On most Saturdays, Rabbi David Yosef, who is the son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the chief rabbi of Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood, pays a visit to his father's synagogue, where he says his Sabbath prayers. This week, however, he did not. Following an article published late last week about a "first-degree relative" of the spiritual leader who transferred information about Shas' highest ranking members and almost all of the members of the Yosef clan to the state comptroller, Rabbi David went underground, and it is unclear when he will resurface.
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem's Givat Moshe neighborhood, tends not to visit his father very often. Years ago, Rabbi Ovadia cast him out of his house because of his independent ways. Today, however, he is expected to visit his father and request his blessing on two matters. The first, for his son, who became engaged last night. The second, for himself. Rabbi Yaakov, who was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness and is set to begin a series of complex medical treatments this week, is in need of heavenly mercy.
At the age of 91, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is watching his family fall apart in front of his eyes: one son is in mortal danger, while another is suspected by relatives of embroiling his siblings in a huge scandal that allegedly verges on the criminal. Instead of closing ranks around the sick older brother, the Yosefs are being torn to pieces, and no one can say if the shock waves will spread beyond the family circle.
This latest scandal is not helping party leader Eli Yishai, nor is it a boon to Aryeh Deri, who is breathing down Yishai's neck. On Saturday, Shas people were talking about the return of divisive politics, accelerated by the scandal in the Yosef family.
According to a report published on Friday in Yediot Aharonot, an unnamed member of the Yosef clan gave MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) a document describing "attempts by Shas leaders to take control of the rabbinical system in Israel through improper methods bordering on the criminal." The document describes attempts by Shas to get a string of its people appointed to key offices - including Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, another of Rabbi Ovadiah's sons, to the office of chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Benjamin Atias, the brother of Housing Minister Ariel Atias, to lead the Petach Tikvah rabbinate, Yaakov Chikotai, who is married to Rabbi Ovadia's daughter, as head rabbi of Modi'in-Maccabim-Reut and others.
The impact of the scandal will depend to an extent on the state comptroller, who must decide whether or not to open an investigation into the appointments or even freeze them. But even if no investigation is opened, by the comptroller or any other organization, the details already made public have stirred up a political and familial storm.
Whoever is responsible for leaking the details of the scandal, the son that stands to lose the most is Moshe, Rabbi Ovadia's youngest son, who is considered one of Shas' strongmen and wields decisive influence inside the Rabbi's court. But the real loser in the story if Rabbi Ovadia, whose pet project in recent years – appointing rabbis and rabbinical judges, especially relatives, who will interpret Jewish law according to his own views – is now in danger.
Rabbi David Yosef, who heads the Kollel "Yichveh Daat," was immediately suspected as the source of the leak. He was the only son who opposed the candidacy of Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef for the office of Jerusalem's chief Sephardic rabbi – an appointment which is a top priority for Religious Affairs Minister Yaakov Margi, also from Shas – and he is the only brother who desires the title for himself.
Upon his return from a trip abroad on Friday, Rabbi David denied a large and substantial portion of the details published in the newspaper report. In conversations with confidants, he claimed he was framed, that he never wrote any such document and that he never met with MK Cabel. Rabbi David will have a difficult time proving that a third party was responsible for the document, and that he had nothing to do with it.
Meanwhile, last week, unity momentarily prevailed when both Eli Yishai and Aryeh Deri, each on his own, tried to prevent the publication of the expose in Yediot Aharonot. The two rivals both have something to lose from the story's publication.
Rabbi David Yosef is a close friend of Deri's, and the affair threatens to stain his name as an informer. Deri could be dragged into the line of fire, and fears that the relationship that he has worked hard to build over the last year with the younger son, Rabbi Moshe Yosef, will go down the drain. A year ago, a harsh confrontation erupted between David Yosef and Rabbi Ovadia's personal secretary, who claimed he was avoiding the house. In his defense, David claimed he was avoiding the house because of his close relationship with Deri, and that he was ordered to do so by his younger brother Moshe.
Yishai, for his part, is watching Shas come undone. His conflict with Housing Minister Atias reached new heights recently, and will require him to perform complex political maneuvers. Is it a coincidence that Atias and Deri held a long conversation on Saturday on their way out of Rabbi Ovadia's synagogue?
No less important: one of the important tasks placed on Yishai's shoulders, that of appointing members of the Yosef clan to rabbinical posts, could be drifting further away from him. As interior minister, Yishai is personally involved in the appointment of rabbis, and pressures mayors into consenting to appointments desired by Shas. Meanwhile, Yishai is still waiting for the publication of the state comptroller's report of the Carmel Forest fire, and he recently managed to get into trouble about making controversial statements about the failures of the Second Lebanon War, which he claimed were caused by IDF soldiers' lack of religious observance.
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