5 of Ovadia Yosef’s most controversial quotations

Late Sephardi spiritual leader made a range of inflammatory comments -- involving snakes and sinners, gentiles and Blacks

Shas founder Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (center) flanked on the left by MK Eli Yishai and on the right by MKs Aryeh Deri and Ariel Atias, at the rabbi's house in Jerusalem, October 2012. (photo credit: Shas/Flash90)

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who died Monday at 93, was a revered halachic scholar whose rulings found solutions for Jews caught in complex situations, brought countless Jews back to Torah observance, and unified the diverse Sephardi community.

But Yosef was also known for some highly problematic statements about Jews, Arabs, Americans, and others.

Here are just five of the many comments that provoked outrage.

1) The ‘guilt’ of Jewish victims of the Holocaust:

“The six million Holocaust victims were reincarnations of the souls of sinners, people who transgressed and did all sorts of things which should not be done. They had been reincarnated in order to atone.”

— Weekly Saturday night sermon in August 2000

2) Hurricane Katrina as divine punishment for godlessness and American support for the disengagement from Gaza:

“There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn’t enough Torah study… Black people reside there [New Orleans]. Blacks will study the Torah? [God said] let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.”

“Hundreds of thousands remained homeless. Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God.”

“Bush was behind Gush Katif [the Gaza settlement bloc]. He encouraged Sharon to expel Gush Katif… We had 15,000 people expelled here, and there 150,000. It was God’s retribution… God does not short-change anyone.”

— Weekly Saturday night sermon in July 2005

3) The purpose of Gentiles — to serve Jews:

“Goyim were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel.”

“In Israel, death has no dominion over them… With gentiles, it will be like any person – they need to die, but [God] will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money.

“This is his servant… That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew.”

“Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat… That is why gentiles were created.”

— Weekly Saturday night sermon in October 2010

4) On making peace with Arabs:

“How can you make peace with a snake?”

“Those evildoers, the Arabs — it says in the Gemara [Talmud] that God is sorry he ever created those sons of Ishmael.”

— Weekly Saturday night sermon in August 2000

5) On Muslims:

“They’re stupid. Their religion is as ugly as they are.”

— Weekly Saturday night sermon in December 2009. (Yosef was discussing the law that a Jewish woman may remarry her husband after they divorced only if she has not slept another man in the interim. However, said Yosef, in Muslim religious law, the condition for a woman to remarry her husband is that she marry another man first.)

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