Hundreds Gather At Peaceful Women Of The Wall Service Marking 25th Anniversary

In a display of the changes the group has experienced this year, Women of the Wall held a peaceful prayer service under police protection at the Western Wall to mark the group’s 25th anniversary.

Women of the Wall wear prayer shawls and pray at the Western Wall. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Women of the Wall wear prayer shawls and pray at the Western Wall.
(Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Absent from Monday’s service, which the group said drew at least 800 worshipers, were large crowds of Orthodox girls who at the behest of their rabbis and activists had blocked the wall’s women’s section in previous months.

For the first time in recent memory, Women of the Wall occupied the majority of the section, with a crowd of male supporters stretching back into the plaza.

The group has met for a women’s prayer service at the wall at the beginning of each Jewish month for the past quarter-century, but has seen rapid change in its status during the past six months.

Until April, women in the group who donned prayer shawls or sang too loudly often would be detained by police. But that month, a Jerusalem district court judge ruled that the group’s practices did not violate any of the wall’s regulations, and since then the police are protecting the women rather than arresting them.

“We’ve come a long way, baby,” Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman told JTA during the service. “It shouldn’t have taken 25 years. It should have taken two weeks. But we’re now where we should be.”

The court ruling sparked a backlash from the haredi Orthodox community. A new group formed to oppose Women of the Wall, called Women for the Wall, persuaded leading haredi rabbis to send the community’s girls to the wall en masse to pray silently during Women of the Wall’s services.

In May, a haredi crowd including thousands of men packed the plaza in a protest that turned violent.

Since then, however, the haredi demonstrations have waned. Several dozen haredi men came to protest on Monday, some yelling epithets at teenagers who had come to support Women of the Wall. But aside from a few token disturbances — screams and whistles — the service continued uninterrupted.

“It’s a big success because the traditional community has an outlet to show its stance and doesn’t have to resort to violence,” Women for the Wall co-founder Leah Aharoni told JTA of the group’s prayerful protest. “Some months are better, some months are worse. The interest is definitely not dying out.”

The past half-year also has seen the Israeli government intensify its focus on the conflict at the wall, soliciting a compromise solution from Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky. An outline Sharansky released in April called for a significant expansion of an area to the south of the plaza called Robinson’s Arch that is now used for non-Orthodox prayer.

After backing away from the plan, Women of the Wall endorsed it last month, agreeing to move to the new section should a list of conditions be fulfilled.

Brandishing the Western Wall regulation that forbids the group from bringing a Torah scroll to its services, Hoffman told JTA that Women of the Wall has yet to reach all its goals. She said, though, that given the relative calm at the wall, the group will now be turning its attention to negotiations with the government about the Robinson’s Arch plan.

“We’re not scared of jail and arrests — we’re scared of negotiations,” Hoffman joked. “Can we get the maximum? We won’t be suckers.”

See related story, Leading The Way>> 

Growing Vulnerability

Dmitry Flekman claims he was assaulted by two Ukrainian detectives in Lviv after they tried to extort money from him.

Dmitry Flekman claims he was assaulted by two Ukrainian detectives in Lviv after they tried to extort money from him.

The police station on Stefan Bandera Street in Lviv used to be just another government building to Dmitry Flekman.

But that changed earlier this month following Flekman’s nine-hour interrogation by two detectives, who were accused of torturing and humiliating the 29-year-old Jewish businessman.

It’s an incident that some see as indicative of rising nationalism and anti-Semitism in Ukraine.

“Many people here want to move away from the Soviet days to the Western model, but that can only happen if the fundamental rights of law-abiding people like me are respected,” Flekman said last week. “To me, it’s a symbol of injustice.”

Flekman’s ordeal began Oct. 1, when the officers arrested him on his way from a bank. At the police station, Flekman said, the officers tried to extort $10,000 from him.

“They picked on me because they thought they could get money out of it, but it turned anti-Semitic when they discovered my mother’s maiden name is Rosenberg,” he said, adding, “One of them told me he’d do to me what Hitler did and beat me.”

After the first beating, one of the officers urinated on Flekman and fractured his tailbone with blows to the back, Flekman told prosecutors. He also said the officers forced him to sit on the floor, explaining the chair “was not for stinking Jews.”

Ukrainian authorities have not named either detective.

Flekman eventually was released and collapsed on the street, where passers-by helped him get to a hospital. Police said he was not harmed during his arrest, but the Lviv prosecutor’s office has opened a criminal investigation based on medical reports that show his injuries “could only have been caused by blows with a blunt object.”

