Rabbi Yosef: Secular IDF troops die in war because they don't observe Sabbath
Shas party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, told followers in remarks broadcast yesterday that Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed in combat because they did not observe Jewish religious laws.
"Is it any wonder if, heaven forbid, soldiers are killed in a war?" Rabbi Yosef said during his weekly Saturday night sermon.
"They don't observe the Sabbath, they don't observe [the laws of] the Torah, they don't pray, they don't put on phylacteries every day. Is it any wonder that they're killed? It's no wonder. May the Almighty have mercy on them and bring them back to religion.
Israeli media accounts of the sermon also quoted Rabbi Yosef as saying that when soldiers "believe and pray, God helps them during the war," and that these troops "don't get killed."
The comments sparked wide criticism. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said that he was "pained by the statements. Casualties to civilians and soldiers make no distinction between those who are more exacting [in their religious observance] and those who are less."
David Einhorn, father of a soldier killed in the Second Lebanon War a year ago, strongly criticized the rabbi for his comments. Einhorn said his son was killed just before he was about to put on phylacteries for prayer.
Rabbi Yosef has often been at the center of controversy for comments made at the weekly sermons. He once attacked Meretz party leader Yossi Sarid, comparing him to Haman, villain of the Purim story who was put to death by hanging.
"He is Satan, may his name and memory be erased," the rabbi said. "Cursed is Haman, cursed is Yossi Sarid. He will be uprooted from the seed of Israel. Just as revenge was wrought on Haman, so it will be wrought on him."
In the past, he also blamed the destruction of Hurricane Katrina on American support for the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, and made statements which seemed to call for annihilation of Arabs.
Yishai: Everything he says is the word of God
Shas Chairman and cabinet minister Eli Yishai came to the rabbi's defense, saying that Rabbi Yosef was stressing "that all of Israel is responsible for one another. If I sin, that can affect IDF soldiers."
According to Yishai, "the rabbi prays every day and every Shabbat for the safe return home of IDF soldiers. When an IDF soldier is killed, the rabbi sheds tears, he cries. He gathers everyone and says, let us pray. Every one of us is commanded and obligated to pray, to observe the [laws of the] Torah and the commandments, for the sake of IDF soldiers. When a soldier is hurt in the IDF, we see this as the fault of all the people of Israel who must return to religion.
"My rabbi does not err," Yishai told Army Radio. "Everything he says is the word of God."