Sarid’s Hate-fest

A spokesman of the pluralistic left chose Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s funeral to express scorn for the man and his followers.

Itamar Handelman Smith
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Itamar Handelman Smith

“His life did not contribute to mine and neither will his death,” Yossi Sarid asserted, while the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was still in progress. The former leader of the Meretz Party is wrong and is misleading others.

The equation is simple: Yosef’s life did influence Sarid’s, just as it influenced the lives of all members of the Israeli nation. Yosef influenced our lives, both directly and indirectly, in a wide range of areas, so wide in fact that it would be impossible in a single article to mention all of them. They included his granting rabbinically sanctioned permission for widows to marry in cases where uncertainty shrouded the death of their husbands and his recognition of Ethiopian Jews as full-fledged Jews, thereby making it possible for them to come to Israel as new immigrants in accordance with the Law of Return.

However, in one area – namely, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – he had a decisive influence. Were it not for his religious ruling in connection with the issue of “land for peace,” and were it not for his instructing Shas, the party that obeyed his every command, to support a peace settlement with the Palestinians, it is reasonable to assume that the first Oslo accord would never have been signed. In many respects, were it not for Yosef’s ruling, Sarid’s entire political enterprise with relation to the peace process would have produced no results.

There might be those who would argue today that this particular religious ruling and Shas’ joining the second government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were minor matters that served the interests of Shas. Such an assessment would, of course, be a historical error. As early as 1975 (in an interview with a Dutch newspaper), Yosef expressed his dovish political approach, which was the result of his thinking in matters of religious law.

Sarid’s regrettable utterance in Channel 2’s special studio, set up to cover the funeral, added salt to an already festering wound. Last Friday, when Yosef was on his deathbed and fighting for his life, Sarid chose to publish on this very page in Haaretz an article that expressed bitter animosity and which bore the title (in the English edition), “If he’s the greatest, we’re in trouble.” First of all, it is in the poorest of taste to publish an article like that when someone is dying. That point holds true no matter who the mortally ill person is but it is even more cogent when that person is the leader and supreme religious authority of a large segment of the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.

However, if we set aside for the moment the question of taste, the expression of scorn in that piece toward Jewish religious law (“How to poach an egg that was laid during a Jewish festival and other no laughing matters”) and toward Yosef’s observant followers (“Ovadia Yosef is referred to as gadol hador, the greatest rabbi of his generation, and may He save the generation if that’s the case”) constitutes an ugly, boorish act, which runs counter to everything that Sarid is supposed to represent.

And what is Sarid supposed to represent? A humanistic, pluralistic left, which believes in peace, in gentle persuasion and in the right of every individual and every ethnic group to self-determination. However, it would appear that the humanistic, pluralistic approach that Sarid seeks to represent has its limits. When he is dealing with ultra-Orthodox Jews, his tolerance and his ability to accept the Other ends. An individual who fights racial prejudice aimed at Arabs and other foreigners or who struggles for the working class cannot, in the same breath, launch a crude attack against a huge community, which constitutes a separate ethnic group in the eyes of the general public and consists of a socioeconomically weak population.

Where are Yossi Sarid’s humanistic values when he writes such ugly words?

Sarid attacked Yosef primarily for the manner in which the latter expressed himself vis-à-vis various groups and certain individuals in Israel. Strange to hear such criticism from a person like Sarid who has never hesitated to speak his mind, even when the message was very tough. This is the same Sarid who, for years, has expressed harsh criticism of various groups and individuals in Israeli society, using roughly the same kind of language employed by Yosef. However, the relationship between Sarid and Yosef is part of a much broader phenomenon: the juxtaposition of a legitimate struggle for the separation of religion and state, with hatred of Haredim. The Haredim are not to blame for the relationship between religion and state in Israel; the blame falls on Israel’s various governments.

It would be wise on Sarid’s part if he were to adopt the approach of Hillel the Elder, who, in explaining to a Gentile the essence of the Torah while standing on one foot, said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's funeral. Yossi Sarid’s regrettable words, uttered in a TV studio covering the funeral, added salt to a festering wound. Credit: AP

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