||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (September 2010)|
Ovadia Yosef, 2007
September 23, 1920 |
|Occupation||Rabbi, Talmudic scholar and recognized halakhic authority|
|Title||former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel|
|Political party||Spiritual leader of the Shas political party|
He currently serves as the spiritual leader of the Shas political party in the Israeli parliament. His halakhic responsa are highly regarded within Orthodox circles and are considered binding in many Mizrahi communities, among whom he is regarded as "the most important living halachic authority."
Early life 
Yosef was born in Baghdad, Iraq the day after Yom Kippur. In 1924, when he was four years old, he immigrated to Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine, with his family. As a teenager he studied at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva, where he advanced to the highest shiur taught by the rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Ezra Attiya.
A story retells how Attiya was instrumental in keeping the young Yosef in the Torah world. At one point, the diligent young scholar suddenly stopped coming to yeshiva for several days. Attiya paid a visit to his home and was shocked by the poverty he saw there. Yosef's father explained that he ran a small grocery and needed the boy to work for him. Attiya attempted to convince the father of the importance of Torah learning, to no avail. The next morning, when the father entered his store, he found Attiya standing there, wearing a work apron. The rosh yeshiva explained that he had come to the store early that morning when Yosef was opening up. He had told the youth that he had found a substitute worker who would work without pay, and sent him back to yeshiva. "You said that you needed someone to help and could not afford to pay. I am that someone. Your son's learning is more important than my time!" he told the father, who finally conceded and allowed his son to continue learning in yeshiva.
Yosef received rabbinic ordination at the age of 20. He became long-time friends with several members of his class who went on to prominent leadership positions in the Sephardi world, such as Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul, Rabbi Baruch Ben Haim, Rabbi Yehuda Moallem, and Rabbi Zion Levy.
Residing in Egypt 
In 1947, Yosef was invited to Cairo by Rabbi Aharon Choueka, the founder of yeshiva 'Ahavah VeAchvah', to teach in this yeshiva. Yosef also served, at the request of Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, as head of the Cairo beth din (rabbinical court). Yosef found that religious observance among both the Jewish community at large, and its leadership, including the local Rabbis, was lax. One of the major Halachic issues was the lack of any organised system of Kashrut, which led to conflict between him and other members of the community. Following these events Yosef resigned from his position, two years after having arrived in Cairo. Approximately one year after his resignation, he returned to what, in the meantime, had become Israel.
Return to Israel 
After returning to Israel, Yosef studied at midrash "Bnei Zion", then headed by Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank. He also served on the rabbinical court in Petah Tikva. His boldness as a posek was already revealed in his first term as a dayan when, at the age of 30, he wrote a Halachic ruling permitting Yibbum instead of Halitza which contradicted a religious ruling made by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel a year earlier which had forbidden Yibbum.
In 1951–1952 (תשי"ב by the Jewish calendar) he published his book on the laws of Pesach titled 'Chazon Ovadia.' The book won much praise and received the approval of, among others, the two Chief Rabbis of Israel at that time, Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel and Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog. Two years later he founded '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 1953-4 (תשי"ד) and 1955-6 (תשט"ז) he published the first two volumes of his major work 'Yabia Omer', which also received much praise.
Between 1958 and 1965 Yosef served as a dayan in the Jerusalem district Beth Din. 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.
Chief Rabbi of Israel 
In 1973 Yosef was elected the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel by a majority of 81 to 68 votes, replacing Yitzhak Nissim. His candidacy was criticised by some as he was competing against an incumbent Chief Rabbi. The election process was characterised by tension and political controversy because of the Psak Din of the Brother and Sister and tense relations between Yosef and Nissim. The tension between the two Rabbis began in the 1940s, when Yosef came out openly against the Halachic rulings of the Ben Ish Chai. In the same election, Rabbi Shlomo Goren was chosen as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel. The relationship between the two Rabbis was difficult. The Council of the Chief Rabbinate was controlled by Goren, and for some time Yosef decided that, as a consequence, there was no point in attending its sessions. During his years as Chief Rabbi, Yosef dealt with a variety of important social and Halachic issues (See: Halakhic Authority below).
Assassination attempt 
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[update] held on the suspicion of intended murder. One, 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.
Present day 
Yosef lives in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Nof. He remains 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. He has been referred to as the Posek HaDor ("Posek of the present Generation"), Gadol HaDor ("great/est (one of) the generation"), Maor Yisrael ("The Light of Israel") and Maran.
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. Yosef has two central projects, intertwined with each other, which are embodied in the slogan "Restoring the Crown to its Old State". The first, a Halakhic project, is an attempt to create a unified Halakhic codex subject to the rulings of Rabbi Yosef Karo. This project is essentially innovative, in that its attempt to unify the various Halakhic traditions in light of the rulings of Yosef Karo does not constitute a return to the traditionally accepted Sephardic approach (nor, indeed, to the traditional approach of the Jews of Baghdad, where Yosef was born). As part of this project Yosef aims to unify the minhagim of the various Jewish groups in Israel by calling upon them to relinquish minhagim and traditions (often rooted in the Kabbalah) which they practiced in the lands where they resided prior to their immigration to the Land of Israel. His second project, a social one, is to improve the status of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews in light of the hegemony of Ashkenazi Jews in the Torah world. This hegemony has somewhat diminished over the past few decades, in no small part because of his own political and religious activities.
On 13 January 2013 Yosef was released from hospital after a minor stroke.
