Renowned son of leading Sephardic Torah authority, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shlita
On Friday, April 12, thousands mourned profusely upon hearing the news that Sephardic Torah authority Rabbi Yaakov Chai Yosef, the son of Shas’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shlita, passed away at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem. Having been hospitalized in serious condition since last Thursday, there was a sudden deterioration in Rabbi Yosef’s condition on Friday, as it was reported that he had been suffering from cancer for about a year. Last Tuesday, hundreds gathered in Israel to pray for Rabbi Yosef’s health at the kever (tomb) of Rabbi Chaim David Azulai, (also known as the Hida) in the Har Hamenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem.
When informed of Rabbi Yosef’s passing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his deep sorrow. “Rabbi Yosef was a great Torah scholar, teacher and a posek who followed in the footsteps of his father, may he have a long life,” he said.
Despite his grave medical condition, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef delivered 40 Torah law lectures across Israel every week, which observers say led to his hospitalization. Rabbi Yosef was the rabbi of the Givat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem and was known far and wide as a humble Torah giant, referring to his students affectionately as his ‘friends’.
Over 25,000 attended his funeral which left the Borochov Synagogue in the Bucharim neighborhood of Jerusalem for the Har Hamenuchot Cemetery. Despite the fast approaching Shabbat (Sabbath), those gathered began crowding the surrounding streets and rooftops and accompanied the funeral cortege.
Born in 1946 in Jerusalem, Rabbi Yosef was the second child of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the late Margalit Yosef. He studied at Yeshivat Porat Yosef and Yeshivat Kol Torah, at Kollel Kol Yaakov and at the Mossad HaRav Kook in Jerusalem, where he was ordained as a rabbi.
Between 1983 and 1984 he served as a member of the Jerusalem City Council on behalf of the Shas party. Ahead of the elections to the 11th Knesset, he was placed on the Shas list, when it first ran in the Israeli elections, and was elected to the Knesset. During his tenure as an MK he served on the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the Education and Culture Committee, and the parliamentary investigation committee into road accidents.
Over the years, Rabbi Yosef delivered regular weekly sermons in various neighborhoods in Jerusalem, which were characterized by a simple, popular style and which caused him to be loved and revered by many.
Rabbi Yaakov founded and headed the Hazon Yaakov (lit. Jacob’s Vision) yeshiva, named for his grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Ovadia. His students rent their clothes upon hearing of his passing.
He was a staunch supporter of the settlement of Judea and Samaria, a member of the Save the Land and People Organization, and was vehemently opposed to any compromises that meant giving up land to Arabs.
On Sunday, April 14th, Israeli President Shimon Peres was paid a condolence visit to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who is sitting shiva for his son. Rabbi Ovadia is 92 years of age.
“It is good to have a family like this, which exudes Torah,” Peres said, “because the Jewish nation lives, not by force of arms but through its spirit.”
Rav Ovadia told Peres of his son’s debut as a teacher of Torah, when Rabbi Ovadia was unable to deliver a lesson and called upon his son to serve as his replacement. Yaakov Yosef was 24 at the time.
“I told the congregation to tell me if they liked the lesson he gave. They went crazy! He taught everything from memory, without opening a book!” Peres noted that he had, in fact, heard that Rabbi Yaakov Yosef had a phenomenal memory.
In December of 2012, it was reported that Rabbi Yosef issued a halachic ruling which prohibits taking private lessons with gay teachers. “If the teacher lives a perverted lifestyle, what is vernacularly called a homosexual, one must be very careful when studying with such a person,” Rabbi Yosef wrote.
The ruling was issued in response to a question regarding taking piano lessons from a gay teacher. Rabbi Yosef discussed the issue in depth, taking a tough stance against associating with homosexuals. The ruling generally applies to non-Jews who are declared homosexuals. The ruling quotes Rabbinic literature going back to the Talmud, as well as rulings from subsequent rabbis, prohibiting males from conducting private meetings with homosexuals. In addition, the ruling states that it is forbidden to have such people as roommates. “We are not concerned about this matter when it comes to two Jews, but in the case of non-Jewish homosexuals we must be concerned.
Rabbi Yosef expanded the ruling to ban private meetings between children and Jews who are accused of pedophilia or are declared homosexuals as well. “When we say that Jews are not suspected of this behavior, we are talking about the average person. But as soon as suspicions have cropped up regarding someone, we must be very careful. This applies to households, and even more so for principals, who cannot hire these people for teaching positions. This applies even if the person was not convicted of a crime and did not serve time in prison for these crimes. The fact that there are questions about his behavior is enough,” Rabbi Yosef added. “There is no smoke without fire.”
In addition, Rabbi Yosef wrote that it is forbidden to hire declared atheists who do not respect Jewish teachings as tutors. “These people are considered evil, since as they teach the child they add their disrespect for Judaism. The solution in this case is to supervise the teacher,” Rabbi Yosef wrote. “You wish to hire such a person as a tutor? He must teach your child in your home, where he will fear to spread his ideas. You are not permitted to send your child to his house,” he added.