Haredi rabbi slams Smotrich for reducing soda tax

"These fools. This donkey is lowering the tax on sugary drinks. Moron. Our country is number one in diabetic amputations. Over 10% of the population."

 Rabbi Ben Zion Mutzafi. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Rabbi Ben Zion Mutzafi.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Noted ultra-Orthodox Rabbi and Sephardic halachic authority Ben-Zion Mutzafi came out strongly on Wednesday against Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich's plan to reduce taxes on soft drinks.

"These fools," he said. "This donkey is lowering the tax on sugary drinks. Moron. Our country is number one in diabetic amputations. Over 10% of the population."

Diabetes in the ultra-Orthodox community

Mutzafi's claims are only slightly exaggerated. As of 2019, 6.5% of Israel's population had a diabetes diagnosis, according to the Israel Health Ministry.

What is more, data from 2019 (which is currently the most up-to-date data publicly available) shows Israel leading the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in terms of lower limb amputations due to diabetes. 

A blood glucose test is done to check sugar levels in a Type 2 Diabetes patient (credit: DARRYL LEJA/NIH/FLICKR)A blood glucose test is done to check sugar levels in a Type 2 Diabetes patient (credit: DARRYL LEJA/NIH/FLICKR)

The consumption of high-sugar foods and subsequent development of Type-2 Diabetes is an issue that disproportionally affects the ultra-Orthodox population in Israel. Israel's Health Ministry in December 2021 revealed that ultra-Orthodox youth are 150% more likely to develop diabetes compared to their non-ultra-Orthodox counterparts, according to data from the Israeli Center for Disease Control.

The ultra-Orthodox population also purchases high-sugar food and drink at a much higher rate than the rest of the country.

"Among the ultra-Orthodox public, habits of the consumption of sweetened beverages, along with the consumption of sweets and snacks, is instilled as a "girsa deyankuta" (childhood teachings) starting from a young age, mostly in the form of rewards and reinforcement in the family setting, in preschools and in schools, and later in life in the various educational settings, in yeshivas, in kollels, on Sabbaths and holidays and also, alas, in memorial services," wrote the Health Ministry.

Mutzafi's other controversial statements 

Mutzafi is one of the heads of the Bnei Zion yeshiva in Jerusalem, which was originally founded in Baghdad, Iraq by his father Rabbi Salman Mutzafi. 

Mutzafi has made several statements in the last several years that sparked controversy both inside and outside of the haredi community. 

According to Israeli news website Kikar HaShabbat, whose target audience is ultra-Orthodox Jews, Mutzafi said in 2017 that it is forbidden to look at a 50 shekel bill because it contains the image of Shaul Tchernichovsky, who married a non-Jew.

In the summer of 2020 at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic Mutzafi stated that "whoever comes to synagogue without a mask is a murderer," according to Kikar HaShabbat.