Ovadia Yosef attacks maverick Amnon Yitzhak

Shas spiritual leader for the first time, publicly criticizes Rabbi Yitzhak for establishing his own political party.

Ovadia Yosef Shas campaign launch 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Ovadia Yosef Shas campaign launch 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
For the first time Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has openly and publicly criticized Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak for establishing his own political party, which will be contesting the upcoming election.
Yitzhak is a well-known haredi outreach preacher who seeks to “return” secular Israelis, especially Sephardim, to Orthodox Judaism, and Shas is concerned that Yitzhak’s Hakoah Lehashpia party will divert votes away from it.
Speaking on Saturday night in his weekly Torah lesson, Yosef accused Yitzhak of seeking to “perform a commandment through transgressing,” by running in the election.
“Instead of him [Yitzhak] helping us, he is going down a separate path, he’s splitting from us,” Yosef said.
The Shas leader also argued that Yitzhak was defying the wishes of senior haredi rabbis in the country who have also publicly opposed the establishment of Hakoah Lehashpia “‘Adhere closely to the sages,’ these are the words of our rabbis,” Yosef said in reference to Yitzhak.
Although recent opinion polls do not see Hakoah Lehashpia passing the electoral threshold to get into the Knesset, a Haaretz poll published on Wednesday had Yitzhak’s party gaining 1 percent of the vote. The threshold for entry is 2%.
“People thinking about voting for Yitzhak come from the pool of potential Shas voters,” a Shas party official said.
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Click for full JPost coverage
“This is why Rabbi Ovadia has come out openly against him because even though Yitzhak’s party will not make it into the Knesset he may divert enough votes from Shas to cause us to lose a seat.”
Rabbi Shalom Cohen, a member of Shas’s rabbinical decision-making body the Council of Torah Sages and dean of the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, spoke before Yosef, and stridently attacked Yitzhak’s actions.
“He is losing his [place] in the world [to come],” Cohen said. “The one who brings people to repent is now himself in need of someone to bring him to repent.”
In response to rabbinical attacks on the establishment of his party, Yitzhak claimed that Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the spiritual leader of Ashkenazi haredi Jewry, had lent him his support.
In a meeting between Shteinman and Cohen on Thursday, however, Shteinman categorically denied any connection to Yitzhak’s political venture, and assured Cohen that the only party he is backing is United Torah Judaism.
The meeting was recorded in audio and the recording was published on Sunday by haredi news website Kikar Hashabbat.
Yitzhak’s formation of Hakoah Lehashpia has angered the Shas political and spiritual leadership, due to what is seen as a critical time for haredi issues and the religious status quo, which is coming under increasing threat from the mainstream parties and electorate.
On Friday, Rabbi Yosef also addressed the issue of military service for yeshiva students, and reiterated his fierce opposition to drafting them into the army.
“If they draft yeshiva students we will need to leave the Land of Israel,” Yosef said.
“These people hate the Torah, they don’t care about it,” the rabbi said. “The Torah is in danger, how will there be Torah sages if they draft the yeshiva students into the army? “We will need to leave the Land of Israel, God forbid, to free the yeshiva students, so now is the time that every single person will open his heart to go and vote for the parties which are for the Torah,” he continued.
Yosef also warned against incurring divine wrath by voting for non-haredi parties.
“Woe to them on the Day of Rebuke.
God will say to them ‘How could you leave my Torah in the hands of these evil people? You chose the hands of the wicked who hate the Torah.’”