Yehuda Deri, brother of Shas leader and Beersheba chief rabbi, dies at 66

Deri died after complications from infection; spiritual leaders and politicians mourn rabbinical judge who was seen as leading candidate to become Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

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

Yehuda Deri, the chief rabbi of Beersheba and the brother of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 66, his brother said.

His funeral was scheduled for 8 p.m. in Jerusalem.

Deri’s passing at Hadassah Ein Karem Medical Center in Jerusalem was a result of complications related to an infection that led to his hospitalization last month, the Kikar Hashabat Haredi news site reported. His condition had gradually deteriorated over the past 24 hours, the report said.

In a statement, Aryeh Deri eulogized his late brother as “the leader of a tremendous revolution of Torah and Judaism, a vigilant keeper of kashrut who redeemed many from sin.”

He added that Yehuda “with his pleasant conduct and eloquence knew how to lead his listeners to love Judaism.”

Yehuda’s death is “a tremendous loss to his thousands of students” and the Jewish people, added Deri, also recalling his late brother’s tendency to “swim against the current.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a statement about Deri by offering condolences to brother Aryeh. “Rabbi Yehuda was a great scholar of the Torah… a man of charity and virtue who gained the love and esteem of everyone who knew him. His passing is a great loss for the world of Torah, for the people of Beersheba and for the whole of the People of Israel,” he said.

MKs from across the coalition and the opposition offered Aryeh Deri condolences.

Yehuda Deri’s death was connected to a pulmonary condition that required him to be on an ECMO machine, Kikar Hashabat said, adding the rabbi was taken off the machine several days ago.

A prolific author and rabbinical judge, Deri was considered a leading candidate for succeeding Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef as the chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

Some believe his illness was part of the reason for the stalling of the succession process, which the Chief Rabbinate has said is connected to demands for women’s representation under the title of “rabbi” in the assembly that elects the chief rabbis.

Before becoming Beersheba’s top Orthodox rabbi some 30 years ago, Yehuda Deri was the rabbi of Ramot, a neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Deri was born in Meknès, Morocco, and immigrated to Israel with his family in 1968. The family, which was middle class, immersed in Francophone culture and financially comfortable in Morocco, settled in Bat Yam. Yehuda and Aryeh’s parents were not Haredi, but they feared their boys would be led astray by juvenile delinquents living in their neighborhood and therefore enrolled both boys in a Haredi boarding school in Hadera, leading them to adopt the lifestyle.

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