Eyebrows raised as son of late Beersheba rabbi is declared his successor at funeral

With no apparent authority to do so, ex-Sephardic chief rabbi announces at cemetery that son of Yehuda Deri will take over his father’s role as southern city’s top rabbinical figure

Rabbi Yehuda Deri (R), chief rabbi of the southern city of Beersheba, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on December 12, 2012. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch / FLASH90)
Rabbi Yehuda Deri (R), chief rabbi of the southern city of Beersheba, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on December 12, 2012. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch / FLASH90)

A former chief rabbi who was attending the funeral of Beersheba city rabbi Yehuda Deri on Tuesday used his eulogy to declare that the deceased’s son would be taking over the post, in a surprise announcement made without the speaker appearing to have any formal authority to do so.

Former Sephardic chief rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said that Avraham Deri would become the city’s new rabbi to fulfill the wishes of his father, the late Yehuda Deri, brother of Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri.

“I know that was what the deceased wanted,” Yosef said at the funeral of Yehuda Deri, who died on Tuesday of a pulmonary infection at the age of 66. “He wanted his son to take over from him. We are crowning him now, and no one should, God forbid, disrupt this. The city mayor is here. He is hearing these words.”

Yosef stepped down from his own post as chief rabbi last week when his almost 11-year term came to an end. No replacement has been installed, with the position being filled on an interim basis by another rabbi.

Though no longer officially the top Sephardic rabbi, Yosef still carries significant weight in the ultra-Orthodox community.

The remarks drew allegations of nepotism from reporters and other observers online, who noted Yosef’s lack of authority to make such an appointment.

A source in the Religious Services Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel that as a private individual Yosef “can say what he wants but he has no authority to decide the next chief rabbi of Beersheba.” Such appointments are made by an official committee and funded by the state.

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef speaks during the funeral of Yehuda Deri, the chief rabbi of Beersheba, in Jerusalem on July 9, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The Beersheba Municipality told The Times of Israel that the Religious Services Ministry handles the selection process for the city rabbi.

At the funeral, Shas leader Aryeh Deri delivered a deeply personal eulogy for his brother, weeping uncontrollably.

Normally an eloquent and composed speaker, Deri broke down repeatedly during his address at the Sanhedria cemetery in Jerusalem.

“We were together all the way for all those dozens of years. How did you leave, and at such a difficult period for the people of Israel,” Deri wept.

He also noted how his brother had kept his illness quiet, with hardly anyone knowing the seriousness of his ailment.

Sources told the Israel Hayom outlet that Yehuda Deri had not wanted his illness to become a possible obstacle to his run for becoming the next Sephardic chief rabbi, which he announced at the beginning of the year.

By contending for the chief rabbi position, Deri had also opened a contest for who would replace him as the chief rabbi in Beersheba.

Shas chief Aryeh Deri attends the funeral of his brother, Yehuda Deri, in Jerusalem on July 9, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Currently, local governments have a majority on the committees that select municipal rabbis, with 50 percent of the votes going to city council members and the municipality director-general and the rest evenly split between public representatives chosen by the municipality and the religious services minister.

That process recently became the focus of political turmoil when the Shas party backed a so-called Rabbis Bill, which would have dramatically expanded the Chief Rabbinate’s authority over the appointment of municipal rabbis. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yanked the bill from the Knesset agenda amid pushback from coalition lawmakers that made its successful passage in parliament unclear.

The move angered Shas, with Aryeh Deri reportedly having threatened to bring down the government if the legislation was not brought to a vote.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri (L) listens to his brother, Beersheba’s late chief rabbi Yehuda Deri. (Yaakov Cohen)

Then, on Monday, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir threatened he would not back the bill if he is not given a seat on the war cabinet that is overseeing the ongoing war against the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip.

Poking at another political sore, Yosef, speaking at the Deri funeral, attacked the government over recent legislation on drafting members of the ultra-Orthodox community into the army, as mandated by the High Court of Justice.

Yosef begged the late Yehuda Deri to pray from heaven for the people of Israel so that “the controversies stop and the allegations against those who toil for the Torah” stop, among other perceived problems.

It was an indirect but clear reference to the controversy surrounding the High Court of Justice’s ruling last month that the state must draft previously exempted ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students and end funding for their yeshivas if the students do not perform military service.

Also at the funeral was Yosef’s former counterpart, former Asheknazi chief rabbi David Lau, who also ended his term last week.

Lau stayed off politics in his less emotional eulogy, wishing strength to Deri’s family and recalling his “great energy” at Torah study sessions.

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