Anti-Semitic assaults are rare in Ukraine. But the severity of Flekman’s beating and its timing — just days before a violent nationalist march and a major conference on fighting anti-Semitism, both in Kiev — underline the growing vulnerability of the Jewish community in a country riven by a cultural and linguistic divide and beset by growing nationalism.

“This is a case of anti-Semitism by state officials, which makes it extremely serious,” Meylakh Sheykhet, a Jewish human-rights activist, said. “Maybe Western Ukraine has a special anti-Semitism problem; I don’t know. It’s complicated.”

Lviv is considered the cultural capital of Western Ukraine, a Ukrainian-speaking region that was part of Poland before World War II and is the locus of much of the country’s nationalist and xenophobic sentiment. Jews primarily reside in the Russian-speaking East.

The precursor to the ultranationalist Svoboda party was founded in Lviv in the 1990s, and the city remains a hotbed of support. Svoboda, whose leaders routinely use anti-Semitic slogans and refer to Jews as “kikes,” entered parliament for the first time last year, winning 10 percent of the vote to become the country’s fourth-largest party. The party won 38 percent of the vote in Lviv, compared with only 17 percent in Kiev.

Oleksandr Feldman, a Ukrainian parliamentarian and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, says that Jews feel increasingly targeted by nationalists.  (Ukrainian Jewish Committee)

Oleksandr Feldman, a Ukrainian parliamentarian and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, says that Jews feel increasingly targeted by nationalists.
(Ukrainian Jewish Committee)

Oleksandr Feldman, a member of parliament and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, declined to comment on the Flekman case, but he acknowledged that Jews feel increasingly targeted by nationalists emboldened by Svoboda’s success.

“Even if Svoboda is not perpetrating the attacks, their activities strengthen the anti-Semitic sentiments we are trying to counter,” Feldman said.

Last week, Feldman organized a conference in Kiev to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the acquittal of Mendel Beilis, a Jew that czarist authorities tried to frame for the “ritual murder” of a Christian child. Hundreds of local and foreign dignitaries listened as speakers related the history of anti-Semitic blood libels.

“There is anti-Semitism in Ukraine, and we need to fight relentlessly,” Feldman said. “But there isn’t the state anti-Semitism that existed a century or even a few decades ago.”

Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Oleksandr Vilkul said at the conference that the country has made “huge progress in safeguarding minority rights.” But some critics charge that Ukraine hasn’t done nearly enough to combat anti-Semitism.

Efraim Zuroff, who heads the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, said the street where Flekman was assaulted, named for the nationalist Ukrainian politician Stefan Bandera, is a reminder that Ukraine refuses to fully confront the lessons of history. The center has protested the honoring of Bandera, whose troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews when they were allies of the Nazis in 1941.

But little progress has been made, as many Ukrainians consider Bandera a hero because he fought Russian communists in a failed effort to prevent the country’s annexation by the Soviet Union.

“Glorification of Nazis and extremist nationalism is part of an atmosphere that affects Jews on the ground,” Zuroff said.

Even as guests were convening for the conference, Svoboda was organizing its annual Oct. 14 march honoring Bandera. The march had become an important date for neo-Nazis since Svoboda started organizing it in 2005. This year, the march featured masked men who clashed with communist protesters in several violent scuffles in Kiev.

Such activity has been part of a wider rise of far-right nationalist parties throughout Central and Eastern Europe in recent years. Hungary’s Jobbik party and Golden Dawn in Greece have adopted anti-Semitic imagery and slogans as part of their wider resistance to ethnic minorities and the encroaching authority of the European Union.

But historic animosity between Ukrainian nationalists and like-minded groups in nearby countries have created unexpected setbacks for Svoboda’s efforts to forge alliances with other nationalist groups. As a result, Svoboda has become increasingly isolated from pan-European alliances in which Jobbik is active.

“There is very little that Europe’s rising extreme-right forces have in common,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s
director of international affairs, “except the thread of anti-Semitism woven through all of them.”

See also, Kiev Synagogue Gets To Keep Torah Scrolls

Cnaan Liphshiz writes for JTA Wire Service.

Five Jews Violently Attacked In Sydney

Five Jews were hospitalized after being beaten in what was described by an Australian Jewish leader as the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence in Sydney in many years.

Eight males, mostly teenagers, reportedly taunted the religious Jews — four from the Behar family — with slurs as they were walking home in suburban Bondi from Sabbath dinner after midnight Saturday.

A violent confrontation ensued, some of which was caught on closed circuit TV cameras. Security guards from a nearby nightspot intervened before police arrived. They arrested two 17-year-olds and a 23-year-old, but the rest of the alleged attackers fled.

