Shas rabbi: Only national religious politicians are ‘Amalek’

Ovadia Yosef seeks to diminish damage made by fellow rabbi’s recent provocative statements

Elie Leshem is deputy editor of The Times of Israel.

Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (right) next to Rabbi Shalom Cohen while the latter delivers a sermon, Saturday, July 13, 2013 (photo credit: Kikar Hashabat)
Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (right) next to Rabbi Shalom Cohen while the latter delivers a sermon, Saturday, July 13, 2013 (photo credit: Kikar Hashabat)

With tensions running high between Israel’s national religious and ultra-Orthodox communities, Shas party mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has sought to minimize a recent statement by a fellow rabbi that was deemed especially inflammatory.

Referring to the national religious Israelis by the colloquial Hebrew term for “knit kipa” — the preferred headgear for such Jews — Rabbi Shalom Cohen declared in a sermon delivered last Saturday night that “as long as there are knit kippot, the [divine] throne is not whole. That’s Amalek. When will the throne be whole? When there is no knit kipa.”

Amalek was a Biblical tribe that attacked the Israelites from behind while they wandered in the desert. In the Biblical narrative, its members were designated a special evil deserving of extermination.

“Rabbi Shalom Cohen said some things against knit kipot,” Yosef said in a sermon Saturday night, a week after Cohen’s statements, “but clearly he doesn’t mean those who wear knit kipot, for is it the kipa that determines who a person is? [Rather] he was referring to a few politicians who have relinquished the source of life [the Torah] and colluded with people who levied decrees on the world of Torah.”

Yosef, 92, was alluding to figures such as Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, who has been spearheading along with Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) efforts to pass a new law that would do away with blanket exemptions from IDF service for members of the ultra-Orthodox community.

“The rest of the knit kipot,” Yosef continued, “are loved. I never differentiated between knit kipot and black kipot. It’s nothing.”

In a video of Cohen’s sermon (Hebrew) posted last week to the Haredi website Kikar Hashabbat, Yosef can be seen sitting silently alongside Cohen as the latter calls national religious Israelis “Amalek” and suggests that they aren’t Jews.

Recent weeks have seen a rash of attacks against kipa-wearing IDF soldiers in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

Cohen is a member of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages and the head of the influential Porat Yosef Yeshiva. In the wake of his remarks, Bennett and others publicly castigated him.

Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.

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