Halakhic approach and worldview 
Meta-Halakha: Restoring the crown to its old state 
Yosef frequently makes use of the slogan "Restoring the Crown to its Old State" (להחזיר עטרה ליושנה) as a metaphor embodying both his social and halakhic agenda.
On a social level, it is widely viewed as a call to pursue a political agenda that will restore the pride of the Mizrahi Jews in Israeli society, which historically suffered from discrimination and were generally of a lower socio-economic status than their Ashkenazi counterparts.
From a halakhic perspective, the metaphor is more complex. It is widely agreed by Rabbis and secular researchers alike that the 'Crown' of the metaphor refers to the halakhic supremacy which Yosef attaches to the rulings of Rabbi Yosef Karo. According to Yosef's approach, Karo is crowned as the Mara D'atra of the Land of Israel, and thus all Jews living within his realm of authority should be bound by his rulings. Yosef says this explicitly and in very strong terms in Yalkut Yosef (note that 'Maran' refers to Rabbi Yosef Karo):
Even if a hundred acharonim disagree with him ... no teacher is permitted to rule with chumra contrary to Maran's instructions to rule leniently, even if many disagree with Maran ... and it is not even permitted to act with chumra where Maran has ruled leniently on the matter, since the rulings of Maran, who is the Mara D'Atra and we have received his instructions, were determined as Halakha to Moses at Sinai over which there is no dispute, and he who deviates right or left dishonours his teachers.
However, there remains some disagreement over who exactly Yosef considers to be bound by the rulings of Karo.
Rabbi Ratzon Arusi argues that Yosef distinguishes between his ideal and the reality. Ideally, all Jews of the Land of Israel should be bound by Karo's rulings, but practicality dictates that first all of the Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews should unite under them first. As Arusi puts it, "The unity of Israel is desirable, and shall be achieved by a unified system of halakhic ruling. A unified system of halakhic ruling will be achieved, in his opinion, by a consolidation around the tradition of the Land of Israel, which he thinks is the tradition of the Sephardim to rule as does Karo in the Shulchan Aruch. However the reality at this time is different. Every community retains its own traditions, and thus halakha should be ruled for each community according to its own tradition. However because he believes that there is a trend of Ashkenazi ruling dominating, he cries aloud to save and preserve the Sephardic system of ruling."
Tzvi Zohar argues that Yosef adopts a melting pot approach, in that he seeks to unify the traditions of all Jews in Israel, Sephardic and Ashkenazi alike. Zohar claims that Yosef's main distinction is not between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, but between the Land of Israel and the Diaspora. In his view, Yosef seeks to apply the rulings of Karo on the entire Land of Israel, but not necessarily outside of it. According to Zohar, this represents an anti-Diaspora and "anti-Colonialist" approach, since it seeks to strip the various immigrant communities of their traditions from their countries of origin and replace them with the custom of the Land of Israel, rather than importing and implanting foreign customs in Israel. He compares between Yosef and religious reformers such as Martin Luther and Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, and claims that Yosef has adopted a religious restorative-reformist worldview. Specifically, he argues that Yosef's halakhic approach is not, as Yosef attempts to portray it, a return to a traditional form of Sephardic ruling, but rather an innovative formulation of a particular Sephardic approach to Halakha which Yosef himself fashioned.
Rabbi Binyamin Lau disagrees with both of the preceding interpretations. According to Lau, Yosef claims that all Sephardic Jews accepted the rulings of Karo as binding in the Diaspora, but over time deviated from them. Presently, upon their return to the Land of Israel where Karo is the Mara D'atra, they should return to adhering to his rulings. Thus, Lau believes that Yosef directs his rulings only at Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, since the Ashkenazi Jews never accepted upon themselves the rulings of Karo. Lau views Yosef as operating on two fronts: the first against the Ashkenzi leadership which seeks to apply Ashkenazi rulings and customs to the Sephardim, and the second against the Sephardic and Mizrahi communities themselves, in demanding that they unite under the rulings of Karo.
In any case, it is agreed that alongside the conservative aspects of his approach to Halacha, there are also significant reforms: his preference for the rulings of Karo, and his preference for leniency over chumra. The fulfillment of his Halakhic vision has entailed significant clashes with his Ashkenazi counterparts. On his predecessors in the post of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Rabbinate, he wrote:
And I have heard that there are those who claim that since the Chief Rabbis of Tel Aviv-Jaffa who preceded me set a custom of ruling with chumra, the custom is not to be changed. And it is not true that I have been allowed space to express myself. And in any case it is known that the Rabbis who preceded me were subordinate to their Ashkenazi counterparts, the Gaon Rabbi Benzion Uziel Z"l was subordinate to the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook ZT"L ... and the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Toledano Z"l in his capacity as Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa could not even raise his head towards his colleague, may he be chosen for a good life, the Gaon Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman Shlit"a and to disagree with him on Halakha ... But I who am not subordinate, praise be to God, will stand on my guard to Restore the Crown to its Old State and instruct according to Maran whose instructions we have received.
Kocha D'hetera Adif (leniency) 
Yosef adopts the Talmudic dictum that "the power of leniency is greater." Therefore, one of his fundamental principles of halakhic ruling is that lenient rulings should be preferred over chumra. Yosef sees this as one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Sephardic approach to Halakha compared to the Ashkenazi approach. In one of his rulings, he quotes Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai as saying: "The Sephardim are seized by a measure of piety and therefore are lenient in the Halakha, and the Ashkenazim are seized by a measure of bravery and therefore they rule strictly." Yosef considers this principle an ideal, so that if "he is asked [a question] on a ritual-halakhic matter and succeeds in proving that a lenient position is a correct one from a halakhic standpoint, he sees this as a positive achievement."
