Photo Credit: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef

In recordings published on Monday by Israel Hayom, four rabbinical judges, some of whom serve in major Israeli cities, and whose status parallels district judges and justices of peace, are heard belittling Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, son of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, expressing their doubts as to his knowledge of Jewish law.

The context for the four judges’ attacks are appointments of young rabbinical judges who are related to Rabbi Yosef and to his close associate, David Amar (Shas), to senior positions as heads of rabbinic courts. Amar is adviser on appointments to the Minister of Religious Affairs.

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In the recordings, which were published for the first time by Israel Hayom, one of the rabbinical judges is heard speaking to a chief rabbi of a city, telling him: “Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef must not be granted [prestigious] status. He is no way near his father’s stature, and woe if he gains a significant standing.”

In conversation with his colleague, the same judge said: “I am sorry to be using a harsh words, but the Dayanim (senior religious judges) despise him (Rabbi Yosef).” The judge goes on to say that while in the past, when he and his colleagues would send their judgments to the President of the Rabbinical Court, they would refer to him using honorary titles such as “Maran,” “Rishon Lezion,” “President of the Rabbinical Court,” these days they only address him as “Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, without the term ‘Gaon,’ or anything else.”

Another Dayan attacks Rabbi Yosef, saying, “He destroyed the courts from the ground up,” and telling his associate about the upcoming appointment of a close associate of David Amar and Rabbi Yosef to the position of Head of the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court

“The clowns were seen in our country,” replies the associate, paraphrasing a verse from The Song of Songs, “It’s unbelievable, that’s how it is in all the areas. The one everyone fears is the clown, David Amar, the overgrown boy. The thug. He is the real [Sephardi Chief Rabbi]. He decides the appointments.”

The recorded judges expressed their fear of standing up openly to Rabbi Yosef, but even more so standing up to David Amar, who can make and break their careers. So much for judicial bravery. Their practical response, seeing as the system is entirely in the hands of Shas stalwarts, is to ignore and bypass the Sephardi Chief Rabbi as much as possible on important cases. One rabbinical judge is heard saying Rabbi Yosef is practically invisible in the Rabbinical Court, and when the judges require advice “we go to mature Dayanim, who possess power and significance, we do not consult in Rabbi Yosef.”

And lest one presume the disaffection has to do with bigotry, as in Ashkenazim vs. Sephardim, the same Dayan speaks with great reverence about Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar, the current Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem who served as the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 2003 to 2013.

Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, the director-general of the rabbinical courts, told Israel Hayom that the criticism of Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef “does not reflect reality. All the approaches by all the Dayanim to Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef are respectable. Rabbi Yosef is known as a natioally accepted arbiter of law, has written many rulings on genealogical matters and other difficult halachic questions. Dayanim do turn to him with their questions.”

However, Rabbi Yaakovi said, “recently, we have witnessed political pressures regarding the appointment of heads of rabbinical courts, pressures Rabbi Yosef Yosef rejected with great force. I hope that the criticism is not emerging against this background.”

David Amar stated: “As part of my job as adviser to the Minister for Religious Services, who is in charge of the Rabbinical Courts, I only deal with the appointment of new judges and matters that are under the authority of the Committee to Appoint Dayanim.”

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