Family Feud Over Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's Estate Goes to Court

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From right to left: Moshe, David and Yitzhak, and Adina Bar-Shalom, at their father's grave in 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The 2015 election campaign has seen a fierce fight between ultra-Orthodox rivals Arye Dery and Eli Yishai over the political inheritance of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. But the dispute over the spiritual leader’s material and intellectual property has now reached the courts.

Yosef’s 10 surviving adult children are scheduled to report on Tuesday to the Jerusalem Family Court, to begin a mediation process that will expose the strife within the storied rabbinic family.

Most of the children are going against their youngest brother, Rabbi Moshe Yosef, to whom their father left nearly all his material property — estimated to be worth tens of millions of shekels. The late rabbi also bequeathed Moshe his intellectual property.

Eight of the children, including Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, are expected to argue that Moshe Yosef emptied their father’s bank accounts around the time of the patriarch’s death in September 2013. They will also submit documents they say corroborate their challenge to the will.

They are joined in their claim by eight of Ovadia Yosef’s grandchildren — the heirs of his eldest son, Rabbi Ya’akov Yosef, who died a few months before his father. Avraham Yosef, the chief rabbi of the city of Holon, is the only sibling who supports the version of the will giving most of their father’s estate to Moshe.

The challenge was initiated by Ovadia’s third child, Malka Sasson, a few months ago; seven of her brothers and sisters joined her as respondents in the case. Loyal to their father’s approach, they first sought to have the case heard by a rabbinical court, but since their sister had already turned to the family court, this was not possible, so they joined her appeal in the secular justice system.

The group of eight includes Adina Bar-Shalom, founder of Jerusalem’s Haredi College, and Rabbi David Yosef, a member of the Shas party’s Council of Torah Sages.

The court, believing the case to be complex, recommended using a mediator instead. Avraham and Mosho Yosef are represented by lawyers Michael Sperber, Israel Bach and Boaz Kraus.

Ten years ago, Ovadia Yosef gave David Glass, a lawyer to whom he was close, a letter containing a long list of assets that he was leaving to Moshe Yosef. This included apartments and other properties that had already been signed over to his youngest child, including the publication and sales rights to his books, and “all the manuscripts I have written and will write, God willing.”

In the letter, made public last year by Army Radio, Yosef specified that the dispensation must not be challenged, and that Moshe was free to do as he pleased with his inheritance.

The letter did not mention the home in Har Nof that Moshe and his wife continue to live in and which presumably should be divided among all of Ovadia’s children. The same goes for the rabbi’s personal effects, including his distinctive robes, jackets and hats, whose sentimental value could fetch a sizable sum on the open market.

Kraus said in a statement to Haaretz that his client, Moshe Yosef, regretted the unfair and inappropriate injury to the name and reputation of his father and the effort to harm his own reputation, out of “ulterior motives and greed.” He said Ovadia Yosef’s instructions in the letter specifying the gifts to Moshe were unequivocal, as were instructions in the letter specifying that “all monetary actions carried out by his son [Moshe] over the years were conducted in accordance with his will and his explicit directives.”

Moshe’s lawyer said his client regretted “that a few of [Ovadia Yosef’s] children are ignoring the will and directives of their father, and if that were not enough, some of them even refused to have the matter heard” in a rabbinical court, a place that respects their father’s way of life, and in accordance with his rulings.

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