Sephardi Torah Guardians

   A political party established by individuals of Sephardic (see ORIENTAL JEWS) background who split from Agudat Israel and first contested the 1984 Knesset election. While ideologically close to Agudat Israel positions, the founders of this party perceived discrimination and consequently wished to get the funds, political jobs, and other forms of support of which they had felt deprived. Among the founders of the party was Rabbi Nissim Zeev, while Rabbi Yitzhak Haim Peretz was the leader of the Knesset list. SHAS formed a Council of Sages known as Moetzet Hachmei Hatorah, and its leadership was closely linked to the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef. It argued that the Torah was its platform and regarded itself as a movement of spiritual awakening.
   Despite a split in the party and the creation of Yahad Shivtei Yis-rael (Yishai), SHAS won six seats in the 1988 Knesset election to emerge as the third-largest party in the parliament and the largest of the religious parties. Rabbi Yosef resigned his position on the Supreme Rabbinical Court in order to campaign actively for SHAS. In the spring of 1990, five of the six SHAS members of the Knesset abstained in the vote of confidence that led to the ouster of the Yitzhak Shamir-led government. In June 1990, SHAS joined the newly established Likud-led government of Shamir. It won six seats in the 13th Knesset (1992) and agreed to join the coalition headed by Yitzhak Rabin. It subsequently left the government over disputes with cabinet members from Meretz and the left-wing of the Israel Labor Party over religious legislation; also contributing to SHAS's departure from the government was the criminal case against party leader Arye Deri on charges of fraud and corruption. Though no longer part of the coalition, SHAS continued to serve as a "safety net" for Rabin and Shimon Peres by abstaining from Knesset votes relating to the Middle East peace process. SHAS won 10 seats in the 14th Knesset (1996) and occupied 2 seats in the governing coalition headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.
   On matters of foreign policy and security policy, SHAS has traditionally taken a somewhat more accommodative line than the other ultra-Orthodox religious parties. Its longtime spiritual leader Rabbi Yosef has emphasized that pikuah nefesh — "the saving of human life"—takes precedence over all the other commandments in the Torah, including the retention of all of Eretz Israel. In terms of its domestic policy platform, SHAS advocates increased respect and representation for Sephardic Jews and the maximum incorporation of Jewish law (halacha) in Israeli daily life.
   Elections in the 1990s witnessed a significant increase in support for SHAS, even among non-Orthodox Sephardic Jews. Analysts attributed this to SHAS's deliberate strategy of defining itself as an "ethnic" political movement, as well as to the vast network of quality subsidized educational institutions and day-care centers it established, especially in poorer parts of the country. SHAS used its growing political influence to aggressively push successive governments for legislation affecting religious affairs generally and the "Who Is a Jew" question in particular.
   SHAS won 17 seats in the 17 May 1999 election to the Knesset, despite the 17 March 1999 conviction of party leader Deri. On 16 June 1999, Deri formally resigned as the political leader of SHAS, thereby opening the way for the party to join the coalition government named by Ehud Barak on 6 July 1999. However, SHAS subsequently left the government due to a dispute with Meretz. For a short while, it provided Barak with a Knesset "safety net" regarding his Camp David diplomatic initiatives of 2000-2001, but this was ultimately withdrawn as well.
   SHAS won 11 mandates in the 2003 election to the 16th Knesset (down from 17 in 1999) but was blocked from participating in the Ariel Sharon-led governing coalition by the anticlerical Shinui Party. It won 12 seats in the March 2006 election for the 17th Knesset and joined the government formed by Ehud Olmert in May 2006.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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