Israeli Women's Groups Slam Shas Candidate for Chief Rabbi as Unfit for Democratic Society

Three women's organizations have together called candidate Rabbi Avraham Yosef, son of Shas spiritual leader, to task over his controversial statements in general and about women in particular.

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Few women will participate in the upcoming election of the chief rabbis of Israel, but women's groups are trying to affect the outcome by opposing the candidacy of the son of the Shas party's spiritual leader rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The group Yad L'isha, which represents women whose husbands refuse to grant divorces or have disappeared, is actively supporting one of Yosef's opponents in the race, Rabbi Zion Boaron, who is also being backed by the outgoing Sephardi chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar.

"If Rabbi Boaron is elected as chief rabbi, it will ease the misery of 'agunot' ['women whose husbands have disappeared'] and many other women who are refused divorces, and will honor the Torah and the chief rabbinate," Bat-Sheva Sherman-Shani, Yad L'isha's director and an attorney wrote in a statement on behalf of the organization. She added that during her work at the rabbinical courts, Rabbi Boaron's rulings have "often led to actually saving 'agunot'!"

Yad L'isha is supporting Rabbi David Stav for Ashkenazi chief rabbi.

Meanwhile, three women's organizations have together called on the Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to look into whether Rabbi Avraham Yosef, who has made many controversial statements about women, is fit to serve as chief rabbi. Yosef is the chief rabbi of Holon and a Sephardi representative of the Chief Rabbinate Council, which assists the Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis. He enjoys the support of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, of which his father, a former chief rabbi, is the spiritual leader.

"The positions of Rabbi Yosef in general, and in relation to women in particular, are problematic and contradict the basic principles of democratic society," the women's groups Naamat, Wizo and Mavoi Satum wrote to Weinstein.

In the letter, they refer to a ruling by Yosef that women should not run for public office unless they are religious and modest and meet with men only in the presence of their husbands.

"Needless to say, this position does not recognize the right of secular women to an independent existence free of their husband's presence," the women's groups wrote. "Such and other similar opinions raise the fear that the man who holds these opinions would find it hard to equally treat women, lawyers or rabbinical court advocates, when they appear before him. This would especially apply to secular women, and furthermore, it is doubtful that anyone holding such opinions could rule and make proper and equal judgments in issues such as division of property and funds between couples."

Meanwhile, MK Elazar Stern (Hatnuah) appealed on Sunday to the committee that elects the chief rabbi, demanding the disqualification of five of the 150 candidates for the committee, due to convene at the end of July. Stern said the rabbis of Rehovot, Rishon Letzion, Ashdod and Ashkelon do not recognize the state's institutions of conversion to Judaism and prevent residents of their cities who have converted though these institutions from registering for marriage.

"The damage to the converted testifies that these rabbis are unfit to serve as members in the election committee and influence the outcome of the election for chief rabbis, who are supposed to be attentive to the needs of society," Stern wrote. "Their refusal to recognize national conversions to Judaism makes them practically unqualified to be involved in such a national process. The membership of these rabbis in the electoral committee should be canceled, thus preventing the ongoing debasement of the institution of the Israeli chief rabbinate."

Rabbi Avraham Yosef.Credit: Nir Kafri

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