(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rabbi Moshe Yosef, the youngest son of the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, issued a letter on Tuesday night backing Shas and its chairman Arye Deri, despite his poor relations with and long-term isolation from Deri and the party leadership.
The development constitutes a significant fillip to the electoral fortunes of the Shas party in its battle for legitimacy with its target audience against the Yahad party set up by former Shas chairman Eli Yishai.
The letter was dated in the Hebrew month of Tevet, spanning December and January this year, and was signed by both Moshe Yosef and his elder brother Rabbi David Yosef, a close friend of Deri and a member of the five-man Shas Council of Torah Sages.
“It is incumbent upon everyone to strengthen the life’s work of Maran [the title given to Ovadia Yosef], which is the Shas movement, headed by our friend Rabbi Arye Deri, which is the factory of all of his tremendous works, to increase the soldiers of Torah and to sanctify Heaven,” the letter reads.
“It is with complete certainty that it was the clear instructions of Maran to support and strengthen his movement, the glorious Shas movement, until his very last days,” it continues.
Moshe Yosef’s public support for Deri is surprising given the poor relations between the two and Moshe’s disengagement from the Shas leadership.
Moshe and his wife, Yehudit, lived with Ovadia Yosef in his Jerusalem home and were seen as the gatekeepers to his court and the figures with the most influence over the rabbi.
The sensational video that was leaked and aired back in December last year, in which Ovadia Yosef called Deri “an evil man” who was too independent and did not listen to his instructions, featured Moshe and Yehudit prominently and was likely made at their request.
Moshe and Yehudit can be seen during the video prodding the rabbi with questions about whether or not to bring back Deri to the party leadership after his enforced absence from politics due to his conviction and incarceration on bribery charges, to which his answer was an emphatic no.
In addition to the poor relations and mistrust between Moshe Yosef and the Shas leadership, several of Moshe’s siblings, including David Yosef, are contesting the will of their father who bequeathed almost his entire estate on Moshe alone.
The fact that Moshe Yosef published the letter of support for Shas gives Deri a significant boost over Yishai and Yahad, allowing him to more firmly claim that Shas is the true home of those who followed Ovadia Yosef and that the rabbi’s true and final wishes were to preserve the Shas movement as his political legacy.
Roi Lachmanovitz, a former Shas spokesman and a political commentator, acknowledged that the publication of the letter by Moshe Yosef was unexpected, but said that his decision back Deri and Shas publicly indicated a level of interest by him to take an active part in the Shas movement once again, and to “regain relevance” within the movement.