Chairman Aryeh Deri
Founded 1984 (1984)
Headquarters Jerusalem
Ideology Populism[1]
Social democracy
Religious conservatism
Mizrahi interests
Religion Torah Judaism
International affiliation World Zionist Organization
Colours           Azure, white
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Election symbol
Politics of Israel
Political parties

Shas (Hebrew: ש״ס‎, an acronym for Shomrei Sfarad, lit. Sfarad's guards (of the Torah)) is an ultra-orthodox religious political party in Israel.[2] Founded in 1984 under the leadership of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former Israeli Sephardi chief rabbi, who remained its spiritual leader until his death in October 2013, it primarily represents the interests of Haredi Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.[3]

Originally a small ethnic political group, Shas is currently Israel's seventh largest party in the Knesset. Since 1984, it had almost always formed a part of the governing coalition, whether the ruling party was Labor or Likud. As of 2015, Shas members currently sit with Likud in the government.


  • History 1
  • Ideology 2
  • Controversies 3
  • Women's campaign 4
  • Knesset members 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Aryeh Deri, chairman of Shas

Shas was founded in 1984 prior to the elections to the eleventh Knesset in the same year, in protest over the small representation of Sephardim in the largely Ashkenazi Agudat Yisrael,[3] through the merger of regional lists established in 1983. It was originally known as Worldwide Sephardic Association of Torah Guardians (Hebrew: התאחדות הספרדים העולמית שומרי תורה‎, Hitahdut HaSfaradim HaOlamit Shomrei Torah). The party was formed under the leadership of former Israeli Chief Sephardi Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who established a four-member (including himself) Council of Torah Sages and remained the party's spiritual leader until his death. In founding the party, Yosef received strategic help and guidance from Rabbi Elazar Shach, leader of Israel's non-Hasidic Haredi Ashkenazi Jews.[4] Yosef founded the party in 1984 on the platform of a return to religion and as a counter to an establishment dominated by Ashkenazi Jews of European extraction.[5]

Political poster for Shas,
featuring Eli Yishai.

The majority of Shas voters are themselves not ultra-orthodox. Many of its voters are Modern Orthodox and 'traditional' Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, due to its alignment with the promotion of an 'authentic Middle Eastern' Israeli culture, which fits with traditional Zionist beliefs of a revival of authentic, non-Europeanized Jewish culture. However, it is still represents the Sephardi and Mizrahi Haredi Jewish sectors in the Knesset. Shas has at times been able to exert disproportionate influence by gaining control of the balance of power in the Knesset within the context of the traditionally narrow margin between Israel's large parties. Like its Labor Zionist counterparts (i.e. Labor and Meretz) that gain votes from the kibbutz movement, Shas gains votes and supports from moshavim that are inhabited by Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, either Orthodox or non-Orthodox. Also, since it became a member of World Zionist Organization, it gains votes from settlers in the West Bank.

Since 1999, the three cities where Shas garners the most votes are El'ad, Netivot and Yarka.

In the elections to the eleventh Knesset in 1984, Shas won four seats.[3] Following Aryeh Deri's conviction on corruption charges in 1999, Shas gained 17 seats in the 1999 elections, its strongest showing since its formation. Although 26 seats were projected for the following election had it run in 2001, instead Shas was reduced to 11 seats in the 2003 election because the two-ballot system was amended.

In the 2006 elections it gained one more seat after running what the BBC called "an aggressive campaign that targeted the neo-conservative economic policies of the previous government",[6] and joined Ehud Olmert's coalition government, alongside Kadima, Labor, Gil and between October 2006 and January 2008, Yisrael Beiteinu. In the government, Shas party leader Yishai was minister of industry, trade and labor, and deputy prime minister while Ariel Atias was minister of communications, and Meshulam Nahari and Yitzhak Cohen were ministers without portfolio.

Following the 2009 elections in which Shas won eleven seats, it joined Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government and held four cabinet posts. Eli Yishai, who led the party at that time, was one of four deputy prime ministers, and minister of internal affairs.

On 4 December 2011, Shas launched its United States affiliate, American Friends of Shas, based in Brooklyn.[7]

Shas won 11 seats in the 2013 elections,[8] but chose to form part of the Labor opposition to Netanyahu's new government. Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party and Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi, who had won more seats and joined the coalition, both favored conscription of the previously exempt Haredi men into Israel's national service and a reduction in state financial support for Haredi families, policies Shas opposes.

In December 2014, Eli Yishai left the Shas party, which he had led for more than a decade. He said he would lead a new party in the election scheduled for March 2015. His departure from Shas and Aryeh Deri did not come as a surprise.[9]


Ovadiah Yosef, spiritual leader of Shas

The stated purpose of the party is to "return the crown to the former glory", and to rectify what it sees as the "continued economic and social discrimination against the Sephardic population of Israel".[10] Focusing on the needs of Sephardic Orthodox Israelis, Shas established its own government-funded education system called MaAyan HaHinuch HaTorani, which became popular in poor Sephardic towns, increasing the party's popular support.[7] Shas advocates a state run according to Halakha, the Jewish religious law, and actively engages in the Baal teshuva movement, encouraging non-Orthodox Israelis of Sephardic and Mizrahi-Jewish heritage to adopt a Haredi Jewish lifestyle.

Shas is officially a Haredi social party, but it has participated in left-wing governments and is often willing to compromise on both religious and economic issues.[11]

At first, Shas followed a moderate policy on the