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Shas    Definition

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Shas - (Hebrew) 1. Acronym for Shisha Sidrei Mishna - The standard book of six parts of the Mishna together with Talmudic commentaries that is supposed to be a feature of every Jewish home

2- The Israeli ultraorthodox (Haredi)  party under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Ovadia Yossef. This party appeals particularly to poor Jews of "Eastern" (Sephardic) origin. The name is supposedly an acronym for "Shomrei Torah Sephardim" Observant Sepharadim -  and is a play on the Shas acronym.

Details - 'Sephardi' Jews (Jews from Spain and Arab lands) did not have a separate orthodox or ultra-orthodox Jewish tradition, and Sephardic Jewish religious observance was usually less strict than Orthodox Ashkenazi (European)  Judaism. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and the riots and persecutions of Jews in Arab countries, massive numbers of Middle-Eastern Jews came to Israel as new immigrants. The Israeli leadership, consisting largely of secular Ashkenazic Jews, often viewed the religious lifestyles of their "oriental" cousins as another manifestation of the cultural primitiveness that would have to be shed as part of their integration into a modern Western society. Many of the immigrants were persuaded to abandon the religious traditions of their former diaspora communities.

During the first decades of Israeli statehood, North African religious Jews were absorbed into the established Ashkenazic bodies. They were usually educated in the State Religious School System. The main religious political movements, the Agudath Israel and the Mizrachi, had few Sephardim among their leadership.

By the mid-1970's the ethnic divisions between Ashkenazic and Sepharadic Israelis became a major social issue.

Considerable numbers of North African Jews were educated at yeshivoth affiliated with ultra-orthodox Eastern European Yeshivoth, adopting their typical dress and lifestyles. In particular, the Ponyvezh Lithuanian Yeshiva educated a great many of the current leaders of Shas.

Shas was formed  in 1984 due in part to the refusal of the Israeli government to extend the term of Sephardic chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and lack of Sephardi representation in  Agudath Israel's Council of Torah Sages, the party organization, and educational and social welfare institutions. The "Shas" party set up  its own Council of Torah Sages.

The first political leader of Shas was Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, who served as minister of interior in the National Unity Government until his protest resignation in 1987. He eventually left the Shas party. Peretz was famous for fundamentalist extremism. He blamed a bus accident in which 22 school children were killed, on incorrect mezuzot (amulets) affixed to the doors of the school. A Shas television election message insisted that "one old Sepharadi lady kissing a Torah book with a tear in her eye is worth more than 40 university professors who tell us we are descended from monkeys." 

A theocratic party, Shas depends heavily for policy direction on its patron, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph, and when he was alive, Rabbi Eliezer Shakh, former Ashkenazi head of the Council of Torah Sages. Rabbi Shakh sanctioned the formation of Shas. In the negotiations to form the National Unity Government in 1984, Shas outmaneuvered the NRP and gained the Ministry of Interior portfolio. As minister of interior, Rabbi Peretz was controversial as a result of his promoting religious fundamentalism in general and the narrow partisan interests of Shas in particular. However, the Ministry of the Interior has usually been a focal point of religious party patronage.

Unlike Agudat Israel, Shas is not anti-Zionist. It is far more anti-Arab than Agudat Israel, but at the same time is not averse to the peace process or to territorial concessions, provided these lead to peace and save lives. Shas politicians proved to be astute, seeking and gaining  increased representation for its adherents in all government bodies, in Zionist institutions, and in the Jewish Agency. Shas appeals primarily to Morrocan Jewish voters, but includes others, and has managed to get supporters in the Arab sector by supporting projects of interest to Israeli Arabs and local patronage. With each election, Shas gained in political popularity. Shas gained four Knesset seats in the 1984 elections and increased the size of its delegation to six in 1988. In the 1999 elections its influence peaked when it gained 17 seats in the Knesset. A change in the election laws eliminated direct election of the Prime Minister, and subsequently caused many Shas voters to turn to the Likud. Shas currently holds 11 seats in the Knesset.

Shas's popularity is due to several factors:

1- Astute political positioning and adroit maneuvering, particularly by former political whip Arieh Deri. Deri's political career came to an end however, when he was convicted of bribery. Deri and his supporters insisted that he was the victim of ethnic prejudice against Sephardic Jews. After serving several years in prison, Deri was commanded by the party and rabbinical authorities to restrict himself to Torah studies.

2- Shas positioned itself as the voice of the more or less disenfranchised residents of development towns, and of Jews of Moroccan origin in particular.

3- Unscrupulous election practices that include distributing amulets against the evil eye and rabbinical blessings  in return for promises to vote for Shas, and apparently, voting by deceased persons. In several Shas districts in 1999, over 100% of those registered participated in the elections.

4- A well-oiled political machine that can get the voters out on election day.

4-A network of charitable and educational institutions, including nurseries and other schools supported by government funds as well as private contributions.


Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: 

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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