“Anyone who does not adhere to kosher rules is stupid,” is roughly what Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said in his weekly sermon at the end of Shabbat. “A person who eats non-kosher food, his brain gets stupid, he can’t understand things, doesn’t get it. As soon as he starts keeping kosher, you can start to influence him,” he preached. “I see what is happening in secular society…they are suffering. They don’t find fulfillment in life. Everything is done for worldly desires. [They are] jealous of [Haredi Jews], it’s all jealousy… It all comes from jealousy and becomes hatred.”
The Chief Rabbi emphasized this in relation to the behavior of secular Jews in Tel Aviv, who prevented religious Jews from praying in public on Yom Kippur, ostensibly over the erection of a barrier segregating male and female worshippers.
פרסום ראשון: הרב הראשי לישראל יצחק יוסף נגד החילונים. ״אני רואה כל מה שקורה בציבור החילוני. הם מסכנים. אין להם סיפוק בחיים. הכל למען תאוות העולם הזה. אדם שאוכל לא כשר המוח שלו נהיה מטומטם. ארגונים שמחזירים אותם בתשובה זה מה שצריך לעשות. הם מקנאים בנו״. מיד בצינור ההקלטות המלאות pic.twitter.com/qg1Se7bMpz
— בר שם-אור Bar Shem-Ur (@Bar_ShemUr) October 1, 2023
Sermons of this type are often difficult to understand and even incomprehensible to the majority of Israelis. His father, himself a former chief rabbi and founder of the Sephardic political party Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, angered a large part of the Jewish population in his weekly sermons. In the summer of 2009, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said that “secular students are as stupid as animals.” At that time too, people were shocked by this and many other sermons by the prominent religious figure. “The Torah students go home after the service in the synagogue and do kiddush, because they know how to do kiddush. But those who study in secular schools are like stupid fools. These students do not know what kiddush (prayer over wine at the beginning of Shabbat) is and behave like animals. They jump straight into the food, with no kiddush on Shabbat. It is a great commandment to convert these people.”
“I am in the rabbinical court, receiving cases and seeing what’s happening in the secular community,” continued the new chief rabbi. “It’s unbelievable, but we need to bring them closer. What some organizations are thankfully doing — bringing them closer and returning them to repentance. This is what needs to be done and this is what [my father] did.” He then explained why the non-religious Jews are jealous. “We have children, we have holidays, we go on vacation with our children. That makes them jealous of us,” emphasized the junior Yosef.
In this case I would like to defend both of these rabbis a little. They often use a word from the Hebrew language of the Talmud and the Mishnah that is foreign to most Israelis in today’s everyday language. For son and father, secular Jews are stupid people because they miss or waste God’s blessings. One time because they don’t eat kosher and another time because they don’t celebrate the weekly kiddush at the family table. The moment one eats kosher, the rabbis again have influence over the pious Jew in a certain way. Anyone who does not adhere to the biblical commandments, even though they are expressly commanded, has, so to speak, dulled their brain. And that’s why the late Rabbi Yosef described these people as animals who don’t even have time at the table on Friday evening to thank God for their salvation from slavery.
For this reason, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef feels obliged to help his secular brothers and sisters. These rabbis don’t mean anything bad, but they speak with terminology that annoys some and makes others smirk. I know stupid people on all sides, among secular and Orthodox Jews. Anyone who does not follow God’s commandments or path according to their understanding is stupid, and that pains these rabbis. But on the other hand, they don’t know of any other Judaism in which Jews follow lighter kosher rules and observe kiddush differently at the Shabbat table, without going to synagogue first. My children have grown up with kiddush on Friday evenings from day one until today. I, like many others, do not consider myself “stupid or a person with a dull brain.” But I also don’t take their remarks personally, I do not take offense. I understand who they are and what their role is among the people.
But many secular Israelis were angered, among them opposition leader Yair Lapid, who reacted: “He is not the chief rabbi of Israel, but the rabbi of a loud minority, who from the podium curses millions of Jews who serve in the army, risk their lives and sacrifice, work and keep this country alive. He was right about one thing, tonight the secular Jews feel really stupid because they pay his salary.” Avigdor Liberman, head of the secular right-wing Israel Beitenu, similarly said, “The only stupidity is that secular society pays a salary to evil people like you.”
Just as secular Jews cannot always understand or comprehend the Hebrew terminology of their Orthodox brothers and sisters, Orthodox Jews also often have problems with the colloquial language of their secular siblings. Of course, Lapid and Liberman immediately jump at the heated sermons of such rabbis, but sometimes, I think, one should react differently or, ideally, not at all. Especially in times like these, when everyone seems to be turning against their neighbor.
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