In Yosef's opinion, the chumra of Ashkenazi poskim results from their method of teaching, and a lack of familiarity with the Mishna, Talmud and poskim. In a 1970 article Yosef wrote about Rabbi Jacob Saul Elyashar, he says:
But being that they [the Ashkenazim] are venerative in their teaching, they do not [bravely] rule halakha l'ma'ase ['practical halakha'], especially on matters of new developments or new technologies which create halakhic problems, it is far from them to be interested and express their view of Daat Torah... Our Rabbi the Gaon [ Jacob Saul Elyashar ] was among those few virtuous ones who took upon themselves this burden to resolve the actual problems of his time, and among them are some which are relevant to this day, and he did not avoid answering his questioner...
Yosef regards ruling with chumra as especially harmful in the current generation ("the generation of freedom and liberty"), since strict ruling might lead individuals not to comply with the Halakha. Writing in Yabia Omer, he says: "And truly the growth of chumrot leads to leniency in the body of the Torah."
Examples of lenient rulings 
Following this principle of leniency Yosef has made a number of Halakhic rulings which are significantly more lenient than those made by his Ashkenazi Haredi counterparts. Among them are:
- That it is permissible for boys and girls to study together up to the age of 9.
- That a married woman who covers her hair may expose one or two strands of hair from beneath the covering.
- That it is permissible for a female widow or divorcée to wear a wig as a head covering, despite prohibiting it for married women (see below).
- That it is permissible for unmarried women to leave their hair loose and untied.
The least of evils 
Yosef aims to encourage maximal observance of Mitzvot among as many Israelis as possible. In order to achieve this, "he is willing to follow a halakhic policy which, on the one hand, will minimize violations of the halakha, but on the other, concedes absolute adherence to the halakha." This is evident in a number of his rulings: providing kashrut certification to a restaurant that serves milk and meat; the slaughter of a chicken where there is a concern of it being trefa; and the wearing of pants among women.
Turning a blind eye 
Yosef applies a policy of turning a blind eye to deviations from the halakha in circumstances where, if strict adherence to the halakha were required, it is likely that it would not be followed at all. Examples of this include: the recital of the priestly benediction by Kohanim who do not have a religious lifestyle; and a shaliach tzibur or person performing a Torah reading who shaves.
Sinai Adif 
In the Talmudic debate over Sinai and Oker Harim, Yosef is of the opinion that Sinai is preferable. Specifically, he emphasizes that the Sephardic system of learning, which emphasizes Bkiut (extensive familiarity with the Talmud, Mishna and Poskim), is superior to the Ashkenazi system which relies on deep analysis employing pilpul. This preference is based upon his support for ruling halakha on practical contemporary issues rather than ruling halakha as a purely theoretical pursuit. In a eulogy he wrote for Rabbi Yaakov Adas, his teacher at Porat Yosef Yeshiva, he said:
The distinguished deceased who was our Teacher and Rabbi at Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Old City taught us to [learn halakha for practical purposes] and not engage in futile pilpulim which shall fade and be carried away by the wind. Regretfully there are Yeshivas where one who learns from Yoreh De'ah must hide in back rooms lest he be noticed and labelled an "idler" for learning a "psak" halakha, and the shame of a thief [will be upon him] if he is found and ... anger and disgrace [too].
According to Yosef, the preoccupation with Pilpul at the expense of Bkiut causes lack of knowledge among Ashkenazi poskim, which in turn leads to unnecessary chumra in making halakhic rulings, since the Posek is unaware of lenient Psikot and approaches to Halakha used by previous Rabbis upon which the Posek could rely to rule leniently.
Attitude towards kabbalah 
Yosef is sometimes willing to accept rulings which rely on the rulings of the Ari zal, provided that these do not contradict rulings by Karo. Nevertheless, in many cases he comes out strongly against the rulings, saying "we have no business with mysticism" and rejecting rulings based upon the Zohar and the Kabbalah more generally. This position is contrary to the traditional long-standing Sephardic approach to ruling Halakha, including many Sephardic poskim to this day. In contrast with the position of Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai, who wrote that "None may reply after the Ari" (that is, none may dispute the rulings of the Ari), Yosef argues that no special weight should be attached to the rulings of the Ari and the ordinary principles of Halakhic ruling should continue to apply. He writes:
As is written in the book Iggrot HaTanya in the name of the Gaon of Vilna who does not believe in the Kabbalah of the Ari in its entirety that it is wholly from the mouth of Elijah z"l, only a small portion is from the mouth of Elijah z"l, and the rest is from his great knowledge and it is not required to believe it ... and thus wrote Rabbi Chaim Volozhin in the foreword to his book ... and if so, why all this awe that we should put aside the words of all the Poskim and all of the laws [simply] because of the opinion of the Ari z"l?
Yosef's attitude towards the Kabbalah, the rulings of the Ari, and consequently the rulings of the Ben Ish Chai have been the cause of strong disagreements between him and Jewish immigrants from the Muslim world in Israel, especially the Jews of Iraq. The rulings of the Ben Ish Chai were at the heart of the disagreement between him and the Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Nissim and Mordechai Eliyahu.
