Rav Ovadia then joined the Petach Tikva Beis Din. An example of his confidence in his p’sakim is when he paskened that a widow was permitted to perform yibum. The reason that this displayed confidence is because he issued this p’sak at the young age of thirty, and the fact that it contradicted a p’sak by the Israel’s Chief Rabbinate a year earlier.
After joining the Beis Din of Yerushalayim in 1958 and remaining there for seven years, Rav Ovadia was appointed to the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Appeals in Yerushalayim. He was then appointed Sephardic chief rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1968, a position he held until his election as Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel in 1973.
Rav Ovadia was responsible for bringing at least hundreds of thousands of Sephardim back to Yiddishkeit through his massive outreach program, Lehachzir Atara Leyoshna (literally translated as: restore the crown to its former glory). This program affected all sectors of Sephardic communities around the world. In 1954 Rav Ovadia founded his first yeshiva, Yeshiva Or HaTorah, for gifted Sephardic boys. Later, with the help of his sons, he opened several other yeshivos in order to facilitate chinuch for Sephardim. This structure paved the way for today’s religious Sephardim and established Torah for future generations.
The Torah giant founded and directed the Shas Party’s school system in Israel. This system provided transportation and hot meals, attracting young families in development towns and needy areas, who were greeted with affection. These children learned to love Torah and tradition. Rav Ovadia displayed his love for klal Yisrael by constantly showering them with berachos. He attempted to make every Jew feel special, helping bring them closer to Yiddishkeit.
For many years, until this year, Rav Ovadia would go to the Kosel on Chol HaMoed Sukkos for Birchas Kohanim. He would lead the tzibbur in Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shamayim. Aside from saying the various pesukim that are generally recited, he would say the pasuk, “l’olam Hashem devarcha nitzav bashamayim,” many times.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, was quoted as having said that even if Rav Ovadia would have lived one hundred years earlier, he would still have been recognized as a gadol.
Rav Ovadia was blessed with a photographic memory. In his early years, a rav came to his town to deliver a shiur. In the middle of the shiur the rav asked if the shul had a Ritva. He was informed that it didn’t. The rav commented that the shul should have certain sefarim. Rav Ovadia then asked the rav which Ritva he was looking for; he would recite it for him b’al peh.
Rav Ovadia felt a responsibility to the Jewish people. He once suffered a heart attack and was informed that he was in need of surgery. He said that he must first go home for three hours, and then he can have the surgery. After three hours he went to the hospital. He explained that an agunah had written a question to him as to whether she was permitted to marry. Rav Ovadia asked that while he hoped his surgery would be successful, who would permit this woman to marry if the surgery were unsuccessful? He needed to write his teshuvah to her permitting her to marry – before the surgery.
The loss of Rav Ovadia will be greatly felt by all of klal Yisrael, and especially by the Sephardim who considered him their father. Many at the levayah had no words to express their feelings other than to feel like yesomim without a father. May Rav Ovadia Yosef continue to be a meilitz yosher for the Sephardic community and all of klal Yisrael.