web analytics
September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Apartment 758x530 Africa-Israel at the Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York

Africa Israel Residences, part of the Africa Israel Investments Group led by international businessman Lev Leviev, will present 7 leading projects on the The Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York on Sep 14-15, 2014.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Ovadia Yosef Z”L

The Sephardi world had no Reform movement. In Ashkenaz the rabbis were constantly fighting an internal schism.
Rav Ovadia jovially slapping Israel's current president, Shimon Peres, June, 2007

Rav Ovadia jovially slapping Israel's current president, Shimon Peres, June, 2007
Photo Credit: Orel Cohen /Flash90

As a young man finding my way forward in the world of Torah study, I was completely bowled over by the genius of Rav Ovadia Yosef, who died this week. In all the contemporary rabbinic responsas I had read, nothing came near to the phenomenal breadth of his learning, his marshaling of sources, and above all his tolerant, often lenient conclusions.

The great Ashkenazi contemporary authorities I was studying almost invariably came to strict, restrictive conclusions. There was an almost undeclared agenda to constantly raise the bar rather than lower it. And they completely ignored the more recent great Sephardi authorities. It was almost as if they thought Sephardi scholarship ended with Maimonides.

From the moment I picked up the early volumes of his magisterial response, “Yabia Omer,” in 1957, I was completely won over by Rav Yosef‘s different approach. He brought the widest range of sources. He weighed the body of opinion and allowed the pure law to speak for itself, and most importantly of all, where he could he would find a lenient resolution. It was as if a new, younger, brilliant Chief Justice was suddenly appointed to the Supreme Court, stood head and shoulders above the other justices, and promised to sweep away all the cobwebs and vested interests. Having such a wider vision, he knew the range of options that went well beyond the conventional wisdom.

He was a product of the East. The Sephardi world was very different than the negative, cramped, inward-looking approach of Eastern Europe. Rav Yosef was brought up under Islam, where tensions were more political than religious. On many theological fundamentals Judaism and Islam agreed. Whereas under Christianity the bitterness of the Jewish experience, as well as the theological differences, created a far more negative approach to the world around them. True, the Shia mullahs were just as oppressive as Dominican friars, but under much of Islam Jews lived at peace and in cultural symbiosis.

The Sephardi world had no Reform movement. In Ashkenaz the rabbis were constantly fighting an internal schism. Their response was to tighten up, and if you didn’t like it you could jolly well go and join Reform or some other breakaway. Since the Sephardi world had no Reform, their rabbis had to deal with the full range of Jewish behavior, and their communities embraced the most lapsed as well as the strictest. Their halachic decisions had to take note of the full range of the faithful, not just the most pious.

And thirdly the Sephardi world seemed much more in sympathy with the poor, and therefore more lenient and less financially demanding. You could not ask a penniless family to have two dishwashers!

The downside of the Sephardi world, as much as of the poor Ashkenazi, was the superstitious belief in wonder, miracle rabbis, and Kabbalists. Rav Yosef bravely and courageously had no sympathy for religious hucksters and snake oil salesmen. Of all the Ashkenazi halachic masters, I dare to say only the late Rav Moshe Feinstein was his equal.

Rav Yosef was a powerful advocate and campaigner for Sephardi rights. In his early editions of “Yabia Omer” he railed against young Sephardi yeshiva students aping the Ashkenazi rabbis in dress and attitude. He insisted that the different Sephardi approach to Torah study be given equal standing in a world that, sadly, tended to look down on Eastern culture and still to this day too often discriminates against Sephardim.

This led him to form the Shas party in 1984. For years he was a voice in the wilderness. At last Shas gave him the power and the platform, although he had to battle major Ashkenazi authorities like Rav Shach, which ultimately led to an acrimonious split.

This was the moment that I lost my innocent reverence of the great man. I had been disappointed when in his term as Chief Rabbi he engaged in unseemly rivalry with his Ashkenazi colleagues. I put this down to the “Kinat Sofrim”, the Talmud’s phrase for the competition between intellectual giants. But party politics was another matter. I have always detested religious politics. Much of the good that Shas did, as a social movement, was undermined by the bargaining, haggling, and corruption that inevitably characterizes the world of politics. Of course religion is concerned with every aspect of human life. And I believe religious people should, as individuals, be involved in the political process. But when a party devoted specifically to religious issues enters the fray it invariably, regardless of the religion or the denomination, falls to the worst of political shenanigans. And so it has been with Shas, now divided into warring factions.

About the Author: Jeremy Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi, author, and lecturer, and the congregational rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center of New York. He is best known for advocating an approach to Jewish life that is open to the benefits of modernity and tolerant of individual variations while remaining committed to halacha (Jewish law). His articles and weekly column appear in publications in several countries, including the Jewish Telegraph and the London Jewish News, and he often comments on religious issues on the BBC.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

2 Responses to “Ovadia Yosef Z”L”

  1. Menachem Rephun says:

    Judaism always has been a thinking, analytical religion

  2. CpaHoffman says:

    using religion as an element of class warfare was his claim to fame
    he may have mobilized his constituency, but he also destroyed any belief in democracy

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
A scene from the opera "Death of Klinghoffer." Protests at Lincoln Center start Sept. 22, at 4:30.
Klinghoffer: Pretending Art Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
Latest Indepth Stories
Donny-Fuchs-medium

Originally scheduled to be held elsewhere, the hotel canceled, pressured by local missionary groups

syria_stratfo

It’s likely that some of the rebel factions, including US clients, have indeed made pacts with ISIS

Phyllis Chesler

Imam Tafsirli of the Harlem Islamic center: “You cannot be a Muslim without believing in Jesus”

Gas Pump

If simple fuel choice were implemented, the power of petroleum and those who sell it would cease.

Value of IS: It enables people to see the place to which all other Islamist fascism is headed.

“When Frank does something he does it well and you don’t have to worry about dotting the i’s or crossing the t’s.”

President Obama: “ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents”

he time of the Uman pilgrimage is upon us, and we dare not ignore the opportunity to highlight the danger.

Healing requires that the victim be validated for being harmed and the guilty assume responsibility.

During the war, not once was Hashem’s name mentioned to the nation by Israel’s PM or gov’t officials

How many illegal Arab structures are there in the city? Why are they not being destroyed?

We did not win the war in Gaza because we are still captive to the concept of the 2 state solution.

Trapped in a false notion of power, America will lose the battle in the same way Israel now loses.

It’s a cliché, but nonetheless true that 9/11 changed my life. There is evil in the world. Our grandparents were right.

More Articles from Jeremy Rosen
putin napoleon

Obama’s incompetence, the way his naive worldview and credulity have made a fool of him, are equally frightening

Rashid Khalidi

The Ramaz School was wrong to refuse to allow Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian apologist, to speak to its senior students.

Imagine you take your family somewhere where there is no such thing as a day off.

Pascal’s famous wager was that it makes sense to bet on God.

The Talmud (Eiruvin 96a) mentions that Michal, the daughter of King Saul, wore Tefilin and no one objected.

We’ve known that you can define neither Jews nor Judaism in a way that will satisfy all its various elements.

The religious world needs to fight back constructively.

There is a dichotomy between personal, private prayer and public communal prayer.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/ovadia-yosef-zl/2013/10/14/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: