Shas mentor Yosef calls secular teachers 'asses'

Education Minister Tamir demands rabbi apologize for offensive remark.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 224.8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 224.8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The nation's secular school teachers are "asses" (hamorim) according to Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Yosef, considered the most important living halachic authority for Sephardi Jewry, also said that secular history classes were "just a bunch of nonsense from the nations of the world." Yosef's comments, made Saturday night in his weekly lecture broadcast via satellite TV to thousands of viewers, were part of Shas's larger election campaign call to revamp the nation's education system. "These poor children... are not to blame. The parents of those put in secular schools are to blame," said Yosef. The rabbi used the phrase "tinok shenishba," or "captive infant" - a halachic term that refers to a non-religious person who cannot be blamed for his lack of faith since he was born into a non-religious family and knows nothing else, just as a baby taken captive does not know his real family. "Over there [in secular schools], they do not keep Shabbat or the holidays. They don't know anything - [they are] ignoramuses," he said. "The teachers are asses. Teachers [morim] need to add to their name the letter het [which yields hamorim, or 'donkeys']." Yosef went on to say that it was important to speak with secular Jews in a civil, well-mannered fashion to bring them closer to their tradition and religion. He added that it was prohibited to insult them. Yosef's comment drew fire from a number of politicians, who took the opportunity to bash Shas. Education Minister Yuli Tamir on Sunday condemned Yosef's comments, saying, "Shas, which demands to receive the Education portfolio, is damaging the educational infrastructure on which the whole system is based." Tamir stressed that Yosef's statement was offensive to the teaching public in Israel and demanded the rabbi make "an immediate public apology for these ugly words." Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni also commented on the matter at a conference at Tel Aviv University. "I heard what Shas is saying about education, and they want the Education portfolio. I know what it will look like in their hands, and I say no. Some people would give it to them," said Livni, hinting at rumors that the Likud would be willing to give Shas the portfolio. "I wouldn't. Anyone who wants the education portfolio to be in Shas's hands shouldn't vote for me." Labor chairman Ehud Barak said in response, "There is no way not to condemn the statement against Israel's teachers. They are in charge of our most precious thing, the state's most precious assets, which is the education of the new generation, the education of young people. Any such reference is inappropriate and should be condemned and denounced." MK Zevulun Orlev, formerly of NU/NRP and now competing for the leadership of the new right-wing party Habayit Hayehudi, said that "Shas deserves the Education portfolio like United Torah Judaism deserves the Defense portfolio." According to Orlev, who once served as director-general of the Education Ministry, "anyone who dodges national and Zionist education cannot serve as education minister in the State of Israel, just like anyone preaching draft-dodging cannot serve as defense minister." Shas chairman Eli Yishai, however, shot back that "the people of Israel have not forgotten who began the destruction of the Jewish home, which Shas is fighting to fix to this day" - a reference to the Gaza disengagement plan, which was passed by a government coalition that included Orlev's party. In an attempt to explain Yosef's comments, Yishai said, "The education system has failed - drugs, crime - while by us [in Shas's haredi school system] there are none of those problems. And the level of education as determined by national testing criteria is higher. The rabbi's comments are a true and honest call to fight ignorance, intolerance and lack of respect toward parents."