Wasting Tears on Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

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At the end of last week it seemed there had been an improvement in the condition of Maran, our teacher and master: There is a God who hears our tearful cries, and his salvation can come in the blink of an eye. But earlier this week his condition deteriorated, and Maran returned his soul to his maker. Is there no God in heaven or in Jerusalem?

Last Friday, when I wrote here about Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the great sage of the generation, I tried to sketch out a more complete and balanced picture. No sooner did the day dawn than the barrage of text messages and flood of phone calls began. It was clear that my night’s peaceful sleep was over.

I considered presenting some representative samples of the comments here, but I decided against it — why give such abuse any more publicity? I will make do with describing some common characteristics of the responders.

The Hebrew, both orally and in writing, was generally poor — evidence of a lack of familiarity with the core curriculum; the style was pretty folksy, full of personal wishes of quick and bizarre deaths; and all urged me to abandon my evil ways and to repent — and no later than by my next article. Well, here it is.

I must say I’d never imagined that so many Shas adherents were such devoted readers of Haaretz that as they awakened to pursue their service of the Creator they also took time to read its op-ed page. But soon I got a telephone call from the Walla! news site, which informed me that their ultra-Orthodox delinquent sources had told them about a new WhatsApp group that had been formed to decry “the enemy of Israel” for “his slander and insults against the adjudicator of the generation.” The messages being exchanged there included my phone number and that of Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken. Funny, hadn’t we just heard about a mass smashing of those impure smart phones in an effort to ease the rabbi’s pain?

On Monday, the day he died, the insults became real threats. From the depths of the mourning there were cries of “You son of a bitch! We know where you live, we’ll be coming for you tonight, and that will be the end of you. Just like it ended for Arik the maniac [Ariel Sharon], who Maran cursed and finished off. You’d better prepare your will.”

Friends, you forgot whom you were talking to. It’s hard to scare people like me, whose experiences have put them beyond such fears. Such aggression only strengthens me, because it shows me that the message has hit home, that I wasn’t spitting in the wind. I’ve had my say.

In my previous article I skipped over some of the other pithy maxims uttered by Maran, may his memory be blessed. It was not only soldiers who were killed because of Shabbat desecration in the army, but “the victims of the Holocaust, who were reincarnations of people who had sinned.” And: “All the troubles we’ve had throughout the generations — the Inquisition, the Holocaust and all such things — have within them a piece of the sin of the Golden Calf.” And about “all such things” our country’s president couldn’t find enough flowery praise; there was almost nothing left for the eulogies that followed for the “spiritual giant.”

I will never forgive myself for a negligent omission, for which I apologize. How could I forget my grandmother and grandfather? If Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid can trot out their families and describe what the Nazis, may their memory be erased, did to them, then I can speak about my grandmother, Batya Leah, and my grandfather, Shlomo Yaakov, who were led to pits in the forest on the outskirts of their Polish town and shot in the back of the head. They inscribed their memories on my flesh, and they gave me my family name [Sarid means “remnant” in Hebrew]. What did Ovadia know about the stains on their lives that we, their children, weren’t told?

One thing I promise you: We did not throw a party at Maran’s death, as he had promised to do at ours. What point is there to rejoicing when so many are so sad?

That night I watched the broadcast of “And the Land Will Not Rest,” which has done an unprecedentedly good job at telling the horror story of the Yom Kippur War, how young people fell victim to the politicians’ foolishness and arrogance and the officers’ delusions of grandeur, and how the “Sukka of David” almost fell.

As I watched I could hardly hold back the tears, which are still seething within me in pain and anger. And now they expect me to mourn for seven days over a man who died at a ripe old age, as if his passing was some national disaster. In a country that devours its young, it is forbidden to waste too many tears on old people like him, who died in their beds.

Children weeping over the death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef at the Western Wall.Credit: Emil Salman

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