Attitude towards minhag and traditions 
Yosef gives strong preference to the written word and does not attribute significant weight to minhagim and traditions which are not well anchored in the Halakha. For example, he has expressed opposition to two minhagim observed in the Synagogues of North African Jewry: standing during the reading of the Ten Commandments and the involvement of the congregation in certain parts of the prayer service. His attempts to change popular and deeply rooted traditions have led to opposition to his approach among some North African Rabbis.
Attitude towards the State of Israel and its citizens 
Yosef holds a Halakhically ambivalent view towards Zionism as the Atchalta D'geula (beginning of the redemption). Religious Zionists, in contrast, view Israel as the first flowering of the redemption. In a well-known Halakhic ruling regarding the saying of Hallel on Yom Haatzmaut, Yosef writes that although the Jewish people experienced a miracle with the establishment of the State of Israel, the miracle did not include all of the Jewish people and, therefore, Hallel should not be said with a blessing. Nevertheless, he writes that "If the congregation wishes to say Hallel without a blessing after the prayer service, they should not be prevented." Thus, Yosef's position can be seen as a middle ground between the Religious Zionists, among whom saying Hallel is compulsory, and the Ashkenazi Haredim, who do not say Hallel at all.
In a newspaper interview in which Shas was accused of being anti-Zionist, Yosef responded:
What is anti-Zionist? It is a lie, it is a term which they have concocted themselves. I served for ten years as a Chief Rabbi – a key public position in the State of Israel. In what way are we not Zionists? We pray for Zion, for Jerusalem and its inhabitants, for Israel and the Rabbis and their students. What is Zionist? By our understanding, a Zionist is a person who loves Zion and practices the commandment of settling the land. Whenever I am overseas I encourage Aliyah. In what way are they more Zionist than us?
In 2010, Yosef and Shas' Moetzet Chachamei HaTorah (Council of [Wise] Torah Sages) approved Shas' membership in the World Zionist Organisation, making Shas the first officially Zionist Haredi party in Israel.
Yeshiva students and military service 
Yosef regards the wars fought by the State of Israel as falling within the Halakhic classification of Milkhemet Mitzvah. Nevertheless, he encourages young students to remain in the Yeshivas rather than be drafted into the military, because "despite the sensitivity which Rabbi Yosef feels towards the Israel Defense Forces he is deeply rooted in the Rabbinic tradition of the Yeshivas in the Land of Israel, and holds their position which opposes the integration of Yeshiva students in the military." Rabbi Binyamin Lau makes a cautious distinction between Yosef's public rhetoric which presents a unified front with the Ashkenazi Haredim, and between internal discussions, where Yosef is said to be more receptive to solving the problem of integrating the Haredim into the military.
Yosef's grandson points out his grandfather's positive attitude towards the IDF, in that whenever the Torah Ark is opened Yosef blesses "mi sheberech" for IDF soldiers. Yosef's son, Rabbi Avraham Yosef, served in the IDF as a military Rabbi for 13 years.
Secular Israelis 
Yosef frequently refers to the present situation in Israeli and Jewish society as "the generation of freedom and liberty." By this, Yosef is referring to a modern reality of a Jewish community which is generally not committed to the Halakha, and where Rabbinic authority has lost its centrality. In this context, Yosef draws a distinction between those who are non-observant out of spite, and those who are non-observant in the sense of a weak or incomplete commitment to Halakha accompanied by a strong belief in God and the Torah:
And I knew clearly when I was in Egypt, that many of these people (who worked on Shabbat for their livelihood), when they leave work, are careful not to desecrate the Sabbath, and indeed do not smoke on the Sabbath and all that follows from that. And some of them pray on the Sabbath in the first minyan so as to get to their workplace on time, and in secret their soul would weep that they are forced to desecrate the Sabbath for their livelihood.
This latter kind of non-observant Jews are, in Israel, mainly Mizrahi Jews who practice aspects of Judaism as a tradition (known as Masortiyim, not to be confused with Conservative Judaism, which is sometimes called Masorti Judaism). Yosef seeks to bring this demographic closer to the Torah, while relying upon traditional Jewish sources for his rulings. Thus, for example, he has ruled that those who desecrate Sabbath are not considered as having abandoned the Torah, and thus if they have touched wine it remains Kosher. This sort of ruling differs from Ashkenazi Haredi rulings. Yosef actively aims to engage in Kiruv, while still strictly adhering to Halacha.
Yosef, however, is generally perceived by the Israeli media as not being as accepting of Jews who are entirely secular to the point of being anti-religious.
Israeli legal system 
Yosef is opposed to bringing civil actions in the Israeli courts because they decide outcomes by applying Israeli law rather than Halakha. His opposition is consistent with the position of the Ashkenazi Haredi Rabbis and some Religious Zionist Rabbis (e.g. Yaakov Ariel) as well. On this matter, Yosef has written:
And know that even though the legal authority vested by the government to decide cases is with the secular courts and the judges there are Jews, with all this it is clear that according to the law of our holy Torah – he who sues his friend in their courts commits a sin too great to bear, and he is as was decided by the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, that any who sues in their courts is evil and it is as though he has been spiteful and blasphemed and raised his hand against the Torah of Moses our Rabbi.
In matters of criminal law, however, Yosef is among the moderate Rabbinic voices who support the application of the rule dina d'malchuta dina ('the law of the land is the law'), and therefore it is forbidden to engage in criminal conduct such as tax fraud. It is only in civil matters that he forbids going to the Israeli courts.
