Amar comes in for harsh criticism from Ovadia Yosef

Shas spiritual leader angry at former protege for undermining his authority during recent chief rabbi elections.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar was subject to a harsh dressing down from his former patron, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, on Monday for having backed a separate candidate for chief rabbi in the recent elections, against Yosef’s wishes.
Amar decided to visit Yosef in Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, where he is currently being treated for a persistent back problem, although the visit was not coordinated with Yosef’s inner circle.
The two have not met since the chief rabbi elections in July in which Amar backed Rabbi Tzion Boaron, a rabbinical judge serving on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, against Yosef’s candidate and son Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.
Amar’s support for Boaron represented a serious rebellion against the authority of Yosef, who founded the Shas movement and is the political party’s spiritual leader and ultimate arbiter on all major policy decisions.
As it turned out, Yitzhak Yosef won the election for Sephardi chief rabbi with 68 votes to Boaron’s 28. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu received 49 votes, but Boaron’s campaign was relying on Eliyahu being forced to remove his candidacy by either the attorney-general or the High Court of Justice, which did not transpire.
First published in the haredi media but confirmed by The Jerusalem Post, Yosef accused Amar of attacking him without cause, saying he had “returned evil for good,” and the meeting lasted only several minutes before Amar left without having appeased Yosef.
Amar was formerly considered extremely close to Yosef and required his support in order to be appointed chief rabbi back in 2003.
The Post understands that Yosef refused to even shake Amar’s hand at the end of the meeting.
Amar had been hoping that legislation would be passed allowing him to stand for a second term, but Yosef withdrew his support for the Knesset bill at the urging of party chairman Arye Deri who opposed a second term for Amar.
Amar, in what many viewed as a form of revenge against Deri, campaigned heavily for Boaron in the elections and refused to withdraw his support when requested by Yosef’s close advisers.
Before his visit on Monday to the hospital, Amar sent a letter to Yosef in which he apologized, although did not specify for what exactly he was apologizing, and said everything he did was for the sake of Heaven.
“Now that it is told to me that there is anger toward me, he should remember to be merciful in his anger and look on all the years that I went before him with unparalleled humility and complete self-nullification, and that this was for the glory of his greatness who is unique in this and other generations...
“If I erred, then the mistake remains with me...,” Amar continued, quoting from the biblical book of Job, “...and I will seek his love and compassion all of my days. And [I offer] apology for all the pain that was caused to the rabbi.”
Despite this letter, Yosef has not forgiven Amar, as was made apparent by his angry response to the latter’s visit on Monday.
According to a source within Yosef’s inner circle, the Shas leader is insistent that Amar’s apology be unequivocal and clearly acknowledge that his behavior was wrong.
The source said that a full apology was critical for Yosef because Amar’s actions undermined Yosef’s position as the leading rabbinic authority and source of political power in Shas, and it would take a “dramatic” display of penitence to heal the wound.
“It’s a point of ideology and principle, which is important for the next generation as well, to reinforce the notion that there is a gadol ha’dor, a generational leader whom you cannot oppose, to whose word you must adhere in order for the party to be able to operate,” said the Shas official.
“Rav Ovadia was deeply and sincerely hurt by his actions.
When it’s someone on Rabbi Amar’s level, it’s not something that can be overlooked, such as if an MK or other party functionary were to act in this way.”
He said that the damage could still be repaired, but it depended on Amar and his circle of advisers to take the appropriate steps.
He added that Yosef, who is still being treated in the hospital, is stable but that his situation has not improved enough for him to be released from hospital. It is hoped that he will be released sometime this week.