Global, Israel, Politics, Religion

Rav Ovadia's Theodicy Strikes Again

Hurricane Katrina was, according to Shas’ spiritual leader, punishment for American support of the disengagement from Gaza. Now, R. Ovadia Yosef is claiming, Israeli soldiers died in Lebanon because they weren’t frum enough.
The Jerusalem Post reports,

“Should it come as a surprise if, God forbid, soldiers are killed in war?” said Yosef, spiritual mentor of the haredi-Sephardi Shas party, referring to the 119 IDF soldiers killed during the Second Lebanon War.
“When they do not adhere to the laws of Shabbat, they do not keep the Torah, they do not pray every day, they do not put on phylacteries every day? God have mercy on them [soldiers] and make them become newly religious – then they will all live a good life in peace,” Yosef said.

Pardon me while I vomit in my mouth a little. Not surprisingly, the parents of soldiers who were killed in the war have a little bit to say about this. For example,

Moshe Muskal, another bereaved parent whose religious son Refanel was killed in Maroun a-Ras, said that since Yosef’s political party was part of the government coalition during the Second Lebanon War, the rabbi also bears responsibility for the deaths of the soldiers.
Muskal, who was interviewed on Army Radio, quoted from testimony given by Shas Chairman Eli Yishai before the Winograd Committee, which investigated the operational failures of the war.
According to the testimony, Yishai, a member of the government’s Defense Cabinet during the war, consulted with Yosef often.
“I want to know if Rabbi Ovadia Yosef advised Yishai to check if soldiers entering Maroun a-Ras [the Lebanese village where Muskal’s son was killed] put on tefilin that morning,” said Muskal. “And if they did not put on tefilin, were they prevented from going to war?”

Full story.

25 thoughts on “Rav Ovadia's Theodicy Strikes Again

  1. Now, R. Ovadia Yosef is claiming, Israeli soldiers died in Lebanon because they weren’t frum enough.
    Well, it’s true. If they had become “religious” to his standards, then they likely would have found a way to evade army service.

  2. hes wrong – peace comes from mitzvot of loving JEWS not neccesarily G-D. king david’s army had casualties while being near perfect in service to G-d, while a really evil king (whos name eludes me), whos army was very good to each other but horrible to G-d had very few casualties in war. this is only if we can still say this applies today, as the line is impossible to tell.

  3. theres much on this subject i think. its not as much about service of G-d than being good to fellow jews for war. try any major torah-observant/orthodox rabbi like chofetz chaim or r’soloveitchik

  4. R’ Ovadia shlita was quoting and expanding upon a gemara. It is unsurprising that the Jerusalem Post took his comments out of context. He was not saying that this or that particular soldier died because they didn’t lay tefillin or daven. He was saying that soldiers died because not enough Jews in the world daven for their safety. This is a clear position in Torah Judaism. If the notion that we are all responsible for one another is theodicy, if the Torah makes you vomit, I don’t really know what to tell you.

  5. Yoel-
    which Gemara was he quoting from when he said that G-d took his wrath from the disengagement from Gaza out on poor black people in New Orleans who likely never voted for Bush, and likely never even heard the words, “Gush Katif”?

  6. Finally,
    “My rabbi does not err,” Yishai told Army Radio. “Everything he says is the word of God.”…
    hmmm, God in the form of a human…what religion are we again?

  7. Two errors in the JPost article:
    1. Ovadia did not say “become newly religious”. He said “do teshuva”, or, in English, “repent from their evil ways”.
    2. The dead kid’s name is Refanael – not Rafael.
    Never read JPost.

  8. Jason – it is a well known concept that as part of our role as a holy people, what we do or don’t do affects everybody. If you don’t like the idea, that’s one thing. R’ Ovadia does not need excuses for consistently sound Daas Torah. That said, R’ Ovadia is not my rav, and I do not necessarily agree with everything he says or does. The fact is that the jpost article was blatantly biased and showed an astounding disregard for context.

  9. This is a clear position in Torah Judaism.
    So is ùëø îöåä áäàé òìîà ìéëà. And so is the factual veracity of the holocaust.

  10. Are responding to me, Amit? I’m not sure that the protection of Am Yisrael from harm necessarily qualifies as a reward. Anyway, the quote you bring up from Kiddushin only refers to those mitzvot which have no reward specified in the written Torah.
    Did R’ Ovadia deny the holocaust? Chas v’shalom. I was unaware.

  11. I believe you’re all leaving out the part where Hacham Ovadya blamed the Black residents of Louisiana’s “Godlessness” and “Not studying Torah” for their suffering under Katrina. What a guy.

  12. Yoel–
    The Torah doesn’t make me vomit. Neither does the Tanach, in which God (speaking from the whirlwind) reminds Job that human beings are too puny to understand the Divine will and the Divine mystery–which I would presume includes the mystery of why things happen as they do.
    What’s less of a mystery to me is the fact that a lot of soldiers would not have been killed if the irresponsible and stupid-acting Israeli government had not gotten Israel embroiled in that mess in Lebanon last summer, and/or had handled said mess with some modicum of intelligence and experience. God gave us all free will, and the human beings who were in charge in Israel last year used theirs very, very poorly, and people died as a result–as a result of human choices and human actions.
    Yosef’s advice to Shas was part of how the govt. entered and handled the war, and Muskal’s right–he bears some of the responsibility for those soldiers’ deaths as a result.

  13. Actually, chillul, he never said black New Orleans residents should study Torah. Rather, he suggested that since they were obviously not going to do so, Jews needed to pick up the slack. He did describe them as G-dless. While I doubt R’ Ovadia has much intimate knowledge of African-American culture in the first place, the notion that Hashem would (a) punish not just Jews but the world at large for Jews’ failures (ie, the Gaza pullout) and that (b) He would choose a people who are distant from Him or do not worship Him for that punishment is, again, consistent with a Torah view. I am not a Chacham or even a rabbi, so I will not pretend to understand why bad things happen to good people or why tragedies happen. It is true, Danya, that none of us can clearly say why G-d does anything at all. However, what we can do, especially if we are exceedingly learned, is apply what the Torah teaches about these things to a tragedy and look for a possible answer. As for the government’s culpability, we are in complete agreement that the Lebanon war was a stupid and tragic mistake, that we should never have been there, and that the most obvious cause of loss of Jewish lives in that instance was typical governmental idiocy.

  14. YnetNews,7340,L-3138779,00.html
    In his weekly sermon, the rabbi said: “There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn’t enough Torah study… black people reside there (in New Orleans). Blacks will study the Torah? (God said) let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.”
    “Hundreds of thousands remained homeless. Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God,” said the rabbi, who already found himself in hot water in the past following controversial remarks of one kind or another.

    And as far as the word used to refer to the African-American residents of New Orleans, at least one internet source insists that Hacham Ovadya used the modern Hebrew slur “kushi”.

  15. Furthermore, I think we should be extremely wary of anyone who claims to have a special understanding of God’s thoughts, especially where sechar and onesh (reward and punishment) in this world are concerned.
    “My ways are not your ways” insists Hashem Yitbarach in the haftara for public fasts.
    And if the Gemara’s statement is true that in this late era, prophecy is distributed only to children and fools, I’ve gotta wonder which one Hacham Ovadya must be to insist that he knows God’s mind.
    The proper traditional Jewish response to tragedy is twofold: (a) mitigate the problem in Olam haZeh, and (b) mitigate the problem in Olam haBah.
    So if you’d like to help somebody rebuild a levee or work on their middot (personality traits), please proceed. Otherwise you should probably refrain from sticking your foot in your mouth.
    Come to think of it, doesn’t Pirkei Avot insist that we are not supposed to rejoice when misfortune strikes our enemies? I think Shmuel haKatan even quoted a pasuk to that effect. Our ENEMIES even — kal vechomer (even the more so) distant Louisianans.
    We might as well tell the Gush Katifniks they deserved what they got.. after all, doesn’t Yeshayahu yell “Hoi magiei bayit bevayit, sadeh besadeh yakrivu, ad efes makom, vehoshavtem levadchem bekerev ha’aretz?…”(5:8) (Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no room, that they may dwell alone in the midst of the land! In mine ears said the LORD of hosts: large houses shall be desolate, even great and fair ones without inhabitant.)
    But I’m not making that argument.

  16. “modern Hebrew slur “kushi”.”
    Not much of a slur, that. Just means “Ethiopian”. Of course *now* its a slur, but Ovadia didn’t go to Ulpan yesterday, and in traditional Rabbinic Hebrew there ain’t nothing wrong with being a Kushi. Sort of like being a German (Mishna Negaim 2:1).

  17. Yah man, that’s why I said “*modern* Hebrew slur”. It’s not a classical Hebrew slur or a Tanach Hebrew slur, it’s a modern Hebrew slur. And I’m sure Hacham Ovadya knows better than to use it.

  18. My personal favorite was when R’ Ovadia Yosef said in a sermon, about Reform women who pray while wearing tallesim:
    “…these wicked women, the Reform, who do everything in order to bash Judaism…they should be wrapped in a tallit and buried.” Much more creative than his discussion of those kushim. I mean come on, with the Kushim he just wants us to sit here and wait for GOD to sort it out. With the evil reform women, we actually get to go and TAKE PART in the solution!!!

  19. “He was saying that soldiers died because not enough Jews in the world daven for their safety. This is a clear position in Torah Judaism.”- Yoel
    There are multiple theologies and theodicies in the Talmud,in Gaonic and medieval commentaries, and modern Jewish thought: I don’t need to quote them or reference them to let you know they are less problematic than the view Rav Ovadia brought and Yosef defended.
    To espouse this one in particular- individual punishment for collective sin- is perverse, profoundly disturbing, and wrong, even if it is a quote or a perspective from within Torah. There are lots of Jewish ideas we find compelling and lots we find disturbing; for Rav Ovadia to select this one is misguided at best.
    And in solidarity with Danya, this theology makes me throw up in my mouth a little too.

  20. it would not surprise me one bit if Rav Yosef was not aware that the word “kushi” is currently a slur.
    nor would it surprise me if he had no idea what a cup of coffee cost or how to ride a bus or what an iPhone was.
    this guy leads an extremely insular life and does not surround himdself with slang-speaking kids.
    that said, what he said re: the soldiers is somewhat offensive.

  21. “Pardon me while I vomit in my mouth a little.” Are you my grandmother? Do you hack and spit on the street too?
    It’s way too graphic and gross. Can’t you just say “Pardon me while I throw up”???

  22. It is quite astounding to read the comments of those who have responded so far.
    It is a well knon fact that Rav Ovadia is persistently and deliberately misreported and misunderstood in the secular press in Israel.
    I can excuse the secular press becausethey have a political and anti religious agenda, but what is the excuse of all of you.
    Research the matter and understand that you are talking about the Greatest Halachic authority of the last 50 years

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