In February 1999 Yosef caused a controversy by strongly criticizing the Supreme Court of Israel (citation needed):
These call themselves the Supreme Court? They're worthless. They should be put in a bottom court. They, for them [God] created all of the torments in the world. Everything that [the people of] Israel suffer from, is just for these evil people. Empty and reckless... What do they know? One of our children of 7–8 years knows better than they how to learn Torah. These are the people who have been put in the Supreme Court. Who chose them, who made them judges, but the Justice Minister, persecuter and enemy he liked them and he recommended that the President would appoint them as judges. What, were there elections? Who says that the nation wants such judges, such evil [ones]... They have no religion and no law. All of them have sex with Niddot. All of them desecrate the Sabbath. These will be our judges? Slaves rule over us.
Following these statements the Movement for Quality Government in Israel petitioned the Supreme Court of Israel, demanding that Yosef be put on trial. The Supreme Court dismissed the application, saying that the comments were within Yosef's right to freedom of speech. Nevertheless, then Supreme Court President Aharon Barak wrote in his judgment (citation needed):
The words of Rabbi Yosef are harsh. The content is hurtful. It harms the confidence of his followers in this court. Neither a gadol in the Torah nor a political leader [should] speak thus. This is not the message that a former dayan – who knows and understands the complexity of judicial work – needs to be sending to the community...
Political activity 
Government influence 
In 1990, Yosef used his position as Shas spiritual leader to pressure Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir into agreeing to hold negotiations with Arab states for a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Shamir, a member of the Likud Party, refused to make any commitments.
According to one biography of the rabbi, Ben Porat Yosef, the relationship between the two had never been comfortable because of Shamir's unstudious personality. As a way of gaining a character analysis of politicians, Yosef had invited both Shamir and Shimon Peres to learn Talmud with him. While Peres proved an engaging and fluid learner, Shamir was stoic toward the material, a trait that led Yosef to instead use one of Shamir's cabinet members, Housing and Construction Minister David Levy, as his key partner in dealing with the Likud. Levy had a relatively warm relationship with the rabbi due to his moderate approach to Israel's security and foreign affairs policies, his charismatic personality, and his connection with Sephardi traditions (Levy, a Moroccan, was the highest ranking Sephardi politician in the 1980s).
In 1990, Rav Yosef pulled Shas out of the coalition with the Likud and attempted to form a partnership with Peres's left-centre Labour Party. The bold move, engineered but opposed by Shas chairman Aryeh Deri, backfired when the highly respected Ashkenazi rosh yeshiva (dean) of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Rabbi Elazar Shach (who subsequently founded the Degel HaTorah party) fiercely commanded Yosef to return Shas to the coalition with the Likud. During this time, Yosef was severely criticised by other major members of the Haredi religious community in Israel, particular the Ashkenazic Jews who generally sided with the Likud and the right in opposition to the perceived secularist tendencies of Labour and the left.
The failure of the scheme, today called "the dirty trick", or maneuver, was responsible for Peres' downfall as leader of Labour, and his 1991 defeat in internal elections to former Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Since the 1980s, Yosef has approved the participation by Shas in most Israeli governments, except for the last two governments of Ariel Sharon since January 2003. In the last Knesset, Shas was one of the few parties to have been in the opposition for the duration of that Knesset's term, along with the leftist Meretz party and the Arab factions Ra'am (United Arab List), Hadash, and Balad. This was largely because of the rise of Shinui to the powerful third party position, a position that was previously held by Shas. Shinui demanded to create a government without Shas.
Cultural influence 
The spiritual leader of Shas. The man most identified with the honorific title maran. He has considerable political strength, mainly because he controls the Knesset members of Shas.
However, the key influence of Rabbi Yossef is in the arena of Judaism, specifically in halakha.
In addition, he has great influence in teaching and endowing of his halakhic way. Jewish prayers according to Yosef's verdicts are the most common in Sephardic synagogues, and his halakhic books gained circulation beyond compare. Almost no one disputes the fact he is a Torah phenomenon, one of a kind. Despite this, he is "field rabbi" and goes down to the common people with countless sermons.
Position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict 
Despite his controversial public comments, Yosef has long been a distinguished rabbinical authority advocating peace negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has done so since the late 1980s. His main justification is the halakhic principle of Pikuach Nefesh, in which all the Jewish commandments (excluding adultery, idolatry, and murder) are put on hold if a life is put in danger. Using an argument first articulated by the late American rabbinical leader Joseph Soloveitchik, Yosef claims that the Arab-Israeli conflict endangers human lives, thereby meeting the above criteria and overruling the priority of commandments pertaining to settling the land of Israel. Therefore, Israel is permitted — even obligated if saving lives is a definitive outcome — to make serious efforts to reach a peace settlement as well as to make arrangements to properly protect its citizens. Yosef first applied the Pikuach Nefesh principle to Israel's conflicts with its neighbors in 1979, when he ruled that this argument granted Israel authority to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Some claimed, however, that the ruling was also motivated by Yosef's desire to oppose his Ashkenazi colleague, Rabbi Shlomo Goren.
Using this precedent, Yosef instructed Shas to join Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's government coalition, and later that of Ehud Barak as well. However, Shas abstained on Oslo I and voted against the Oslo II agreement. Furthermore, as Oslo stalled and relations between Israelis and Palestinians began to deteriorate, and particularly following the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, Yosef and the party pulled "rightward", supporting the Likud.
In 2005, Yosef repeatedly condemned the Gaza Disengagement. He argued that he was opposed to any unilateral action that occurred outside the framework of a peace agreement. Yosef again cited the principle of Pikuach Nefesh, saying that empowering the Palestinians without a commitment to end terror would result in threatening Jewish lives, particularly in areas near Gaza in range of Qassam rocket attacks. In contrast to some of his rabbinical colleagues, such as Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, Yosef refused to entertain the idea of holding a referendum on the disengagement, and instructed his MKs to vote against the plan when it came up in the Knesset.
Yosef still maintains that Pikuach Nefesh applies to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and supports negotiations with the Palestinians. However, he no longer appears totally convinced that diplomacy with the present leadership can necessarily end the violence. Some media analysts had suggested that then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may have been able to convince the rabbi to sign on to further unilateral actions by the government if concerted efforts toward negotiation failed.
Yosef has protested strongly against demands by the United States and other foreign countries that Israel freeze construction in East Jerusalem, saying that "it's as if we are their slaves." Nevertheless, he has shown some flexibility on the issue and may take a pragmatic approach. In the wake of the diplomatic row between Israel and the US over Jewish housing in east Jerusalem, Yosef is reported to have said, in a private meeting with Shimon Peres, that "[i]t is not permissible to challenge the nations of the world or the ruling powers" and that Israel should agree to a partial building freeze in east Jerusalem, at least temporarily.
Yosef is generally considered one of the leading living halakhic authorities, particularly for Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews ("Maran").
Some of his more famous legal rulings include:
- That it is legitimate and permissible to give territory from the Land of Israel in order to achieve a genuine peace. When the Oslo Accords were followed by an intifada, this opinion was later retracted.
- Supports heter mechira during the Shmita year, following the Sephardic tradition.
- Ordered the Shas political party to vote in favour of a law recognizing brain death as death for legal purposes. The Ashkenazi Haredi political party United Torah Judaism voted against the law on instructions from their spiritual leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.
- A collective recognition of the Jewishness of the Beta Israel, after there was a suspicion that their conversion to Judaism was not in compliance with halakha.
- Allowing the wives of Israel Defense Forces soldiers who have been missing in action for a long time to remarry, a verdict which is known as "the releasure of agunot" (התרת עגונות).
- That a woman should not wear a wig (sheitel) as a form of head covering, but should wear headscarves instead. (According to Jewish Law, Jewish married women must cover their hair in public for reasons of modesty). Many Ashkenazi Jews have the practice of wearing sheitels, while some wear a covering on top of the sheitel.
Criticism and controversy 
Both during and after his term as Chief Rabbi, and continuing today, there is much criticism of Yosef. Critics have questioned his theodicy, his halakhic rulings, and actions as spiritual leader of Shas.
Some of Yosef's theodicy-related pronouncements have also been controversial. In 2000, he described the Holocaust as God's retribution against the reincarnated soul of Jewish sinners: "The six million Holocaust victims were reincarnations of the souls of sinners, people who transgressed and did all sorts of things that should not be done. They had been reincarnated in order to atone.". Shas chairman Eli Yishai said criticism of the rabbi is unjustified, explaining, "Rabbi Ovadia weeps for every Jew who is killed ... but nobody, not even a saint, has not sinned. Everyone dies in a state of sin. It's even stated that he declared that Hitler was a messenger sent to do God's work before the arrival of the Messiah."
There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn’t enough Torah study... Black people reside there [New Orleans]. Blacks will study the Torah? [God said], Let’s bring a tsunami and drown them... Hundreds of thousands remained homeless. Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God... Bush was behind the [expulsion of] Gush Katif, he encouraged Sharon to expel Gush Katif... We had 15,000 people expelled here [in Israel], and there [in America] 150,000 [were expelled]. It was God’s retribution... God does not short-change anyone.
Part of the controversy surrounding Yosef's comments was his use of the Hebrew word "Kushim" to refer to the black people of New Orleans which in biblical Hebrew refers to an ancient African people and in contemporary Hebrew is considered derogatory.
Halakhic rulings 
Breslov Hasidim have the custom of going on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman for Rosh Hashanah. Yosef has been highly critical of this practice, and has stated, "There are here [in Israel] the tombs of the greatest sages in the world. Holy Tannaim, amongst whom even the least will merit being resurrected. They leave and shame these Geonim by going to Uman."
In 1973, as Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, he ruled based on the Radbaz and other accounts, that the Ethiopian Beta Israel were Jews and should be brought to Israel. He was later joined by a number of other authorities who made similar rulings, including the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Shlomo Goren. Other notable poskim, from non-Zionist Ashkenazi circles, placed a halakhic safek (doubt) over the Jewishness of the Beta Israel. Such dissenting voices include Rabbis Elazar Shach, Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and Moshe Feinstein.
Remarks regarding gentiles 
In an October 2010 sermon, Yosef stated that "The sole purpose of non-Jews is to serve Jews". He said that Gentiles served a divine purpose: "Why are Gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat. That is why Gentiles were created." In the same article on the Jerusalem Post, according to the journalist who interviewed him, Yosef compared Gentiles to donkeys whose life has the sole purpose to serve the master: “In Israel, death has no dominion over them... With gentiles, it will be like any person – they need to die, but [God] will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money. This is his servant... That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew."
"Gentiles were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel."
The American Jewish Committee condemned Yosef's remarks, stating that "Rabbi Yosef’s remarks – suggesting outrageously that Jewish scripture asserts non-Jews exist to serve Jews – are abhorrent and an offense to human dignity and human equality [...] Judaism first taught the world that all individuals are created in the divine image, which helped form the basis of our moral code. A rabbi should be the first, not the last, to reflect that bedrock teaching of our tradition."  The remark was also condemned by the Anti-Defamation League.
