A very sad day in Jewish history

Over thirty years ago, I was listening to the radio in Israel, and was thunderstruck. People were ringing up with questions of halacha, and HaRav Ovadya Yosef ז’ל was answering in real-time. I was a young Yeshivah Bochur, who often simply struggled with a Tosfos, and this “machine” was speaking at a rate of knots, piling source after source after source into his sentences. I hadn’t even heard of half the Seforim he quoted, and Rav Ovadya didn’t just know of them or their opinions, but was quoting their sentences verbatim.

It was mesmerising. One could see his opinion unfolding in real-time, climaxing in a Psak Halacha, which he then often buttressed with more sources. Although he was a Sefardi Chacham, he would often say “אבל אחינו האשכנזים” and summarise how we (Ashkenazim) thought on the same issue, as opposed to Maran (the Beis Yosef and those who followed him).

I was so taken by the breadth of his Torah knowledge, that I just “had” to buy a copy of his first set of responsa (Yabia Omer) and later followed this with Yechave Daas. I loved reading responsa and was often exhilarated by the veritable encyclopaedic journey that Rav Ovadya led us on.

This was before the Bar Ilan CD came out. The Encylopaedia Talmudis still isn’t finished. For sciolists like me, though, the Teshuvos/Responsa constituted an incredible source of Torah that none of us would even remotely approach.

It is important to read the introduction to his Responsa. Based on tradition/Mesora, Chacham Ovadya followed a specific methodology. Some, mistakenly think (or perhaps this is one of those jokes I heard many times) that Rav Ovadya had 4000 opinions to say it was forbidden and then 10,000 that implied it was permitted and that’s how he came to his conclusions. This is overly simplistic, and is not respectful to such a genius and giant of Torah knowledge.

There is no doubt, in my mind, that we (Ashkenazim) created a situation (which could be described as racist) whereby we looked upon our brothers the Sefardim as “second-rate”. This was unfair. They didn’t emigrate from cultured Europe. They often came from third world Arab countries, and demonstrated many elements of that culture. Chacham Ovadya however, who was of Iraqi descent, and then went to Egypt (from memory) before coming to Israel, fought tooth and nail to lift the spirits of Sephardim and convince them that they were most certainly not second rate or second to anyone.

I remember the Sephardi taxi drivers back in those days. Unlike the “emancipated” Ashkenazim, these drivers were able to literally repeat Tanach off by heart. There was an Emunas Chachamim and Kavod HaTorah which was palpable, even among those who were less observant. One can still see this today, in my opinion.

This situation gave birth to the Sefardim seeking their own political party (Shas) and again I blame mainly ourselves (Ashkenazim) for this phenomenon. There was no reason to have a split in party politics just because of colour or because we follow the Ramah and they follow the Beis Yosef.

I am sure that Chacham Ovadya would have preferred not to be part of the politics, behind the scenes, but if not him, who would they turn to?

He was not swayed by the prestige of those who disagreed with his rulings. For instance, he was most often aligned with those who were in favour of “land for peace”. Jewish life was most sacred in his determinations. Sure, there was a judgement call, but he was entitled to that call. There is no doubt, this is what endeared him to even people like Shimon Peres.

Later in life, he changed his view. He did not trust Palestinian Arab intentions with respect to peace. Certainly he made some comments which were not “diplomatic” and unnecessary. I believe I blogged about some of these in the past.

Now that he left our world, a huge void is left. A giant of Torah learning has departed.

חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין

RCA position on Chacham Ovadya’s statement

I had pitputted on this topic 2 weeks ago, when it arose, and I’m pleased that the RCA has adopted a similar view, as reported by Kobi Nachshoni in Yediot. [Hat tip DS]

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) is standing by Rabbi David Stav and slamming Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who called him “evil.”

In a letter published Monday night, the organization’s leaders, on behalf of more than 1,000 members, expressed their “encouragement and support” for the moderate chief rabbi candidate, while harshly criticizing Shas’ spiritual leader for lashing out at him during his weekly sermon on Saturday night.

“We trembled upon hearing the terrible things Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in regards to his honor,” RCA President Shmuel Goldin and Vice President Leonard Matanky wrote in Hebrew to Rabbi Stav, “and also when we heard of the events in Bnei Brak at the wedding of the daughter of Rabbi Rabinowitz,” referring to a verbal and physical assault on Stav by ultra-Orthodox teens Sunday evening.

This is the most significant support Stav has received so far following the attacks against him, as the RCA is the largest organization of Orthodox rabbis in America.

‘Woe to his rabbi who taught him Torah’

The letter praised Rabbi Stav, quoting Chazal (our Sages of Blessed Memory): “Look at how pleasant his ways are, how proper his deeds are.”

Yet in regards to Rabbi Yosef, the US rabbis quoted contradicting statements: “Is this Torah and are these its scholars? Woe to so-and-so who learned Torah, woe to his father who taught him Torah, woe to his rabbi who taught him Torah. So-and-so who learned Torah—look at how destructive his deeds are, and how ugly his ways are.”

They concluded by telling Stav that they were grateful for everything he had done “for the good of all the people of Israel, the Land of Israel and the State of Israel.” They said they expected to work with him for many years “to expand and glorify the Torah, and to bring hearts closer to our Father in Heaven.”

During his weekly sermon on Saturday night, Rabbi Yosef said that Stav, chairman of the national-religious rabbinical association Tzohar, was “an evil man” and that appointing him to the Chief Rabbinate was like bringing idolatry into the Temple.

“I don’t know Stav, I don’t know this man, I haven’t seen him, but all his friends the National Religious Party leaders come to me and say: ‘Beware, this man is a danger to Judaism…’ People in his party testified that this man is a danger to Judaism, a danger to the Rabbinate, a danger to Torah – and I should keep silent? They want to make him a chief rabbi? This man unworthy of anything! Can they do such a thing?”

The Tzohar rabbinical association issued a statement a harsh statement in response, referring to Rabbi Yosef’s remarks as “incitement” and calling on him to “repent and ask for forgiveness after humiliating a person in public.”

Prominent religious-Zionist Rabbi Chaim Druckman told Ynet that Rabbi Yosef had gone too far and that he was “extremely shocked by the blatant remarks” against Rabbi Stav.

Attack during wedding

The battle against Rabbi Stav escalated on Sunday evening when he was attacked during the wedding of Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz’s daughter.

Rabbi Stav arrived at the wedding and was even seated on the dignitaries’ stage alongside other rabbis, but when he got up to join the dancing circle, several haredi teens tried to get him to trip and kept swearing at him, calling him “evil” and “abomination.”

When he turned to leave the banquet hall they continued to harass him, shoving him and splashing water.

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman, whose faction announced its support for Rabbi Stav as chief rabbi, said in response to the attack: “We expect a spiritual leadership, regardless of its outlook, to condemn decisively – and certainly not encourage – harm caused to a another religious leader.”

According to Lieberman, “It’s a shame that as part of a political race, and certainly for the position of chief rabbi, there are those leading the public to such dark corners. The Torah has 70 faces, and not a single one of them is of violence and incitement by one rabbi against another rabbi.”

Chacham Ovadya, Efshar Livrurei!

I read some disturbing words allegedly by Chacham Ovadya in his weekly sermon. His sermons have been controversial, however, when he makes statements based on hearsay, statements of a serious nature which seem to allege that Rav Stav, one of the candidates for Chief Rabbi, is evil, then I look to try to understand.

Unfortunately, I have failed to understand, even in the context of a politically charged atmosphere influencing these words.

  1. If you really care, and you are worried about the future leadership of the State from a Rabbinic perspective, and you hear that a candidate is God forbid “Not God-fearing“, then find out for yourself. Before you go off demonising such a person further, why not invite Rav Stav over for an hour’s shmuess. See what you can discern with your own very learned brain.
  2. If the criteria for a Rabbi being unacceptable is that “even” the “seculars” like him, then I’m afraid this is nothing more than that incredible Chillul Hashem that those who were opposed to Rav Kook ז’ל are guilty of. Au contraire, if the not yet frum, like a proposed Chief Rabbi, and he is (which he is) a Yorei Shomayim who has respect for Mesora etc this is the biggest positive that one can imagine in our Rabbi-spited society, where websites (such as Scott Rosenberg’s horrid site) specialise in minutely extracting every single foible or worse committed by a frum person and highlighting them in bold to besmirch Yahadus as a primary aim.

A symptom of one of the things very wrong with our society is the speed with which we condemn without checking further; public comments that should be carefully considered by a Manhig of the status as Chacham Ovadya; and the dreaded power of Askanim—the political appartchiks—both Ashkenazi and Sefardi, who relish feeding exaggerated fodder to enrage Manhigim and mislead them. The latter are quite literally infracting “Lo Siten Michshol” …. don’t put a stumbling block before the blind.

All that aside, an authentic Manhig, will not allow themselves to be swayed by politically charged, second-hand, exaggerated information.

Invite him over for a cup of tea!

פוק חזי