Shas rabbi Ovadia Yosef clings to life as health fades rapidly

Shas rabbi Ovadia Yosef clings to life as health fades rapidly

Spiritual leader of ultra-Orthodox party, 93, said by doctors to be in total system failure; hundreds of supporters surround hospital to pray; officials try to quash premature reports of death

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was fighting for his life Monday, after his health drastically deteriorated overnight.

Doctors said Monday morning that Yosef, 93, was in critical condition and in immediate danger of death as he entered general systemic failure.

“His condition has deteriorated extremely,” Dr. Dan Gilon, who is treating Yosef, told reporters Monday. “His situation is most critical.”

Gilon refused to give a timeline, but said the situation was grim and growing worse for Yosef, one of the most powerful religious and political figures in the country.

A number of rabbis emerging from Yosef’s hospital room said despite the dire situation, Yosef was still breathing and somewhat stable and supporters should continue to pray for his health.

More than one quoted the Talmudic phrase, “Even when a sword is resting on his neck, you should not despair of mercy.”

Shas political leader Aryeh Deri emerged from the hospital room shortly after noon and said there had been a very small improvement in his condition.

Yosef’s family was called to his bedside at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital earlier in the morning. A tearful Deri called on supporters to pray for his health.

“I don’t want to describe what could, God forbid, happen,” he told Kol Barama radio. “How will the world run without the sun? How will the world run without the moon? What will be of us? Who will lead us? Who will take his place?”

Supporters outside Yosef's hospital room praying. (Screenshot: Mitch Ginsburg)
Supporters outside Yosef’s hospital room praying. (Screenshot: Mitch Ginsburg)

Some 100 followers crowded the 8th floor hallway outside his hospital room, chanting prayers and crying for a miracle. Family members and hospital officials made several pleas for well-wisher to not crowd the area, as it caused a health danger.

President Shimon Peres visited Yosef’s bedside shortly after 11 a.m., cutting short a meeting with the Czech prime minister. Peres reportedly held Yosef’s hand and said goodbye before saying a prayer outside the room.

Sabina Simantov, a volunteer at the hospital, said Yosef’s condition was on everybody’s mind at the hospital.

“I had five minutes so I came up here to pray,” she said.

Yosef, a former chief rabbi who acted as the spiritual leader for Israel’s large community of Sephardi Jews and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, is perhaps the country’s best-known religious personality.

His health travails over the last several weeks have merited extensive media attention, and on Monday morning, Israeli news outlets ran wall-to-wall coverage tracking every change in his condition.

The rabbi was taken off a respirator late last week after making a slight recovery, but was put back on the breathing machine late Sunday as he took a turn for the worse.

Before Monday doctors had said he was in serious but stable condition.

Gilon told Army Radio early Monday morning that the situation was dire.

“He has serious illnesses,” Gilon said. “He is an old man and that doesn’t help.”

His hospitalization last month, after complications from kidney treatment, set off prayer rallies and health watches across the country among his supporters from Israel’s Sephardic community and others.

On top of steering Shas, Yosef also heads the Badatz Beit Yosef kashrut certification organization — a business reportedly worth tens of millions of shekels.

A number of his sons and relatives serve as municipal rabbis, controlling kosher certification, and one son, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, was recently elected chief Sephardic rabbi.

Since founding the Shas party, Yosef has dictated its candidate lists for each election.

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