Political recriminations mar robing ceremony of Sephardi chief rabbi

Shas religious leader Rabbi Shalom Cohen launched verbal assault on Bayit Yehudi.

President Shimon Peres and Shas' Ovadia Yosef 370 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Shimon Peres and Shas' Ovadia Yosef 370
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
A verbal assault against the Bayit Yehudi party from senior Shas religious leader Rabbi Shalom Cohen marred the enrobing ceremony on Monday of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef at the Yohanan Ben Zakkai Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The grievance behind Cohen’s outburst was the Religious Services Ministry’s recent appointment of a woman to jointly chair a local religious council in Acre.
Speaking after Yosef was ceremonially enrobed, Cohen issued his broadside attack against Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan.
“Eli Ben-Dahan, I hope that your name Eli Ben-Dahan is better than deputy minister, [which] is not a title but rather like a pot that is soiled by children and that you then place on the head,” said Cohen, who is the dean of the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Old City and a member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages.
“Bayit Yehudi, do what would be respectful for the Rishon Lezion [Sephardi chief rabbi] and ensure that there will not be a woman chairing a religious council,” the rabbi said.
Interviewed later on Israel Radio, Ben- Dahan said that it was a shame that Cohen had chosen to spoil an otherwise beautiful ceremony by raising political concerns. What was even worse, he said, was that no one had intervened to stop him.
“I call on the rabbis who were sitting there to condemn the words of he who offended an entire community, which chooses time after time to take abuse and not the opposite,” said Ben-Dahan.
Back in July, Cohen created an uproar when he compared the national religious community to Amalek, a catchall label for an enemy of the Jewish people.
The Jerusalem Post understands that efforts were made by Shas insiders to prevent Cohen from making any inflammatory remarks at the event, seemingly to no avail.
Aside from Cohen’s controversial remarks, the ceremony passed smoothly.
The date for the event, the 12th day of the Hebrew calendar month of Tishrei, was deliberately chosen, because it marks the 93rd birthday of the chief rabbi’s father and Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who 40 years earlier was himself enrobed as Sephardi chief rabbi in the same ceremony and in the same synagogue.
The senior Yosef, who has been hospitalized several times in recent months, made a special effort to attend, and speaking in a cracked voice, blessed his son. Together with President Shimon Peres, he then helped him into his ceremonial robes and headdress that identify him as the Rishon Lezion.
Against the backdrop of the Yom Kippur War, the 40th anniversary of which is being commemorated this month, Peres spoke of the work that Ovadia Yosef had done in freeing agunot (women anchored in marriage) whose husbands were missing in action, and he called on the new chief rabbi to emulate the tradition established by his father to act on behalf of all Israelis without compromising Jewish law while simultaneously finding creative solutions for religious problems.
Peres and Ovadia Yosef arrived at the synagogue at the same time and met in the doorway where they embraced each other. It was an extremely emotional moment for Yosef to come and watch his son follow in his footsteps.
In congratulating Yosef on his birthday and wishing him good health, Peres said: “Continue to guide the people and to spread the words of Torah among your sages.”
Peres spoke of the rich religious heritage of the Jews of Iraq, from which the Yosef family stems, and of the genuine concern that Ovadia Yosef has for each and every Jew.
In reference to what Yosef had done for the agunot of the Yom Kippur War, Peres said that in recalling the war, the focus was mainly on heroism, the pain of bereavement, and the uncertainties about soldiers missing in action. It was no less important, he said, to remember what Ovadia Yosef had accomplished in releasing agunot who were wives of men missing in action so that they could continue with their lives.
Peres noted that at his swearing-in ceremony a few weeks ago, Yitzhak Yosef had dwelled on this point. Peres said that he hoped that Yitzhak Yosef would act in similar vein so that a halachic solution could be found to free every aguna.