Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
MK Itamar Ben Gvir after visiting the Temple Mount, March 31, 2022.

“Think for a moment, ya ahabal (fool),” Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, on Saturday night chided Otzma Yehudit Chairman MK Itamar Ben Gvir for his daring to ascend to the Temple Mount.

The good rabbi carried out his hit job against MK Ben Gvir on halakhic grounds, but as we’ll unpack soon, he was most concerned about the political future of his favorite party, Shas, which is being threatened by the popular MK from Religious Zionism. And he has plenty to worry about. But first, the hit job.


Rabbi Yosef used the opportunity of his weekly Torah class at the Yazdim Synagogue in Jerusalem––the regular post of his exalted father, the late Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef––to come down hard on the popular right-wing leader. “Everybody forbids entering the Temple Mount,” Rabbi Yosef said, expanding the meaning of “everybody” beyond the limits of our reality, “But there’s one guy named Ben Gvir, who enters the Temple Mount in a public way. Such blasphemy, to go against the great rabbis of Israel. Think for a moment ya ahbal (fool), does your rabbi match all of those rabbis?”

He added: “A Knesset member comes to stir up trouble and also violates every order of the great teachers of Israel – we must stay away from him and all his behaviors.”

Of course, by comparing MK Itamar Ben Gvir’s rabbis who support ascending the holy mountain to their supposed betters, Rabbi Yosef first contradicts his “everybody forbids” statement, but, even worse, ignores the Mishna Avot that tells us to “choose a rabbi for yourself,” meaning one who would ably help you, the individual, live as an observant Jew – and does not say, “choose the best rabbi.” But neither of these issues explains the chief rabbi’s attack.

And then, as Temple Mount activist Arnon Segal noted, “Not like all the rabbis, but like Maimonides (who reported: ‘I entered the great and holy house and prayed in it’), like Rabbi Akiva who laughed on the mountaintop when everyone else was crying (he saw a fox roaming the ruins, which matched biblical prophecy, which meant that the prophecies about salvations would come true as well – DI), like Rabbi Goren who blew the shofar there (and maintained a minyan – DI), and like many of the rabbis of our generation who are no longer ready to let the mountain remain exclusively in the hands of the supporters of Muhammad Deif (supreme military commander of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam – DI).”

Rabbi Yitzchak Levi kissing the hand of Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Yitzchak Yosef, April 26, 2017. / Yaakov Cohen/Flash90

But as Israel Hayom pointed out Sunday morning, Ben Gvir and thousands of other patriotic Jews have been ascending the Temple Mount for years, so why had the chief rabbi kept mum until now and chose that halakhic dispute as his grounds for essentially placing a rabbinic boycott on Ben Gvir?

Here’s why: an internal survey obtained by Israel Hayom shows that as many as 20% of Shas voters are contemplating giving their votes to Religious Zionism because of their admiration for Ben Gvir. That too is not news, the trend began in the last election when Religious Zionism siphoned at least one seat from the Haredi parties, which drove UTJ leader MK Moshe Gafni bananas – mostly against Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu who acted as a cheerleader for Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. Now, it appears the spillover is becoming a gushing river. Shas currently has 9 seats. If they lose 2 or 3 seats to Religious Zionism it would mean not only a loss of clout, but of a lot of money in state campaign finance, and then in the budget, should Likud lead the next government.

And that’s why the chief rabbi is suddenly livid against Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount when, in reality, the entire anti-ascent agenda belongs to the Ashkenazi rabbis. Sephardic rabbis are not big on condemning Zionists.

A month or so ago, in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in the Haredi city of Elad, local residents flocked to Ben Gvir to receive his support on consolation. The Haredi politicians who showed up were largely ignored. The people were mad about terrorism and Haredi politicians don’t usually get involved with security issues. They leave it up to the seculars. Well, Itamar Ben Gvir doesn’t, and he also happens to be wearing a nice yarmulke. Haredi voters are not stupid – they know who is more likely to represent their security concerns. Especially if, as I’ve been advocating for many months now, Ben Gvir becomes the next minister of internal security. Please, God…

MK Ben Gvir released a response, saying, “I respect the Chief Rabbi. I should also emphasize that I follow the opinion of my teacher and Rabbi, the Gaon Rabbi Dov Lior, who ruled that he is commanded to ascend the Temple Mount, especially when the waqf controls the place. In any case, I wish Rabbi Yosef longevity and many years, and I respect him.”

Good for you, Itamar. With 20% of Shas voters in your pocket, you don’t need to attack the chief Sephardic rabbi. Let them know who is the bigger man.


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