Remarks regarding Arabs and Palestinians 
In 2001 Yosef was quoted as calling for the annihilation of Arabs, instructing his followers that "It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable." Yosef later said that his sermon was misquoted, that he was referring to annihilation of Islamic terrorism and not of all Arabs. He called for improving the living conditions of the Arab people in Israel, and said that he has deep respect for peace-seeking Arabs.
Israeli Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit condemned the sermon, saying: "A person of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's stature must refrain from acrid remarks such as these. (...) I suggest that we not learn from the ways of the Palestinians and speak in verbal blows like these." Salah Tarif, an Arab Israeli minister, also criticized Yosef, saying "his remarks add nothing but hatred".
Yosef drew criticism from the US State Department in August 2010 following a Saturday morning sermon in which he called for "all the nasty people who hate Israel, like Abu Mazen (Abbas), vanish from our world... May God strike them down with the plague along with all the nasty Palestinians who persecute Israel."
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said Yosef's statements were tantamount to a call for genocide against Palestinians and demanded a firm response from the Israeli government. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself and his government from the sermon, stating that Yosef's words "do not reflect my approach or the stand of the Israeli government." Sources in the rabbi's home reported that since the statements were made, the rabbi "was very sorry" and looked for a way of sending a conciliatory message to the Palestinians. Three weeks later, Yosef sent out a conciliatory message reiterating his old positions in support of the peace process. He wished the Palestinians and their leaders, “who are partners to this important [peace] process and want its success long days and years”. He continued, “The People of Israel are taught to seek peace, and three times daily pray for it. We wish for a sustainable peace with all our neighbors". He blessed "all the leaders and peoples, Egyptians Jordanians and Palestinians, who are partners to this important process and want its success, a process that will bring peace to our region and prevent bloodshed."
Published works 
Among Yosef's earliest works was a detailed commentary on the Ben Ish Chai titled Halikhot Olam. He was asked to finish the commentary Kaf Ha'Chaim by Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer after the author's death. Two sets of Yosef's responsa have been published, Yabbia Omer and Yechaveh Da'at (both titles are references to Psalm 19). His responsa are noted for citing almost every source regarding a specific topic and are often referred to simply as indices of rulings. There is also another series of books under the title of Chazon Ovadia (not to be mistaken with the original books which were responsa on Passover), which he has written laws concerning Shabbat, holidays and other topics.
Yosef has printed a commentary on the Mishnah tractate Pirkei Avot ("Ethics of the Fathers") under the title, Anaf Etz Avot; and Maor Israel, a commentary on various parts of the Talmud. His son, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, has published a widely-read codification of Yosef's rulings entitled Yalkut Yosef. Another son, Rabbi David Yosef, has printed various siddurim and liturgy according to Yosef's rulings, and another halachic compendium entitled Halachah Berurah.
Secondary works 
- Nitzan Chen and Anshel Pfeffer, Maran Ovadia Yosef: Habiografia (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: The Biography): Jerusalem 2004
- R. Benny Lau, Mimaran ad Maran: Mishnato ha-Hilkhatit shel ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef (From R. Yosef Karo to R. Ovadiah Yosef: The Halachic Teaching of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef): Tel Aviv 2005
- Zvi Aloush and Yossi Elituv, Hayyav, Mishnato u-Mahalkhav ha-Politiyim shel ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef (The Life, Teaching and Political Activities of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef): Or Yehudah 2004
- Mi-Yosef ad Yosef Lo Kam ke-Yosef (From Yosef to Yosef arose none like Yosef): review of all three books by Marc B. Shapiro
- Review of the Chen and Pfeffer book by Rabbi Benjamin Lau (Friday, October 1, 2004 Ha'aretz)
- Y. Choueka, Pirkei Hayim, a biography of Rabbi Aharon Choueka and his Yeshiva, Ahava VeAchva, in Minhat Aharon, Y. Choueka and Haym Sabato (Eds.), Jerusalem, 1980, 15–32. (Hebrew)
- Zion Zohar, Oriental Jewry Confronts Modernity-The Case of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, Modern Judaism – Volume 24, Number 2, May 2004, pp. 120–149.
- Marc Shapiro article
Health Issues 
On January 13, 2013 Ovadiah Yosef was hospitalized at Hadassah Medical Center after suffering what was believed to be a minor stroke. He had collapsed during Shacharis at his synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem and was having difficulty using his left hand. After he was seen by a physician in his home, it was determined that he had suffered a mild stroke and was transported to the hospital.
See also 
- The Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel is also known as the Rishon leZion. In a broad sense, and particularly for religious purposes, Sephardi Jews are those who use a Sephardic style of liturgy. In this broader sense, the term Sephardim includes most Mizrahi Jews.
- "Israel News | Online Israeli News Covering Israel & The Jewish World - JPost". Fr.jpost.com. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
- "Frand, Yissocher. "Internet Parsha Sheet on ''Vayechi''," December 23, 2004.". Retrieved 2012-06-06.
- Levy, David; Levy, Susan; Azrak, Sari (2010). "Harav Sion Levy, zt"l, Chief Rabbi of Panama – Part 1". Hamodia. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- Minhat Aharon, Y. Choueka and Haym Sabato (Eds.), Jerusalem, 1980, pp. 15–32.
