religious and secular people who will ensure that Rabbis will be chosen solely based on their qualifications and suitability for the position regardless of their political connections or their ethnic/family backgrounds. The committee will also arrange for local bodies of a similar makeup to choose the local Rabbis.
3) All Rabbis of cities and settlements will be subject to a set of uniform rules and laws like all other officials, with no distinctions made between different cities or the type of kippa worn by the Rabbi.
4) We will work to make a substantial change to the system regarding all religious services provided to all citizens. These changes will manifest themselves on three levels: a)Changing the halachic approach from the stringent one of today to the more lenient and tolerant spirit of Beit Hillel b)Changing the establishment’s approach towards religious services from one of distancing and hatefulness to a welcoming and loving approach. This will be reflected in the Rabbinate’s dealing with people in the areas of marriage, divorce, Mikveh, Kashrut, and burial. c)The Rabbinate will be evaluated measured based on the degree of satisfaction expressed by the recipients of its services. Grievnaces against individual Rabbis will be treated with the utmost seriousness
Solutions for the conversion crisis
Close to 400,000 immigrants who descend from Jews live in our midst today. They study in our schools, serve in the army, and take part in every fabric of Israeli life. Many of them want to join the Jewish people through conversion but have been prevented from doing so due to hostility from the Rabbinical establishment. This antagonism will lead to mass assimilation, civil marriages, and horrific polarization in the Jewish nation. Am Shalem intends to solve this problem in the following ways:
1) Implementing the halachic opinion of Rabbi Amsalem for the conversion of immigrants with Jewish roots based on his sefer, “Zera Yisrael” as the conversion policy of the State of Israel.
2) Establishing legislation to prevent any attempt to nullify conversions already performed. This concept goes against Jewish law and violates the civil and Jewish rights of all those who converted in Israel in accordance with the Chief Rabbinate. Rabbi Amsalem has already begun the process of establishing such a law.
3) As part of the revolution in the Chief Rabbinate, Am Shalem will establish a conversion framework which will provide halachic answers to those who come to convert and are from “zera yisrael.” Am Shalem will also build a database of people throughout the world who fit the category of “zera yisrael” to assist them with conversion questions and issues.
4) Establishing a national hotline and e-mail service to assist with conversion issues and the conversion process.
Am Shalem’s Potential
A poll carried out by a top polling company in Israel, “Maagar HaMochot” under the direction of Professor Yitzchak Katz revealed that if elections were held today, a movement led by MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem would win 6% of the votes and that up to 13% of voters say that voting for such a party is an option for them. This means that Am Shalem has the strong possibility of winning 5 seats in the next Knesset and a window of up to 15 seats!