I’ve always been a fan of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual head of Shas, and a major halachic figure in the Sephardic community, where he is known as Chacham Ovadiah, or more simply, Maran. Aside from the sunglasses and terrific outfits, Rabbi Yosef has been a modernizing force in the Sepherdic world, bringing them singlehandedly forward into the 17th century, or thereabouts.Plus, he’s always good for a laugh, when he says outrageous things that leave us all shaking our heads. Unfortunately, he sometimes goes a bit too far, like in his sermon on the 2nd anniversary of the 2nd Lebanon War. In it, he commented that it was no surprise that soldiers were killed in the war, as they did not observe Shabbat, or the Torah, or pray every day or put on tefillin.
Recently, we’ve all been talking about the idea of mishum eivha – the notion that we do certain things that are not entirely required by law so as to avoid the hatred of non-Jews. How much more so then are we to be careful to avoid inspiring hatred among other Jews, whom we are commanded to love as ourselves! Though R. Ovdiah clearly was not saying that observance guarantees survival in war, as he is certainly well-aware of observant soldiers who have died, his statement is sure to result in another wave of hatred for the religious and scorn for the Torah. A man of R. Yosef’s stature in Torah needs to be more careful of the consequences of his words.