Ovadia Yosef, rabbi and Israeli kingmaker, dies
By Mark Lavie, APJERUSALEM -- Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the religious scholar and spiritual leader of Israel's Sephardic Jews who transformed his downtrodden community of immigrants from North Africa and Arab nations and their descendants into a powerful force in Israeli politics, died on Monday. He was 93.
October 8, 2013, 12:08 am TWN
Yosef, who had suffered from a variety of medical ailments for several years, was hospitalized in recent days in critical condition after suffering kidney failure and problems with other bodily systems. Officials at the Jerusalem hospital that treated him announced his death.
Yosef was often called the outstanding Sephardic rabbinical authority of the century. His prominence helped boost the confidence of his community, which makes up roughly half of Israel's population but was long impoverished and faced discrimination by Ashkenazi — or European — Jews who traditionally dominated Israel's government and religious institutions.
Yosef parlayed his religious authority into political power, founding Shas, a party representing Sephardic Jews that became a kingmaker in several government coalitions.
As hospital officials announced his death, anguished cries could be heard from a large crowd of supporters that had gathered.
Eli Yishai, a Shas leader, stepped outside the hospital, recited a Jewish blessing and then broke down into tears.
“How will we remain alone. Who will lead us,” said Arieh Deri, another Shas leader, as he sobbed uncontrollably.
Crowds of anguished followers recited the kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead. Israeli TV stations said Israel's main highways were already jammed up as tens of thousands of people prepared to head to Jerusalem for Yosef's funeral later in the day.
The Iraqi-born Yosef came to national prominence when he served as Israel's chief Sephardic rabbi from 1972 to 1983. While he was revered by his followers, his critics charged that he exacerbated ethnic tensions between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Israelis.
This April 20, 1997 file photo shows Shas party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem. (AP)