Posted by: davidbancroft | October 25, 2013

A Jewish Sephardic leader dies – an Israeli ayatollah

Ovadia YosefMore than 700,000 Israelis, many rending their clothes, packed the streets of Jerusalem two weeks ago to mourn Ovadia Yosef (died October 7,2013), the ultra-Orthodox rabbi who once led Israel’s Sephardic Jews. Yosef, 93, founded the influential Shas party to speak for working-class Jews from the Middle East, who had less clout in Israel than Ashkenazi Jews from Europe. A polarizing figure, he paved the way for peace with Egypt by ruling that territorial concessions were permissible, yet he also denounced Muslims as “ugly” and “stupid,” and said Jews who died in the Holocaust were being punished for ancestral sins. Non-Jews, he said in a 2010 sermon, “were born only to serve us.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, a Bloomberg columnist, called Yosef “the Israeli Ayatollah.”  Goldberg went on to write:

In the manner of the crudest fundamentalists everywhere, Yosef blamed misfortune and death on apostasy, irreligiosity and homosexuality (gay people, in his eyes, were “completely evil”). About Israeli soldiers who fell in battle, Yosef once said, “Is it any wonder if, heaven forbid, soldiers are killed in a war? They don’t observe the Sabbath, they don’t observe the Torah, they don’t pray, they don’t put on phylacteries every day. Is it any wonder that they’re killed? It’s no wonder.” Even more famously, he blamed the deaths of Jews during the Holocaust on the spiritual deficiencies of their ancestors.

In 2005, he argued that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for the Gaza withdrawal and for the alleged godlessness of the black residents of New Orleans. “There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn’t enough Torah study,” he said. “Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God.” He went on to argue — if that’s the word for it — that the deaths were also punishment directed at President George W. Bush for pressuring Sharon to remove Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. “It was God’s retribution,” he said. “God does not short-change anyone.”

Sorry, no: Prejudice is prejudice, whether it comes from an imam in Qatar or from the man whose Jewish critics labeled him, correctly, the “Israeli ayatollah.”

David Bancroft

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