Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas political party, is at it again with intemperate remarks about Israeli suffering. Last night, in his weekly sermon, Ovadia Yosef claimed that the devastating Carmel fire was a result of insufficient Shabbat observance in the area: “Fires only happen in a place where Shabbat is desecrated,” he said.
And today, his mouthpiece, Interior Minister Eli Yishai (of the same ministry responsible for Israel’s lack of preparedness to deal with the forest fire) defended Ovadia Yosef’s comments.
When religious leaders speak like this, is it any wonder a recent poll found 80% of the Israeli public dissatisfied with the government’s policies on religion and state and 61% of non-haredi citizens supported the establishment of a Likud-Kadima government without Shas and United Torah Judaism?
And where are our Jewish leaders – the same ones who spoke forcefully and often about the proposed changes to the conversion law this summer? Don’t they realize the damage to both individuals facing devastating loss and the Jewish people being created by statements such as this? Don’t they realize the influence Ovadia Yosef carries among a not insignificant portion of the Israeli public? Don’t they realize the power Shas has to tip almost any piece of legislation?
These same leaders allowed Shas a seat at the WZO table this summer. Shas: the party that wanted to remove pluralism from the Jewish world agenda. Shas, the party that blames the fires on the desecration of Shabbat. Shas, the party that will ultimately carry the day in defining “who is a Jew”.
When will our communal leaders have the courage to speak out? When their own grandchildren are unable to produce four generations of satisfactory ketubot?
By then, it will be to late.