Monday, October 7, 2013

BD'H Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ZT"L

               BD'H Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ZT"L

As tens of thousands prayed for the recovery of the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Chaim Ovadia Yosef, he passed away on Monday, October 7, 2013, at the age of 93, with his family and close colleagues.

Hundreds of thousands of people from all religious backgrounds have converged on central Jerusalem for the Levaya of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. 

People davening in the kever before the burial during the Levaya of Rav Ovadiah Yosef

Rav Ovadiah Yosef  was a world recognized Talmudic scholar with a photographic memory, foremost halahic authority and master orator. He served as Sephardic Chief Rabbi (Rishon Letzion) of Israel from 1973-1983 and was the spiritual leader of the Shas political party, representing Sephardic Jews from Arab and Afro-Asian countries since founding the party in 1982. 
He was the undisputed leader of the Sephardi world. And he was a living encyclopedia of Torah knowledge that had few if any peers. This is pretty much acknowledged by all who knew him or studied is encyclopedic works. His achievements include publications of encyclopedic works of Halacha.

Rabbi Yosef’s halahic responsa are highly regarded within Orthodox circles and are considered binding in Mizrahi communities (those hailing from the Middle East, northern Africa and the Mediterranean), among whom he was regarded as “the most important living halahic authority.”
Although I disagreed with some of his positions on various issues which differed  from the positions of my own Rebbeim, it never lessened my profound respect for this great man. He was indeed a Gadol. He was from a previous generation of Gedolim the likes of which are rare in our days.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef was known for his prodigious memory, yet, apparently, not everything came easily to him. When a yungerman, who was learning Maseches Bava Kama, asked him for advice on how to remember his learning, Rav Ovadiah told him to open the Gemara to daf 77a, which has only two lines of Gemara and one long Tosafos which fills the rest of the page. Rav Ovadiah proceeded to recite the Tosafos word for word by heart. The yungerman was puzzled. How was this to impart to him the secret of retentive learning? Rav Ovadiah then revealed it to him.

“I learned this Tosafos 200 times!” he declared. “Now tell me, after doing that, is there any way I could not know it by heart?

One who constructs for himself a teivah of Torah and dedicates his life to its study and observance becomes blessed not only with unforgettable knowledge, but also with the dynamism, excellence, exuberance and leadership for which Rav Ovadiah has earned international and eternal fame as a beacon of light.

Thus, Rabbi Ovadia became the beloved leader of Israel's Jews of Middle Eastern origin. He would often utter harsh words at Israeli left-wing leaders. He also derided the religious Zionist party Habayit Hayehudi as a “house of Gentiles.” 
Rav Yosef was known for his strong views against drafting Yeshiva students to the Israeli army "Giyus Bnei Yeshivos". 

“We are surrounded by enemies and haters, but for these evil ones who hate Torah, it doesn't matter. All they are interested in is punishing us, the Hareidi yeshiva students. This is a terrible edict, we are in great trouble.The Torah is in danger, how will they be Torah scholars if they are drafted into the army? We will G-d forbid have to leave the Land, to travel to outside the Land of Israel, in order to ensure that the yeshiva students will be free to study. We are in great trouble, this is the time for each and every person to commit to vote for the parties that support the Torah."

At a symposium in Jerusalem in 1989, Rav Yosef proclaimed:

To hold or conquer territories in the Land of Israel by force is a sin.” The next year, he repeated this message on Israeli television, saying that if Israel could give back Arab-occupied land and thereby avoid war, “we are obliged to do so”. 

