Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef denounced upcoming peace talks with the Palestinians, which are set to start September 2 in Washington, and called for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “perish from this world,” Army Radio reported overnight Saturday.
“Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world,” Rabbi Ovadia was quoted as saying during his weekly sermon at a synagogue near his Jerusalem home. “God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.”
The Shas spiritual leader also called the Palestinians “evil, bitter enemies of Israel” during his speech, which is not the rabbi’s first sermon to spark controversy.
In 2001, Rabbi Yosef gave a speech in which he also called for Arabs’ annihilation.
“It is forbidden to be merciful to them,” he was quoted as saying. “You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.”
As Jews who adhere to the Torah's teachings, we express our strongest condemnation of these hateful words. Jews are commanded to live in peace with their neighbors, and it is forbidden to launch violent verbal attacks against them.
Furthermore, Rabbi Yosef has confused Zionism and its State of "Israel" with the true Israel, the Jewish people. The Palestinians and other Arabs are not enemies of the Jewish people. Jews lived in Arab countries in peace and tranquility for hundreds of years. The Sephardic Jews, especially Rabbi Yosef who was born in Baghdad, should know that well. In Palestine as well, there was never any conflict between Jew and Arab before the rise of Zionism.
How did it come about that today's Sephardic party, Shas, is so strongly Zionist? To answer that we would do well to review some history.
Sephardic Jews, living in their ancient communities throughout the Middle East, were always religiously observant without exception. While European Jewry was spiritually devastated by such secular movements as Haskalah, Socialism and Zionism, Sephardic Jewry knew nothing of these innovations. They clung to the Torah and its commandments as did their fathers and grandfathers before them.
When the State of Israel was established, all of this changed. The fledgling state badly needed more Jews to populate its newly conquered territories, to fight in its wars, and to stimulate its economy. The Zionists leaders embarked on an emergency campaign to bring all the Sephardic Jews to the country. In order to wean them quickly away from their old ways, they took children away from their parents and placed them in anti-religious collective farms. They made these children into believers in the new nationalism and slaves to the Zionist cause.
Sephardic families from Morocco and Algeria were forcibly placed in settlements far away from their own countrymen, so that they would forget their heritage. Children from Yemen were kidnapped and their parents were told that they were dead. The children were brainwashed and raised as secular Zionists. Even before children immigrated, the Zionist Agency set up preparatory camps in which the children were taught atheism and beaten when they tried to keep Torah laws.
The Zionist plan to convert the Sephardim was, unfortunately, largely successful. But all this was new to the Sephardim, and they did not forsake their old faith completely. Many of them continue to keep some laws of the Torah and feel sympathetic to tradition, as well as under-represented in the Israeli government.
Enter the Shas Party. Founded in the early eighties, Shas appeals to these traditional-minded Sephardim who are also thoroughly brought up on Zionist nationalism. Today’s secular Zionists, who want to make peace with the Palestinians, should not be surprised at the non-Orthodox but traditional-minded Sephardim’s more hawkish stance on the peace process; it is nothing but the upbringing the earlier secular Zionists gave them.
Those who look at the wider picture of history know that Rabbi Yosef and his Shas party don’t represent very many ultra-Orthodox Jews, even in the Sephardic world. In the 1920’s, when the British Mandate government automatically registered every Jew in Palestine under the Zionist Nationalist Council (Vaad Haleumi) unless he or she specifically requested to be removed, all the greatest rabbis of the time signed a legal ruling obligating every Jew to opt out. Among those signing were four major Sephardic rabbis: Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer Alfandari, Saba Kadisha of Jerusalem, Rabbi Chaim Shaul Douek, leader of Sephardic Kabbalists of Jerusalem; Rabbi Yosef Yedid Halevi, and Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer, author of Kaf Hachaim.
Rabbi Chaim Shaul Douek said: “This is how the Zionists succeed in capturing the religious: by means of the Mizrachi, who disguise themselves as rescuers [of the Torah], when in truth it is they who are the destroyers and damagers of the path of Torah. May G-d spare us from them.”