The three were charged — the teens were scheduled to appear in court on Sunday, while the 23-year-old will appear on Dec. 3.

The victims — four men and a woman, most of whom were from Israel — suffered various injuries.

“Some have suffered concussion,” a police spokesman said. “There’s also a fractured cheekbone, a possible broken nose, lacerations and bruising.”

The male victims, aged 27 to 66, were wearing kippot. Three of the men reportedly served in the Israeli army.

Eli Behar, 66, suffered a bleed on his brain but is expected to make a complete recovery, according to a spokesperson for St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Another victim — Zeev Aronstam, a Mizrachi Jew born in Gush Etzion — said he preferred not to discuss the incident, saying simply, “We believe in God.”

The lone victim not from the Behar family was Shlomo BenHaiem, the education emissary for the Jewish National Fund who served in an Israeli army intelligence unit.

Yair Miller, president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, said the incident highlighted the need for effective laws against racist violence.

“The attack in Bondi is the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence in Sydney for many years,” he said.


IAF Attacks In Gaza Following Rockets Fired On Southern Israel

After rockets and mortars were fired at Israel by Palestinian terrorists early this morning, the Israel Air Force (IAF) attacked two concealed rocket launchers in the Northern Gaza Strip. Direct hits were confirmed, an IDF spokesman announced.

Earlier this morning, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. One rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome Missile Defense System above the city of Ashkelon. IDF forces are searching the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council for the additional projectile. Yesterday, a mortar shell fired from the Gaza Strip landed in Israel near the security fence in the Southern Gaza Strip.

IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner stated: “This targeted strike, based on IDF intelligence and advanced air force capabilities, is an immediate response to the terrorist aggression and its infrastructure in Gaza. Hamas must take responsibility for these actions or pay the price for inaction. We will continue to safeguard the civilians of the State of Israel, and prevent future attempts of terrorism formulating in the Gaza Strip.”

Following these attacks Israeli farmers with fields adjacent to the Gaza Strip security fence were ordered by the IDF to stay out of their fields until further notice, Ronit Minaker, the spokesperson for the Eshkol Regional Council told Tazpit News Agency. She added that such an order from the IDF has not been given in a long time. All other facets of life continue as normal.


‘We Would Have Lost Our Community’

Jewish immigrants of the Bnei Menashe arrive at Ben Gurion airport.

Jewish immigrants of the Bnei Menashe arrive at Ben Gurion airport.

A Kassam rocket had just landed across the street, but it couldn’t wipe the smile off David Lhundgim’s face, as he entered his apartment in this embattled town near the Gaza border.

Born in the rural provinces of northeast India, Lhundgim has lived in Sderot since he moved to Israel in 2007, and by at least one measure he seemed to be well-adjusted: Lhundgim didn’t flinch when he heard bombs explode outside.

For him, immigration to Israel was the fulfillment of a biblical promise; explosions were but a minor nuisance.

“After 2,000 years in exile we would have lost our community,” Lhundgim said. “All of our lives were about how to move to Israel and keep the commandments.”

It’s not hard to understand why Lhundgim sees his life story as one of biblical prophecy fulfilled. Until age 24, he lived in a remote corner of northeast India in a community that believes itself to be descended from the ancient Israelite tribe of Menashe. Ritual similarities to Judaism — such as an animal sacrifice around Passover time strengthened those beliefs.

Today, Lhundgim is among some 2,000 Bnei Menashe who live in Israel; another 5,000 are in the pipeline waiting to immigrate. This week, the Israeli government gave approval for 899 more Bnei Menashe to come.

The community has been permitted to move en masse despite practicing rituals in India with only glancing similarity to Judaism and claims of ancient Jewish ancestry that some politicians and experts find dubious.

“This is a bluff,” said Avraham Poraz, a former Israeli interior minister who temporarily halted Bnei Menashe immigration a decade ago. “They don’t have any connection to Judaism.”

The Bnei Menashe are hardly the first group to make claims of ancient Jewish ancestry in a bid to gain Israeli citizenship. The Falash Mura, Ethiopians who claimed to be descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity more than a century ago, were brought to Israel starting in the early 2000s.

But unlike the Falash Mura, whose immigration, absorption and conversion to Judaism was largely organized and funded by the government and the Jewish Agency, the Bnei Menashe’s immigration has been wholly organized and financed by a private organization — Shavei Israel, a nonprofit that aims to bring groups with Jewish ancestry to Israel and reconnect them to Judaism.

Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar greets members of the Bnei Menashe in Givat Haviva, an Israeli absorption center where they will live while undergoing conversion to Judaism.

Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar greets members of the Bnei Menashe in Givat Haviva, an Israeli absorption center where they will live while undergoing conversion to Judaism.

Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar greets members of the Bnei Menashe in Givat Haviva, an Israeli absorption center, where they lived while undergoing conversion to Judaism.

Shavei founder Michael Freund, a conservative columnist and former aide to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, is almost singlehandedly responsible for bringing the Bnei Menashe to Israel. His organization has provided them with a Jewish education in India, converted them in accordance with Orthodox standards and brought them to Israel, where they were settled initially in West Bank settlements — all on Shavei’s dollar.

Founded in 2004, Shavei now works with groups of claimed Jewish descent in Europe, South America and China. Permanent Shavei emissaries are stationed in Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Poland, Italy and India — places with particularly large populations of potential recruits.

With an annual budget of approximately $1 million, the organization funds Jewish education and programming for what it calls “our lost brethren,” brings them on tours to Israel and, in some cases, manages their immigration.

“Many of them are looking for ways to reconnect, and it behooves us to reach out to them and facilitate that process,” said Freund. “It is a strategic opportunity, and it is one that is not being exploited to the fullest.”

Nowhere has Shavei’s focus been more intense than with the Bnei Menashe. Freund began working with the group in 1997 while an aide to Netanyahu. He reached a deal with the government to allow 100 Bnei Menashe to immigrate every year under the auspices of Amishav, another organization working with the Bnei Menashe. When Netanyahu was voted out in 1999, Freund joined Amishav and soon began running its operations.

Freund sent teams of Jewish educators to Bnei Menashe communities in the Indian provinces of Manipur and Mizoram to teach Orthodox Jewish law and a right-wing narrative of Israeli history. Lhundgim said he was told that the West Bank, along with the entire land of Israel, belongs to the Jews.

Amishav settled the initial groups of Bnei Menashe immigrants in Israeli settlements in Gaza. When Freund joined the organization, he housed hundreds of Bnei Menashe in Kiryat Arba, the Israeli settlement adjacent to Hebron in the West Bank.

Yirmiyahu Lhundgim, David’s cousin, who immigrated to Kiryat Arba in 1999, says Amishav didn’t teach him to differentiate among the West Bank, Gaza and Israel.

“They said it was the land of Israel, so we would live anywhere,” he said. “We didn’t know anything about it.”

In 2002, author and translator Hillel Halkin wrote a book about the group called “Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel.” He concluded that though the group may have had distant Jewish ancestry, none of its recent forebears were Jews.

“What is specious is the myth that these people in northeast India for generations lived Jewish lives,” Halkin said. “They were animists. They were not monotheists and did not practice anything remotely resembling Judaism.”

At a 2003 Knesset hearing, Labor Knesset member Ophir Pines-Paz accused Amishav of “turning these people into sacrifices of Israeli right-wing policies.” Later that year, Poraz suspended the Bnei Menashe’s immigration.

In 2005, then Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar endorsed the Bnei Menashe’s claim to Jewish ancestry. Immigration resumed the following year, but the newcomers were settled in northern Israel rather than the West Bank.

“We wanted to make it clear that there was no hidden political agenda,” said Freund.

Freund claims that Shavei is apolitical, but some of its activities suggest it has a right-wing agenda. A 2012 trip of Poles of Jewish descent organized by Shavei visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a mostly Arab city in the West Bank, and spent Shabbat in Mitzpeh Yericho, a settlement deep in the West Bank.

Freund says such tours are meant to show participants the land of Israel and Jewish historical sites. Settling early Bnei Menashe arrivals in Kiryat Arba was a practical rather than ideological decision; Freund wanted them in a religious environment, and Kiryat Arba was willing to accept them even though they had not yet formally converted.

If Freund’s objective is to make faithful Jews out of the Bnei Menashe, he may well be succeeding. David Lhundgim is a practicing Orthodox Jew who studies daily in a yeshiva. He has heard the doubts cast on the Bnei Menashe, but like the rockets that occasionally fall around him, they do not shake his faith.

“The whole goal was to come to Israel,” he said. “Every Jew needs to know that the essence is to return. A person who thinks that exile is OK has a mental disorder.”

