Multitudes throng streets for funeral of outspoken rabbi

By Ben Lynfield

About 500,000 turned out for Rabbi Yosef's funeral procession, making it one of Israel's largest. Photo / AP
About 500,000 turned out for Rabbi Yosef's funeral procession, making it one of Israel's largest. Photo / AP

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a leading religious scholar known for landmark rulings in Jewish law and for playing a key role in the political empowerment of Sephardic Jews of Middle Eastern origins, has died aged 93.

About half a million filled the streets of Jerusalem for his funeral procession, one of the largest ever held in Israel.

Religious seminary student Yehuda Fisch, who was among the mourners, said: "He advanced people from downtrodden places and lifted them up. He conveyed a lot of love."

But Yosef was also controversial, known for his derogatory pronouncements about non-Jews, Arabs, gays and secular Jews. He even offended Holocaust survivors, saying those who perished were the reincarnated souls of sinners being punished.

Iraqi-born Yosef, founder and spiritual leader of the Shas political party, a kingmaker in several Israeli coalition governments, was hospitalised last month critically ill with kidney failure.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Thirty years ago he formed the Shas political party which stoked resentment of Sephardic Jews at discrimination they faced from Israel's European Jewish elite.

During the early 1990s Yosef maintained an alliance with Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin as he pursued peace with the PLO. He also decided, against other leading rabbis, that Ethiopian Jews were full members of the Jewish faith.

- Independent

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