Watchdog considers action after chief rabbi compares black people to monkeys

The National Anti-Racism Coordinator's Office is tasked with advancing efforts to prevent and stamp out racism from Israeli society.

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March 29, 2018 15:38
2 minute read.
Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef at the Western Wall. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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The anti-racism department of the Justice Ministry is considering disciplinary action against Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef for seemingly comparing black people to monkeys and using a pejorative term in Hebrew for black people.

The National Anti-Racism Coordinator’s Office in the Justice Ministry said on Thursday that it is considering administrative, disciplinary or even criminal steps against the chief rabbi.

Earlier this month, Yosef gave his weekly Torah lesson on various aspects of Jewish law, including unusual blessings said when encountering unusual situations.

“If you see an unusual person [or creature] you say [the blessing] ‘[He] who changes creation,’” said Yosef, adding, using the word pejorative term “kushi,” that if you see a black person, you say the same blessing.

Yosef then clarified the exact circumstances for saying this blessing.

“What type of black person? You don’t say the blessing for every black person. If you go to America you’ll see a black person every five minutes, do you say the blessing?” asked the chief rabbi with a grin.

“Rather, it needs to be a black person whose father and mother are white and he turned out black.”

He continued, “If you know [that the person’s [parents were white] and they got a monkey, they got this kind of child, then you say the blessing.”

The National Anti-Racism Coordinator’s Office is tasked with advancing efforts to prevent and stamp out racism from Israeli society, evaluating the need for legislation on the issue, and dealing with complaints of racism by government officials, public servants, members of the civil service and other employees of the public sector.

A spokesman for the department said it was unclear at this stage what steps might be taken against Yosef, but that disciplinary measures all the way to dismissal were a possibility.

Head of the department attorney Kobi Zana described Yosef’s comments as “extremely serious” and said they could constitute incitement to racial hatred.

Yosef’s office has responded to the furor over his comments by saying that the chief rabbi was merely citing a quotation from the Talmudic Tractate Blessings. The discussion in the Talmud Yosef’s office referred to uses the term “kushi” when discussing the blessing for seeing a person with a different skin color or physical condition, and then later in the same section says that the same blessing is used for seeing a monkey, an elephant and another type of primate.

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