Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas MK Eli Yishai, and PM Netanyahu 370.
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed his “profound grief” at the passing
Monday of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, calling him one of the “great halachic authorities
of our generation.”
Within minutes of the announcement of Yosef’s death,
Netanyahu – who a couple hours later visited Yosef’s family at the Shamgar
funeral home in Jerusalem – issued a statement expressing his deep sorrow, and
calling Yosef “among the greatest rabbis of our generation.”
was a giant in Torah and Halacha and a spiritual leader for tens of thousands,”
Netanyahu said. “He worked hard to enhance Jewish heritage, and at the same time
his rulings took into consideration the times and the realities of renewed life
in the State of Israel. He was imbued with a love of Torah and his people. I
very much appreciated his warm personality and his direct
Netanyahu said that he always learned “very much” from him in their meetings.
“The Jewish people
lost one of the sages of the generation,” Netanyahu said, sending condolences to
his family, students and “many devoted followers.”
Later in the day,
Netanyahu told reporters that he told Yosef’s sons that his death was a
tremendous loss to the Jewish people.
“When I think of the chain of
generations of scholars from Babylonia, to Spain, to Rabbi [Joseph] Karo, that
is Rav Ovadia’s legacy – another link in the chain of love and learning of Torah
throughout the generations,” he said.
President Shimon Peres, who was
among the last non-family visitors to Yosef in his final moments, kissed his
hand and his forehead, embraced his sons and offered words of comfort to other
Peres and Yosef had a very long and affectionate
relationship. Peres visited Yosef in his home every year to bring him personal
greetings for Rosh Hashana and Passover. He was the only person who dared to
slap the president in the face without fear of apprehension by the president’s
bodyguards. The face slapping, really a flip, was Yosef’s trademark way of
Peres was among the first to eulogize Yosef at
the funeral home soon after his passing and some three hours before the funeral
The president regarded Yosef not only as a treasured friend but
as his teacher and his rabbi.
Speaking about his final encounter with
Yosef, Peres said that his throat had been constricted with tears as he squeezed
“The hand that was still warm and I kissed his forehead
which to me looked more noble than ever. When I squeezed his hand, I felt that I
was squeezing the hand of history and when I kissed his forehead, I thought that
I was kissing the majesty of Israel,” he said.
Though Israel is a small
country, Peres observed, it has been blessed with people with giant minds and
hearts and Yosef was one such person.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan
Sharansky called Yosef one of the greatest rabbinic authorities who built the
nation of Israel in the Land of Israel. He said entire Jewish communities
returned to Israel thanks to Yosef’s rulings.
“His rulings on conversion
reflected first and foremost the importance of building the nation in an era of
ingathering the exiles,” Sharansky said.
On a visit of Knesset members to
Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked the delegation to
send condolences in the name of the Palestinian people to Yosef’s
Although Yosef had a history of criticizing Israeli politicians,
nearly all of them praised him on Monday, including Netanyahu, who Yosef called
a “blind goat;” Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who Yosef called a scoundrel; and
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, whose Bayit Yehudi party was called
a “house of goyim” by the rabbi.
“The religious-Zionist public and the
entire Jewish nation mourns the passing of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,” Bennett said in
a statement. “He blazed trails with wisdom and sensitivity and united people
with one another and Israel with the Creator. The rabbi was one of the greatest
spiritual leaders of our people this past generation.
He was a symbol of
halachic sensitivity and he had the privilege of making Halacha accessible to
the masses while being one of the leaders of the Jewish people for 70
Lapid said Yosef was “one of the molders of the Chief Rabbinate
in Israel and one of the great religious adjudicators,” and said his absence
leaves a great hole in the world of Torah.
Only former Meretz leader
Yossi Sarid, who Yosef called Haman and Amalek in 2000, had anything negative to
say about Yosef on the day of his death. Sarid derided the Jewish tradition of
not criticizing people after their death and referring to the recently deceased
“We don’t believe in saints, so it is all right to say other
things about him too,” Sarid said. “We won’t hold a party the way he said he
would after [former Meretz leader] Shulamit Aloni dies. We are not happy about
his death but we don’t forget and we don’t forgive.”