On May 28, 1948, during the Zionist war of independence, as the battle in and around Jerusalem raged, the two rabbis of the Old City, Ashkenazic Rabbi Velvel Mintzberg and Sephardic Rabbi Ben Zion Chazan boldly went out to the Jordanian army carrying the white flag, showing that the true Jewish people were surrendering to them. When the Zionists saw this act, which they saw as treachery and denial of their doctrine of fighting their way out of exile, they wanted to kill the rabbis, and they fired at them with their guns. Thank G-d, they missed. Later they considered putting the rabbis on trial, but seeing that such a trial would bring no honor to Zionism, they abandoned the idea.
In July 1951, three leading Sephardic rabbis, Rabbi Tzadkah Hutzin, Rabbi Yaakov Mutzafi and Rabbi Yosef Cohen, issued the following proclamation against participation in the Israeli elections:
“TORAH OPINION OF THE SAGES OF THE SEPHARDIM IN JERUSALEM
“Regarding the elections to the government in the Land of Israel, we have determined in accordance with Judaism to publicly declare and to publicize Torah opinion, that according to Law, it is FORBIDDEN FOR ANY JEW WHOSE FOREFATHERS STOOD AT MT. SINAI TO, G-D FORBID, PARTICIPATE IN THE ELECTIONS TO THE KNESSET OF THE HERETICS, AND NO POWER IN THE WORLD SHALL PERMIT THIS IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER. Anyone taking part in these elections violates this prohibition, and it is as if he agrees with the laws of the state WHICH ARE AGAINST the laws of the TORAH. He thereby gives power to the forces of evil and those desecrating G-d's name. We must remain apart from the heretics and not join with those who are rebelling against G-d. WHOEVER FEARS G-D SHALL TAKE CARE NOT TO BE SEDUCED BY ANYONE, AND SHOULD WARN HIS HOUSEHOLD NOT TO BE MISLED INTO VIOLATING THIS PROHIBITION.”
Rabbi Yaakov Mutsafi continued to uphold this ruling 30 years later, in a statement dated 1981:
“With regard to the prohibition of participating in the elections to the Knesset, we hereby declare our Jewish legal position that it is absolutely forbidden for any man or woman to participate in these elections, which involve many severe prohibitions and sins.
We must separate entirely from the heretics, and not become involved with those who rebel against our Torah.
We must not be seduced by the imaginary claims of saving Jews because the very collaboration itself is a severe prohibition, and no one has the power to annul it.
Whosoever listens to us shall be safe and will be blessed.
May we merit to see the revelation of the Divine Presence, G-d’s majesty and the coming of the messiah.
David Even Tov
H. Shalom (formerly of Sa’ana, Yemen)
Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzera, the Baba Sali (1890-1984), held the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, and his major anti-Zionist work Vayoel Moshe in very high esteem. His son-in-law, Rabbi Yehuda Yehudayoff, wrote in his book “Hasaba Kadisha Baba Sali” that when the Baba Sali came to Eretz Yisroel for the last time in his life, he asked his Rabbi Yehudayoff to buy him a copy of Vayoel Moshe. Upon receiving it, he put all his other learning to the side, locked himself in a room with Vayoel Moshe and learned through it carefully, cover-to-cover. When he finished, he came out of his room and said to his son-in-law, “There is no one greater in this generation in clarity of learning, logic, and giving decisive refutations like Rabbi Yoel, may the memory of the tzaddik be a blessing. With clear proofs, he has refuted all those who piled up words upon words, leaving no stone unturned and no question unanswered. Therefore, come and let us make a festive meal to celebrate a mitzvah, a siyum on the sefer Vayoel Moshe, just as we celebrate a siyum on a Talmudic tractate, for this sefer is a great and important tractate in this confused generation. Rabbi Yoel is our pillar of fire, and we will walk in his light until the coming of moshiach.”
Throughout the meal, the Baba Sali quoted at length from Vayoel Moshe from memory, and expressed amazement at the Rebbe’s fluency and sharp mind in all the words of Chazal and Midrashim. He thanked Hashem for planting in our generation a holy tzaddik and gaon to guide those who fear Hashem in the true path, without any compromises.
Despite all of the above, it is the Shas party that is prominent in the news, while traditional, anti-Zionist Sephardic Jews are ignored. The reason for this is that anti-Zionist Jews do not believe in the existence of the State of Israel and as such do not participate in its electoral process. Anti-Zionist Jews exist in the hundreds of thousands, both in the Holy Land and in other countries, but unfortunately their voice is not always heard because media attention typically focuses on politics, not on religious belief.