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Wednesday, October 09, 2013 

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 1920-2013

The spiritual leader of Shas, rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has passed away after illness and hospitalization at age 93. He certainly got quite a lot of people visiting his funeral too.

But while I offer my condolences for his passing, that doesn't mean I'm going to ignore any of the bad things he did during his career mixing up religion with politics...and leftism. Let's take what this writer at Bloomberg says about him as an example of why I found this man a colossal embarrassment:
Although he viewed the Israeli state with ambivalent engagement, Yosef was a harbinger of Israel’s epochal transformation from a secular nationalist Jewish state into a religious nationalist state -- in other words, a country much more like its Middle Eastern neighbors than it otherwise would be.
Is that some kind of an insult? Though there is a very legitimate argument to be made that Haredi customs do damage along with their useful idiots among secular males and females.
Yosef’s willingness to serve in the official governmental post of chief rabbi differentiated him from the European-origin, or Ashkenazi, leaders of ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel. Those men were either skeptical of the Zionist project or outright opposed to it, and traditionally believed that the Jewish people should not attempt to exercise political sovereignty until a supernatural messianic age brought it about. They viewed the state of Israel as secular and therefore illegitimate, and felt the chief rabbinate office gave a false religious patina to an essentially nonreligious polity.

In contrast, Yosef was willing to meet the state halfway: to insist that a truly legitimate Israel would be based on Jewish religion, not Jewish nationalism, while still engaging with the state’s political institutions. In one remarkable decision, he opined that it was prohibited for an observant Jew to initiate a lawsuit in Israel’s secular courts because their status was comparable to that of non-Jewish courts in the diaspora. Yet at the same time, he refused to call himself a non-Zionist, pointing to his service as chief rabbi.
I gotta wonder what the point is here. After all, Yosef wasn't all that different from his Ashkanazi counterparts of Haredi background, and he supported socialist concepts as much as they did, right down to opposition to army service. And even religious courts can be extremely corrupt, especially when they did whatever they could to prevent women from serving, something that's only now being overcome better. So I don't see what was so great about disapproving of litigation in secular courts.

Now, here's the money paragraph:
Most significantly, Yosef in the 1990s issued a highly controversial judgment that it was permissible as a matter of Jewish law for the state to exchange territory for peace with Palestinian negotiating counterparts. This ruling, far more lenient than that of other prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis who have considered the subject, captured Yosef’s distinctive mix of legal acumen and flexible statecraft.
And we all saw how that worked out, what with terrorist bombings that cost hundreds of lives, even 2 in my neighborhood. What he did was obscene to the victims, and he never actually apologized for his own role in any of that. Sure, he may not have actually met in person with vile filth like Arafat, but that he would approve of negotiating with monsters who belong in hell and do not deserve to be politicians was a betrayal of even his party's own voters and much of the public he supposedly supported.
In recent years, Shas has crept to the right in the Israeli political spectrum. But the real political legacy of Yosef’s career is that, by making a religious party into a mainstream, non-rejectionist national actor, he helped move Israeli political culture from secular nationalism to a more religiously-informed model. In a rough parallel to the rise of Islamic politics in Arabic-speaking countries, the politics of Jewish religion, not just Jewish nationalism, is now an enduring part of the Israeli landscape.
The analogy here is ludicrous, and a party that otherwise opposes army service and whose members say nasty things about communities that aren't Haredi is hardly what I'd call non-rejectionist or going to the right, even though these labels are ultimately meaningless. According to this op-ed, Yosef offered support during the 1970s for Ethiopian Jews, but his son David Yosef did not learn the same lesson, and again, Yosef's politics during the 90s were a betrayal of even the black community in this country.

And, 6 years ago, Yosef even said IDF soldiers die because they don't observe Shabbat, which is offensive because they were facing deadly jihadists, and how could they perform customs if they were in battle anyway? I'm sorry, but what he said was simply out of place.

Yosef's attack on rabbi David Stav, apparently because he's not Haredi and because he disliked his wish to make Judaism more welcoming for people who find Haredi-dominating beliefs alienating was another inexcusable error he made, and he never apologized for that either. Sure, I realize that Yosef was an old man and probably not in full control or understanding of his actions, but it's still no excuse for his irrational behavior.

A most appalling thing that's taken place now is that some of his followers have exploiting his funeral for attacking political rivals: during a condolence visit, deputy religious affairs minister rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan was attacked at the funeral. And David Yosef told Benjamin Netanyahu that drafting Haredis for the army hurt his father more than his ailments. For heaven's sake, is this the time to complain about politics they don't agree with? All they're doing is making themselves look exploitive.

Based on this, it's hard to appreciate a man who espoused beliefs that were harmful even to his own community, and otherwise did little or nothing to help the country.

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Good to read the biography of a man that has made hard efforts to make the story go real in form of comics and books.

Finn Felton

Kopi Luwak

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