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Ombudsman calls to review Sephardi chief rabbi’s status as rabbinical judge

Former justice says Yitzhak Yosef has made ‘hateful comments against large parts of the public’ while ignoring court rulings; Aryeh Deri vows to protect chief rabbis’ independence

Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef attends the traditional selling of the the hametz (food containing leavening) of the state of Israel to a non-Jew before the upcoming Passover holiday, on March 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef attends the traditional selling of the the hametz (food containing leavening) of the state of Israel to a non-Jew before the upcoming Passover holiday, on March 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Selection Committee for Rabbinical Judges must consider whether Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef should continue to serve as a judge at the Great Rabbinical Court of Appeals in Jerusalem, the ombudsman of the Israeli judiciary has said.

Former Supreme Court justice Uri Shoham issued the ruling Sunday in response to a petition against Yosef by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, which complained about Yosef’s controversial past comments on women, Reform Judaism and the High Court of Justice.

Yosef has a history of provocative comments. He has called Reform synagogues a form of “idolatry” and said the movement “falsified the Torah”; suggested secular women behave like animals due to their immodest dress; and questioned the High Court’s authority on rulings pertaining to religion, while vowing to ignore its decisions.

Earlier this year Yosef caused public outrage after doubting the Jewishness of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In 2018, Yosef came under fire after he likened black people to monkeys during his weekly sermon. That, too, led to calls for a criminal investigation.

Shoham noted in Sunday’s ruling that he’d previously recommended that Yosef be reprimanded for his comments on immigrants, but that this had been ignored.

He said Yosef has made “hateful comments against large parts of the public,” and “in the face of all rulings — both by the Supreme Court and of judicial ombudsmen, has not internalized the decisions relating to him, and time and again makes bold comments, while continually stating that he will not respect High Court rulings.”

In response to Shoham’s ruling, Shas party leader Aryeh Deri said he would act to preserve the independence of chief rabbis, telling Yosef: “As the head of Shas I will do all in my power to preserve the stature and independence of Israel’s chief rabbis, who act according to law and voice their clear opinions on issues of religion and Judaism.”

Yosef is the son of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former spiritual leader of Shas.

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