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August 25, 1989 - Image 38

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-08-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Israel Correspondent .

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el Aviv — Israel, which
has had more than its
share of religious skir-
mishing in recent years, is
now in the throes of a full
scale theological war. Pre-
vious controversies, such as
the "Who is a Jew?" issue,
pitted the secular majority
against the Orthodox minori-
ty. But this time the war is
between Orthodox rabbis; and
the issue over which they are
divided — the future of the
West Bank and Gaza — is at
the very heart of the national
political debate.
The first shot was fired by
former Sephardic Chief Rab-
bi Ovadia Yosef. Last month
Rabbi Yosef visited Egypt,
where he met with Husni
Mubarak. In that meeing,
Rabbi Yosef informed the
Egyptian president that, ac-
cording to Jewish law, it is
permissible, in fact obligatory,
to surrender parts of the land
of Israel in order to achieve
pikuach nefesh — the saving
of lives.
The Mubarak-Yosef meeting
sent shock waves through the
political community in Israel.
The reason: Ovadia Yosef is
no ordinary rabbi. Widely
acknowleged as one of the
greatest Talmudic scholars in
the world, he is also the un-
questioned spiritual leader
and political mentor of Shas,
an Orthodox Sephardic politi-
cal party with six members in
the Knesset.
Shas voters have tradition-
ally been hawkish; one recent
poll revealed that fully 40 per-
cent of them are former sup-
porters of the hardline Likud.
Until recently, they have been
seen as an integral part of the
right-wing coalition that
favors retaining the West
Bank and Gaza under any cir-
cumstances. But Rabbi
Yosef's views put him square-
ly in the dovish camp, along
with the Labor Party, which
favors a land-for-peace deal.
Given the rabbi's prestige and
influence over his party, it
now seems probable that, in
any parliamentary showdown
over the issue, the Shas Mem-
bers of Knesset would vote
with the left.
When the contents of Rab-
bi Yosef's meeting with
Mubarak were reported in
Israel, they caused an im-
mediate storm of protest.
Both of the current Chief Rab-
bis, who are aligned with the
hawkish National Religious
Party, took public issue with

Ovadia Yosef's interpretation
of Jewish law, and nationalist
politicians denounced him for
selling out to the enemy.
In the midst of this con-
troversy, Rabbi Yosef ap-
peared last week at a con-
ference at the Mercas HaRav
Institute in Jerusalem to ex-
plain his views. Mercaz
HaRav is a spawning ground
for the mostly Ashkenazi
Gush Emunim settlement

Rabbi Yosef:
Hawk to dove?

movement, and conference
organizers expected trouble.
But they needn't have
worried-. Rabbi Yosef's sup-
porters packed the hall, and
when he arrived, dressed in
the traditional robes of the
Sephardic Chief Rabbi and
accompanied by Labor's
Yitzhak Rabin, they burst
into chants of, "Long live our
master, our rabbi, our
teacher."
At Mercaz HaRav, Rabbi
Yosef stopped just short of is-
suing a formal Talmudic rul-
ing but he made it clear that,
in principle, he believes that
pikuach nefesh supercedes
the religious duty to retain
the West Bank and Gaza.
Some right-wing observers,
trying to put the best face on
his speech, argued that the
absence of a formal declara-
tion, coupled with Rabbi
Yosef's observation that, at
present there is no one on the
Arab side willing to negoti-
ate, constituted a retreat from
the position he expressed in
Egypt. But Tzvi Yakobson,
who serves as the unofficial
spokesman for Rabbi Yosef,
dismissed this idea. "I don't
agree that he backed down,"
he said. "The rabbi's speech
was sharp and had a clear
meaning . . . He said defini-
tively that,holding on to the
territories is almost forbidden

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