Concepts & Imagination (Ovadia Yosef z”l)

o. yosef

Ovadia Yosef was a major fixture in Israeli religion and politics. About the clarity of his halakhic judgments, I’ll rely on the authority of my colleagues who know this literature better than I do. The ones that get most discussed are the lenient positions he took re: the wives of Israeli soldiers who could not be found in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur, his ruling that Ethiopian Jews are indeed halakhically Jewish, opening the door to their aliyah to Israel, as well as his position permitting territorial compromise in the interest of saving human life (pikuah nefesh). In comparison to the conceptual clarity of his halakhic thinking, the work of his imagination seemed so often muddled by intolerance and racism –against secular Jews, Arabs, and, who knows why, African Americans. It’s too easy to focus exclusively on one or the other aspect of his life-work. At the end of the day, Ovadia Yosef empowered Mizrahi Jewish communities in Israel, and I’m sure abroad. As for his legacy, he leaves no successor. This has been pointed out about by Yair Ettinger who writes about religion at Haaretz. The same thing was said when Yosef Shalom Elyashiv died, and I’m sure the must have been said about the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. The loss of these Torah giants (gedolei ha’dor) portends who knows what for the future of Haredi Judaism. Will it splinter and fragment? In the meantime, hundreds of thousands attended Ovadia Yosef’s funeral. These things interest me, a fraught mass phenomenon that forms around a the life and death of a complex person, and then way they appear in a photograph. An excellent piece by Michelle Bubis, a secular Israeli woman living in Jerusalem, appeared in +972 and provides an excellent eye-witness account:

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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