Ovadia Yosef, rabbi and kingmaker, dies

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef  

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the religious scholar and spiritual leader of Israel’s Sephardic Jews who transformed his downtrodden community of immigrants from North Africa and Arab nations and their descendants into a powerful force in Israeli politics, died on Monday. He was 93.

His prominence helped boost the confidence of his community, which makes up roughly half of Israel’s population but faced discrimination by Ashkenazi or European Jews who traditionally dominated Israel’s government and religious institution. Rabbi Yosef parlayed his religious authority into political power, founding Shas, a party representing Sephardic Jews that became a kingmaker in several government coalitions.

The Iraqi-born Rabbi Yosef came to national prominence when he served as Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi from 1972 to 1983.

His influence reached beyond the party, and he was known for his fierce statements that offended widely disparate segments of society.

“The sanctity of life overrules the slogan of not giving up an inch,” he once said. This countered decrees by other rabbis, who declared that no Jew had a right to hand over any part of the biblical Land of Israel to a non-Jew for any reason. But in recent years he appeared to retreat, emphasising the religious and security aspects of the West Bank for Israel — AP