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October 10, 2013 - Image 66

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-10-10

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Obituaries from page 64

Israel's Longtime Sephardi Chief Rabbi Dies

Yehuda Shlezinger

I Israel HayomMNS.org

abbi Ovadia Yosef, former
chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel
and the spiritual leader of the
Orthodox Shas party, died Oct. 7, 2013,
at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in
Jerusalem of complications from multiple
organ failure. He was 93.
An estimated 850,000 people attended
his funeral the same day in Jerusalem.
Yosef suffered a mild stroke in January,
and his health had been steadily dete-
riorating since. He was hospitalized just
over two weeks ago with a host of medical
problems, including kidney and heart fail-
ure and sepsis.
The rabbi was renowned in the Jewish
world as one of its foremost talmudic
scholars and halachic (Jewish law) author-
ities. He penned dozens of books and was
awarded the 1955 Rabbi Kook Prize for
Religious Literature, as well as the 1970
Israel Prize for Religious Literature.
He was born Sept. 23, 1920, in Baghdad,
Iraq, and his family immigrated to


Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, right, shakes hands
with President Shimon Peres at a Sept.
16 ceremony during which his son,
Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, officially became
Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel.

Jerusalem in 1924. As a teenager, he
studied at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva. He was
ordained as a rabbi in 1940, at age 20.
Yosef and his wife, Margalit, were married
in 1944. She died in 1994, at age 67.
In 1947, Rabbi Aharon Choueka, the
founder of Yeshivat Ahavah Veachvah in
Cairo, invited Yosef to teach in his yeshi-
vah. Yosef returned to Israel in 1949 and
served on the Petach Tikvah Rabbinical


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Court. Between 1958 and 1965, he served
as a religious judge on the Jerusalem
Rabbinical Court. He was then appointed
to the Supreme Rabbinical Court of
Appeals in Jerusalem, eventually becom-
ing the chief Sephardi rabbi of Tel Aviv
in 1968, a position that he held until his
election as chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel
in 1973.
In April 2005, Israeli security services
uncovered a plot by the Popular Front for
the Liberation of Palestine terror group to
assassinate Yosef. Three men were arrest-
ed over the plot and one, Musa Darwish,
was convicted of the attempted murder of
the rabbi. He was sentenced to 12 years in
prison and three years' probation.
Yosef served as the spiritual leader of
the Shas party since its inception in 1982.
In 1984, when Shas was elected to the
Knesset for the first time, Yosef formed
the Council of Torah Sages, the body that
holds that top rabbinic authority in Shas.
Under his leadership, Shas became a piv-
otal player in Israeli politics and has cast
the deciding vote in numerous political

Yosef was responsible for several
breakthrough halachic rulings, including
allowing more than 1,000 women — the
wives of Israeli soldiers who were killed in
Israel's wars and declared military fatali-
ties whose resting places were unknown
— to remarry, in a decree known as "the
release of agunot"; declaring a collective
recognition of the Jewishness of Ethiopian
Jews, and, in more recent years, ordering
the Shas party to vote in favor of a law
recognizing brain death as death for legal
The rabbi was also no stranger to con-
troversy, often garnering media attention
for comments on nonreligious matters
on the public agenda. He often targeted
individuals whom he deemed perilous to
Judaism or those who criticized Shas.
Yosef also lashed out at the Israeli legal
system and urged the religious public
to refrain from using the services of the
courts in civil matters since they were
headed by judges he called "wicked and
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is survived by 10

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