Rabbi Ovadia wrote in his book, “Yabia Omer,” that saving lives is more important than territorial claims.
 “If the heads and commanders of the army, together with the members of government, will determine that the matter would save lives...that there is an immediate danger of war...and if territories were returned them it would distance from us the danger of war and that there is a chance of a sustainable peace – it appears that according to all [religious authorities'] opinions it would be permissible to return territories from the Land of Israel for the purpose of achieving this goal.”
Rabbi Yosef was born in Baghdad, Iraq on September 23, 1920, the day after the Yom Kippur. In 1924, when he was four years old, he immigrated to Jerusalem with his family, then under British rule. As a teenager he studied at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva, where distinguished himself as a top student. Yosef’s father ran a small grocery, but the family knew times of poverty. He received rabbinic ordination at the early age of 20.
In 1947, Rabbi Yosef was invited to Cairo to teach in a yeshiva. He also served as head of the Cairo rabbinical court. He resigned from his position, two years after having arrived in Cairo. Approximately one year after his resignation, he returned to Israel.
After returning to Israel, Yosef served on the rabbinical court in Petah Tikva, where his bold religious authority was already being revealed.
In 1952 he published his first book, on the laws of Pesach titled ‘Chazon Ovadia.’ 
Two years later, Rabbi Yosef founded the ‘Or HaTorah’ Yeshiva for gifted Sephardic Yeshiva students. This Yeshiva, which did not remain open for long, was the first of many which he established, later with the help of his sons, in order to facilitate Torah education for Sephardic Jews and establish the leadership of the community for future generations. 
In 1954 and 1956 he published the first two volumes of his major work ‘Yabia Omer’. Rav Yosef’s responsa are noted for citing almost every source regarding a specific topic and are often referred to simply as indices of all previous rulings.
Between 1958 and 1965 Rav Yosef served as a magistrate in the Jerusalem district religious court. He was then appointed to the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Appeals in Jerusalem, eventually becoming the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1968, a position which he held until his election as Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel in 1973.
In 1973 Rabbi Yosef was elected the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel by a majority of 81 to 68 votes. His candidacy was criticized by some as he was competing against an incumbent Chief Rabbi. 
In April 2005, Israeli security services arrested three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who had been observing Yosef in public and were held on the suspicion of his intended murder. One of them, Musa Darwish, was convicted on December 15, 2005 of Yossef’s attempted murder and of throwing firebombs at vehicles on the Jerusalem-Ma’aleh Adumim road. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison and three years probation.
He remained an active public figure in political and religious life in his capacity as the spiritual leader of the Shas political party and through his regular sermons.
His health weakened over the past year. On January 13th 2013 Rabbi Yosef was released from hospital after a minor stroke. On September 24th 2013 he was reportedly put into an induced sleep and was being aided by a breathing respirator. He showed some signs of recovering, but finally succumbed to his illness.
Rabbi Yosef leaves a vast gap in his absence. As the official announcement was made, his fervent group of followers gathered at the hospital, breaking down in tears. One of the Shas rabbis related to Israeli press that following the former chief rabbi’s passing, he now feels “orphaned.”


  1. Rav Yosef was an iluy whose halachic rulings were at odds with his bombastic - and often disturbing - political pronouncements. I believe his frequent forays into political rhetoric hurt his standing as a Torah-leader in the short term. In the long term, those statements may pale in memory as his Torah endures. His rulings demonstrated a value of hesed and achdut and followed a lenient trend at variance with common hareidishe hashkafic chumro-fetishism. He re-introduced a more basic, often more reasonable, halakha in many cases before stating the normative piety-driven practice of the contemporary frum world. I did not share his Yosef Karo first in all cases position, and some of his rulings and statements make it clear he was behind the times (esp. vis-a-vis women and gentiles), but he was a rare mind and made some very important rulings. He was flawed, yes. But we are all flawed. It comes with being basar v'dam.

  2. Rav Yosef made some regrettable statements and held some political positions that were untenable. He was a victim of racism, and at times he had racist attitudes himself, partially a product of his clinging to mores of earlier times. (I do not know why people think that victims of racism cannot be racists themselves. We have no trouble believing that abuse victims can become abusers.) However, at the time of his death, it is not appropriate to focus on his negatives. We could certainly do that anyone. He was known to be a compassionate and accessible leader in his earlier years, and he fought for many victims of bigotry in Israel and helped establish a real place for Sephardim in the new Jewish world after the war.

    Notwithstanding, unless one believes he was totally and irredeemably evil, it is inappropriate to curse the man in his new grave. Save it for a documentary on his life, which might highlight fairly the good and the bad. I agree that the criticisms against Rav Yosef are valid, but he was far from the monster portrayed here.

  3. The evil propagated by the so-called "giants" of Judaism serves as an embarrassment to the entire Jewish people. He may be lionized by the ultra-orthodox, but these thoughts and pronouncements show nothing more than an evil, old, bitter and powerless individual.

    We need to forget him and wipe this thought process from our body. The ultra-orthodox need to be cleansed of these views.

  4. Apparently, there are about 850,000 Jews in Israel who are able to respect someone even though he said things that contradict politically correct rhetoric! The vast majority of whom, by the way, are not ultra-orthodox!

    A pity you guys are too closed-minded....


Comment Rules
1. No anonymous comments.
2. Use only one name or alias and stick with that.
3. Do not use anyone else's name or alias.
4. Try to argue using facts and logic.
5. Do not lie.

***Violation of these rules may lead to the violator's comments being edited or his future comments being banned.***