News / Middle East

Over 500,000 Attend Funeral of Revered Israeli Rabbi

Funeral of Rabbi Draws Half a Million People in Israeli
X
October 08, 2013 6:59 AM
The rabbi, who was the leader of the Sephardic Jewish community, died earlier on Monday at the age of 93.
Video by VOA: Funeral of Rabbi Draws Half a Million People in Israel
Reuters
More than half a million mourners turned out on Monday for the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, an Iraqi-born sage who transformed an Israeli underclass of Sephardic Jews of Middle East heritage into a powerful political force.
 
Jerusalem's police chief said the funeral for Yosef, who died earlier on Monday aged 93, was the biggest ever held in the holy city. Streets became a sea of black coats and hats as weeping ultra-Orthodox faithful in traditional garb honored a cleric they deemed their supreme spiritual leader.
 
The rush to pay homage to Yosef was so swift that traffic choked the main highway to Jerusalem and mourners abandoned their vehicles to continue on to the small cemetery by foot.
 
Dubbed 'Israel's Ayatollah' by critics who condemned many of his pronouncements as racist - he likened Palestinians to snakes and said God put gentiles on earth only to serve Jews - Yosef was revered by many Sephardic Jews.
 
Through the Shas (Hebrew acronym for Sephardic Torah Guardians) party he founded in the early 1980s, Yosef, regal in his gold embroidered robes and turban, also wielded unique political influence from his modest apartment in Jerusalem.
 
“The people of Israel lost one of the wisest of a generation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “Rabbi (Yosef) was a giant in Torah and Jewish law and a mentor to tens of thousands.”
 
Jerusalem district police chief Yossi Paryente estimated the crowds of mourners at more than 500,000 along the funeral route, which stretched from a high-tech industrial park to a religious Jewish neighborhood.
 
At its height, Shas - now in the opposition - held 17 of parliament's 120 seats. For years, Yosef as its leader served as a political kingmaker whose party could make or break Israeli coalition governments.
 
His political messages were sometimes mixed: he viewed the occupied West Bank, captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as part of the Biblical Land of Israel, but in a challenge to mainstream rabbis, he said it was permissible to cede land to prevent bloodshed.
 
Critical of Arabs
 
Although Shas served in governments that pursued peace talks with the Palestinians, Yosef voiced strong anti-Arab sentiments in sermons to devotees in Israel and abroad.
 
“Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world,” Yosef said in a sermon in 2010, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.”
 
Yosef also drew fire from Israelis when he once suggested that six million Jews had died in the Nazi Holocaust because they were reincarnated souls of sinners.
 
Abbas, meeting Israeli legislators in the West Bank after news of Yosef's death, asked them to convey his condolences to the rabbi's family, said a Reuters reporter who was present. Abbas resumed peace negotiations with Israel two months ago.
 
Yosef's heavily Arabic-accented Hebrew may have been difficult to understand, but Shas members followed his political policy pronouncements and the Biblical religious edicts as if they were divine commandments.
 
His major work, “Responsa, Yabia Omer”, is a 10-volume collection of his rulings on issues of Jewish law and customs.
 
Weaving a new social fabric in a Jewish state dominated by a so-called elite of Ashkenazim, or Jews of European descent, he oversaw the establishment of Shas-run religious schools and charities that drew a new generation into his rabbinical fold.
 
His soft-spoken cadre of young Sephardic Orthodox activists, nattily attired in black business suits and neckties, helped to reshape their community's self-image as an Israeli second class.
 
Outside his home, weeping seminary students tore their white shirts with a razor blade in a traditional sign of mourning.
 
“How will the world run without the sun? How will the world run without the moon? What will be of us? Who will lead us? Who will take his place?,” lamented Shas legislator Arye Deri.
 
Israel's ambulance service said its crews were busy treating people who fainted in synagogues and at Jerusalem's Western Wall, a Jewish holy site, after learning of Yosef's death.
 
Born in Baghdad, Yosef arrived in Jerusalem when he was four and was ordained as a rabbi at the age of 20. In 1947, a year before Israel's founding, Yosef went to Cairo, where he headed its rabbinical court and became Egypt's deputy chief rabbi.
 
In 1950, Yosef returned to Jerusalem, serving as a judge in religious courts that deal with family matters and divorce and served as Israel's chief Sephardic rabbi from 1973 to 1983, a post now held by his son Yitzhak, one of his 11 children.
 
Yosef had been in failing health in recent months. President Shimon Peres visited his bedside on Monday in Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital, joining a steady stream of Shas politicians and top rabbis.
 
Four rabbis have been mentioned as possible successors, but with Shas outside Netanyahu's government, their political influence is likely to be limited.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs