Influential Israeli rabbi and political kingmaker Ovadia Yosef dies, aged 93
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, an Iraqi-born sage who turned an Israeli underclass of Sephardic Jews of Middle Eastern heritage into a powerful political force, died on Monday at the age of 93, plunging masses of followers into mourning.
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 traditional Sephardic Jews as their supreme religious leader.
Through the Shas (Sephardic Torah Guardians) party he founded in the early 1980s, Yosef, regal in his gold embroidered robes and a turban, wielded unique political influence from his modest apartment in Jerusalem.
His heavily Arabic-accented Hebrew may have been difficult to understand, but Shas members followed his political policy pronouncements and the Biblical scholar’s religious rulings as if they were divine commandments.
“I don’t want to describe what could, God forbid, happen (after Yosef’s death),” Shas legislator Arye Deri told Kol Barama, a religious radio station. “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?”
At its height, Shas – now in the opposition – held 17 of parliament’s 120 seats. For years, Yosef, as its leader, served as political kingmaker whose party could make or break Israeli coalition governments.
Read the full story here.