Rabbi Shalom Cohen..
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Shalom Cohen, who is renowned for his divisive and controversial comments, has once again caused consternation over his outspoken views when he called Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikva,” a “stupid song.”
Speaking at a Shas campaign rally in Netivot on Sunday, Cohen disparaged those who sing the anthem when he spoke of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the late legendary rabbinic leader of Shas. Cohen was describing the appointment ceremony of former Sephardi chief rabbi Yitzhak Nissim in 1955, which he attended along with Yosef.
“At the end of the ceremony they began to sing “kol od be’levav [the beginning words of “Hatikva”],” Cohen said. “I thought to myself ‘they’re mad.’ I didn’t stand, everyone stood up like it was the aleinu le’shabayach [prayer] but the rabbi [Yosef] also stood.
“I asked the rabbi ‘why did you stand up?’ He said, ‘I said the aleinu le’shabayach prayer.’ Why did he say aleinu le’shabayach? He didn’t want this stupid song to influence us at all,” said Cohen.
Large parts of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world have a long-held animus toward the Israeli national anthem. The words “to be a free nation in our land” that appear in the anthem are generally scorned by the haredi community, who see themselves as servants of God. It is commonly believed in the ultra-Orthodox community that the meaning behind the words “free nation” is free of the religious commandments of the Torah.
“The haredi world is of the opinion that it is intolerable that the national anthem of the Jewish state declares that the hope of the Jewish people is to be a free people,” said Shahar Ilan, the deputy director of the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group.
Ilan said that the haredi world is also dismissive of the author of “Hatikva,” Naphtali Herz Imber, specifically for his alcoholism.
Cohen was distorting the actions of Yosef on the day of the anointment ceremony, Ilan said, since Yosef stood up so as not cause offence.
Cohen has a long record of vitriolic and antagonistic statements. During last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, Cohen said at a prayer rally for IDF soldiers that the Jewish people do not need an army. “Do you think the people of Israel need an army?” Cohen asked. “It is God almighty who fights for Israel.”
In response to Sunday’s outburst, Shas defended the rabbi and said that “no one can lecture Rabbi Shalom Cohen, who lived all his years within the walls of Jerusalem, what Zionism is and what the relationship is with the Land of Israel.”
“It is the right and obligation of Rabbi Shalom Cohen to think that the sources of the Torah of Israel, which escorted the Jewish people across thousands of years and speaks of the yearning for and the return to Zion, are preferable 10 times over to a song that was created in the last few decades,” an official Shas party response said in reference to “Hatikva.” The song was actually written down in its final form by Imber some 138 years ago.