Ultra-Orthodox rabbi and Am Shalem party chairman MK Haim Amsalem took his campaign to the bars of Tel Aviv on Wednesday, aiming to portray himself as somewhat of a progressive when it comes to issues regarding religion and the state.
The former Shas party member, who broke away to form his own Knesset faction after an internal party dispute in 2011, headed out to woo potential voters with his platform of tolerance, except for when it comes to gay Israelis.
As he joined revelers for drinks, Amsalem faced questions that probed his view, as a haredi man, on how to bridge the religious-secular divide that is a central issue of Israel culture and politics.
“There are people in Tel Aviv who want public transportation on Saturdays, and of course I am not pleased about that,” Amsalem told the crowds. “But I will fight to fulfill their wishes.”
When asked, however, what he thought of the inclusion of homosexuals in Israeli society, Amsalem responded plainly, “My position is that of the Torah. The Torah prohibits it.”
Amsalem admitted that he is obliged to adhere to a religious lifestyle, but that there are places where leniency can be applied, even though not everyone in the religious world may be interested in doing that.
“We are living in a democratic Jewish state,” he enthused. “We want to preserve the state as a Jewish state.”
The bar-hopping rabbi admitted that democracy and Judaism don’t always go together, but that the current status quo can be changed.
Revelers pointed out that, by allowing public transportation on Saturday, the state will encourage Jews to transgress biblical commandments.
“I see no reason to slip in through the back door and define things that they don’t want,” he said. “I think today the haredi leadership is quietly understanding that, but they don’t have the courage to do it… there is today, in my opinion, the basic understanding that, on Saturday, people can do what they want. We don’t want coerced Judaism.”