Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, Son of Shas Spiritual Leader Ovadia Yosef, Dies at 66

Yosef was the head of the Hazon Yaakov Yeshiva and chief rabbi of Jerusalem's Givat Moshe neighborhood; he was a member of the extreme right and was known for a number of controversial halakhic rulings.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, the 66-year-old son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, died on Friday of a terminal illness. The younger Yosef was the head of the Hazon Yaakov Yeshiva and was the chief rabbi of Jerusalem's Givat Moshe neighborhood. He was a member of the extreme right, had served in the past as a Jerusalem City Council member, and was a Shas MK in the 11th Knesset.

Tens of thousands of mostly Haredi mourners attended Yosef's funeral procession from Jerusalem's Bukharim quarter to Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon. The funeral was so crowded that Ovadia Yosef could not acces the beth-hamidrash (study hall) where eulogies were given for his son. He gave his eulogy via a broadcast on Haredi radio station Kol Barama. The funeral was relatively short so that it could end before the Sabbath.

During the funeral two dramatic statements were read on behalf of the deceased. In one of the announcements it was stated that Rabbi Yosef had renounced his previous position regarding the controversy over alleged segregation of Jewish students of Middle Eastern descent at a Haredi girl's school in the town of Immanuel that had led to his ostracism from the broader Haredi community, including his own father, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Kabblist rabbi Yaakov Ades said at the funeral that as part of Yosef's will the latter had asked Ades to announce on his behalf that he had reached the conclusion that "it was forbidden to involve the legal system, the [secular] authorities, at any stage," said Ades.

Ades did not say whether Yosef had expressed contrition or recanted over his involvement in the Immanuel case but the overall message was clear: Yosef had fallen into line with the Haredi position opposing any recourse to secular courts. The second announcement was that Rabbi Yaakov Yosef had also fallen into line with Haredi halakhic authorities regarding their ban on women participating in national service, which he defined as strictly prohibited.

"[Yaakov Yosef] had asked that this be said before his burial," said Ades.

Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef after he on Friday that he "was a highly learned and respected Torah and halakhic scholar."

"His death is a great loss for the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and the world of Sephardic halakha and jurisprudence. He was well known for his phenomenal memory and his name was a byword for straightforwardness. The truth was his guiding light and quite a few times he found himself on one side of the river and the rest of the world on the other, but he stuck to his inner truth and didn't give up. His love for the Land of Israel was great and he experienced great regret over every foot of the Land of Israel that was returned [to the Palestinians] as if it were a precious diamond that was lost and shouted out from the depths of his heart over it."

To the right of the spectrum

Yaakov Yosef distanced himself from his father in his political views on national issues and over relationships with corrupt individuals. The elder Yosef issued a halakhic ruling in the '70s that stated it was permissible for Israel to return land in exchange for peace. However, Yaakov Yosef swung much further to the right than his father and warmly embraced the radical right. Along with settlement rabbis Dov Lior and Yitzhak Ginsburg, Yaakov Yosef was considered to be the furthest right on the political spectrum among Israeli rabbis. Yaakov Yosef's son, Yonatan, is one of the most prominent activists in the Judaization of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Yosef, despite never having served in the army himself or sending his students to serve in the army, supported soldiers' right to refuse orders. He even issued a halakhic ruling that forbade religious soldiers to participate in evacuating Jewish settlements on the grounds that it was forbidden according to the Torah.

Yosef was known for quite a number of controversial halakhic rulings. During the recent elections, Yosef issued a halakhic ruling that it was forbidden according to the Torah to vote Likud. Yaakov was also a signatory to all the well-publicized rabbinic rulings against Arabs that stated it was forbidden for Jews to employ Arab or rent them apartments. Some other halakhic rulings he made included forbidding Jews to eat food cooked by Russian soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces because of the rabbinical principle forbidding Jews to eat meals prepared by non-Jews. He also issued a halakhic ruling that it was forbidden to study with a homosexual teacher on the grounds that they were "perverts."

In one incident, Yaakov was arrested for his controversial views when he signed onto the conclusion reached in the book "Torah Hamelech" ("The King's Torah") written by the Yitzhar settlement's Rabbi Yosef Elitzur and Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira. The book examined when it was permissible for a Jew to kill a Gentile, according to the halakha. The book stated that it was even permitted to kill Gentile babies in certain circumstances. Yaakov refused to report to police investigators over the matter, leading to his arrest. Following his arrest he was investigated and subsequently released. Eventually it was decided to close the police file against him.

Mourners gather for Rabbi Yaakov Yosef's funeral, April 12, 2013. Credit: Uriya Luz
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef is raised on a chair after police questioned him over incitement to racism and violence.Credit: Emil Salmon

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