Ovadia Yosef again promises heavenly reward for votes

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef once again promised his devotees a heavenly reward if they vote for Shas, as the Sephardi haredi party kicked off its election campaign Wednesday evening in Jerusalem. Before a markedly youthful crowd of a few thousand, the usually house-bound 88-year-old rabbi, considered the most important living halachic authority for Sephardi Jewry, related what would happen when those who voted Shas died and stood before a heavenly tribunal. "'Straight into heaven,' they will say," predicted Yosef. "Because the heavenly merit of every synagogue, every mikveh [ritual bath], every yeshiva that Shas builds will be transferred to those who vote Shas." But it was Yosef's mortality, more than that of Shas's constituency, which featured in the rabbi's short appearance before he was whisked back to his nearby home. "We must protect our master's health," said Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, urging the boisterous crowd to calm down after giving Yosef a several-minute standing ovation. The crowd was asked to pray for the speedy recovery of Yosef, who has had heart problems and has no heir who can match the erudition, respect and sway over traditional Sephardi voters. Shas's official campaign slogan is the Hebrew version of US President-elect Barack Obama's "Yes, we can" victory speech. Like Obama, argue Shas campaigners, Yishai is dark-skinned and represents a group in Israeli society that suffered ethnic-based discrimination.