- PFLP members held in plot to assassinate Rabbi Ovadia Yossef Haaretz April 18, 2005 (English)
- East J'lem man gets 12 years in jail for plotting to kill Shas spiritual leader by Haaretz December 15, 2005
- "INFLUENTIAL ISRAELI RABBI RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL". AP. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
- Lau, B: "From 'Maran' to 'Maran'" (Hebrew), page 14. Miskal – Yedioth Ahronoth Books and Chemed Books, 2005.
- Arusi, R: "The Clash of Laws in the Intercommunal Halakhic Ruling in Israel", Doctoral Thesis, Bar-Illan University.
- Zohar, T: Hairu Pnei Hamizrach (Hebrew), page 351. Hakibutz HaMeuhad.
- Lau, B: "From 'Maran' to 'Maran'". Miskal – Yedioth Ahronoth Books and Chemed Books, 2005.
- Yabia Omer 2, O.C. 25.
- Rabbi Schach – a man of wars and battles by Haaretz, 2001
- Yishai tells Peres: Rabbi Ovadia has decided to support you for president Haaretz, June 4, 2007
- Israel's most influential Rabbis by Maariv August 12, 2004 (Hebrew)
- Interpretations of Jewish Tradition on Democracy, Land and Peace by Jerusalem Letter/Viewpoints October 2, 2000
- Rav Ovadia Yossef. "Ceding Territory of the Land of Israel in Order to Save Lives", Tehumim Vol. 10, 1989
- Rav Ovadia Yossef. "Ceding Territory of the Land of Israel in Order to Save Lives", Crossroads: Halacha and the Modern World Vol. 3, 1990
- Shas: The Haredi-Dovish Image in a Changing Reality by Israel Studies Vol. 5, issue 2 2000
- Engaging Disengagement- Knesset Faction Positions on the Disengagement by the Jewish Agency
- Planning for Jerusalem in a Changing Political World by Foundation for Middle East Peace April 5, 2006
- "Rabbi Ovadia slams US: We're not their slaves - Israel Jewish Scene, Ynetnews". Ynetnews.com. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
- Archive: 4/22/2010 (2010-04-22). "Report; Rabbi Yosef Supports Jerusalem Freeze - Latest News Briefs". Israel National News. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
- Settlement Timeline, Foundation for Middle East Peace
- "Israeli rabbi stirs uproar by saying Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners". CNN.com. August 6, 2000.[dead link]
- "Rabbi tones down Holocaust slur". BBC News. August 7, 2000.
- Zvi Alush (September 7, 2005), Rabbi: Hurricane punishment for pullout], Ynetnews
- "Nature’s Wrath, Or God’s". The Jewish Week. September 16, 2005. Archived from the original on November 20, 2005.
- "Shas rabbi: Hurricane is Bush's punishment for pullout support". Haaretz. September 7, 2005.
- Avishai ben Chayim (August 20, 2007). "HaRav Ovadia Yossef: Do not visit the grave of Rebbe Nachman in Uman". Nrg Maariv.
- "The History of Ethiopian Jews". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
- Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 17, subject 48, page 105.
- Michael Ashkenazi, Alex Weingrod. Ethiopian Jews and Israel, Transaction Publishers, 1987, p. 30, footnote 4.
- Mandel, Jonah (October 18, 2010). "Yosef: Gentiles exist only to serve Jews". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved October 18, 2010.
- Haaretz, 2010 Oct. 20 "ADL Slams Shas Spiritual Leader for Saying Non-Jews 'Were Born to Serve Jews,'" http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/adl-slams-shas-spiritual-leader-for-saying-non-jews-were-born-to-serve-jews-1.320235
- Sephardi leader Yosef: Non-Jews exist to serve Jews, October 18, 2010
- ADL slams Shas spiritual leader for saying non-Jews 'were born to serve Jews'. Haaretz. 20.10.10
- On the Air, Palestinians Soften Tone on Israelis New York Times, December 15, 2004
- "ynet הרב עובדיה יוסף הבהיר לעיתונות הערבית את "נאום הנחשים" - חדשות". Ynet.co.il. 1995-06-20. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
- "ynet הראיון המלא עם הרב עובדיה יוסף - חדשות". Ynet.co.il. 1995-06-20. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
- "Israel rabbi calls for 'plague' on Mahmoud Abbas". BBC News. August 30, 2010.
- "PM pulls back from Yosef’s words". Jerusalem Post. August 29, 2010.
- Ovadia Yosef atones to Mubarak after declaring Palestinians should die By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz, 16.09.10
- Ovadia Yosef 'blesses' peace partners in letter By JONAH MANDEL Jerusalem Post, 09/16/2010 21:47
- "Israel Prize Official Site – Recipients in 1970 (in Hebrew)".
- גיא בניוביץ' (June 20, 1995). "הישראלי מספר 1: יצחק רבין – תרבות ובידור". Ynet. Retrieved July 10, 2011.
- "Chacham Ovadiah Yosef Hospitalized After Suffering Light Stroke". January 13, 2013. Unknown parameter
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Ovadia Yosef|
- Biography of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
- Maran – a website containing videos of sermons given by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
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- Rav Ovadia by Yehudah Mirsky: An overview of the life, career, and thought of the outsize rabbinic personality
- Time Magazine Overview of controversial Rabbi Yosef moments
- Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and his "Culture War" in Israel, from Middle East Review of International Affairs, 4:4, December 2000.
- Land vs. Life, from [Netivot Shalom], April 2003.
- Conquest of Land in Erez Yisrael, from [Mail.Jewish Mailing List], March 1993.
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|Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel