An ultra-Orthodox news site claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to eulogize Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was prevented by members of the Hevra Kadisha burial services, who claimed that it was “unfitting” for a secular figure to speak about the deceased religious leader.
Netanyahu arrived at the Shamgar funeral home in Jerusalem only a short while after Yosef’s death last Monday. But when he requested permission to speak publicly of the rabbi, he was urged not to do so, according to Kikar Hashabat
“Under no circumstances can a person who desecrates the Sabbath and consumes nonkosher meat eulogize this generation’s great leader — that will not happen,” an unnamed Hevra Kadisha member was quoted as saying.
The report said that Netanyahu accepted the burial service members’ demand and stepped outside the building in order to eulogize Yosef in front of TV cameras rather than in the funeral home.
A family member of Yosef, who spoke under condition of anonymity, told the news site that they had “a lot of respect” for the prime minister, but that a non-observant Jew should not be allowed to eulogize the “generation’s great rabbi.”
Yosef, Israel’s former Sephardi chief rabbi and the spiritual mentor of the Shas political party, died at the age of 93.
Yosef’s funeral last Monday drew, according to police estimates, over 800,000 people, making it the largest funeral in the country’s history; other estimates put the figure at some 400,000.
Netanyahu paid a condolence call to the Yosef family a day after the funeral, sparking a deeply uncomfortable confrontation when the late rabbi’s sons demanded that the prime minister cancel plans to draft ultra-Orthodox males.
They said the demand represented their father’s “dying wish.”
During his visit, Netanyahu called the rabbi a “great scholar” and said Yosef “uniquely combined Judaism and humanity” and “cared deeply for anyone in need.”
Thousands of people assembled in order to take part in a memorial service Sunday evening for Yosef, marking the end of the traditional seven-day shiva mourning period.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.