‘The Greatness of Israel’

President Shimon Peres met regularly with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The president was among those who delivered a  eulogy at the rabbi’s funeral on Oct. 7. (Photo by Kobi Gidon/Flash 90)

President Shimon Peres met regularly with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The president was among those who delivered a eulogy at the rabbi’s funeral on Oct. 7. (Photo by Kobi Gidon/Flash 90)

More than 800,000 people (one-tenth of the population of Israel) attended Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s funeral earlier this week. Rabbi Yosef died Monday at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem of complications from multiple organ failure. He was 93.

Since his passing, countless articles and statements by some of the world’s most important Jewish (and some non-Jewish) people have been published. The Facebook feed of an Orthodox Jew, even in the United States, is cluttered with pieces bemoaning the loss of a Torah giant, a man who elevated the ethnic and religious pride of Sephardic Jews in Israel and around the world.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder termed Rabbi Yosef “a scholar of great renown … [who] re-energized Israel’s Sephardic community.”

Rabbi Yosef presided over a veritable empire of Sephardi religious services. He opened a network of schools that now has 40,000 students. He managed a kosher certification called Beit Yosef that has become a standard for many religious Sephardim. He was a dominant power broker when it came to electing Sephardic chief rabbis and appointing Sephardic judges in religious courts.

Rabbi Yosef’s impact, according to Ben Sales who attended Rabbi Yosef’s funeral as a reporter for JTA Wire Service, said the event demonstrated the diversity of the lives that Rabbi Yosef touched. While aerial photographs shown afterward illustrate a sea of black choking the broad avenues of Haredi Orthodox northern Jerusalem, Sales said up close he saw a different scene.

“As the group coalesced, men in polo shirts mixed with boys in sweatshirts and soldiers in full uniform — some still holding their guns,” Sales wrote on Oct. 8. “Knit kippot bobbed in the crowd with black hats, Sephardi Haredim in wide fedoras walked with Ashkenazi chassids in bowlers. A man in a black coat made conversation with another in short sleeves.”

The funeral, which started at 6 p.m., lasted upward of three hours.

“A man of strong opinions who was not afraid of clashing with others, Rabbi Yosef engaged in many ideological battles. But few shaped the modern State of Israel as much as he did, which is why more than a half-million attended his funeral,” Lauder said.



Rabbi Yosef’s History

Dignitaries were among the 800,000 people who attended Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s funeral. (Photo by Mark Neiman/GPO)

Dignitaries were among the 800,000 people who attended Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s funeral. (Photo by Mark Neiman/GPO)

Ovadia Yosef was born Abdullah Yosef in Baghdad, Iraq, on Sept. 23, 1920. Four years later, his family moved to Jerusalem, in what was then Palestine, where Rabbi Yosef studied at the Porat Yosef yeshiva, a well-regarded Sephardic school. At 20, he received ordination as a rabbinic judge, and at 24, he married Margalit Fattal. She died in 1994 at the age of 67.

Rabbi Yosef began serving as a rabbinic judge in 1944, and in 1947, he moved to Cairo to head the rabbinic court in the Egyptian capital, returning in 1950. He continued serving as a religious judge until becoming Sephardic chief rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1968, a position he held until he was elected Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel in 1973. During that period, he began publishing his well-known works, beginning with his Passover Haggadah, “Hazon Ovadia,” in 1952. In 1955, he was awarded the Kook Prize for Religious Literature. In 1970, the government awarded him the prestigious Israel Prize in recognition of his books.

Rabbi Yosef defeated a sitting chief rabbi in the 1973 election, itself a controversial move. He founded the Shas political party in 1984, one year after finishing his term as chief rabbi. The party now holds 11 Knesset seats.



Rabbi Yosef’s Rulings

Rabbi Yosef favored leniency over stringency so as to encourage compliance with Jewish law. But he based his decisions on Torah knowledge. Rabbi Yosef was considered a genius with an outstanding memory and authority in all areas of Jewish scholarship. Over his lifetime, he published hundreds of books and dozens of articles. Some were for scholars, such his most famous “Yalkut Yosef” and “Yabia Omer.” But he also wrote popular books for the public and had a radio program for many years, explaining Torah to the masses.

“Chacham Rav Ovadia Yosef, of blessed memory, was a man of great vision, who worked indefatigably to fulfil his life’s mission to restore the crown of Torah to its ancient glory,” said Rabbi Leonard Matansky of the Rabbinical Council of America in a statement.

Yosef was responsible for several breakthrough halachic rulings, including allowing more than 1,000 women — the wives of Israeli soldiers who were killed in Israel’s wars and declared military fatalities whose resting places were unknown — to remarry, in a decree known as “the release of agunot;” declaring a collective recognition of the Jewishness of Ethiopian Jews; and in more recent years, ordering the Shas party to vote in favor of a law recognizing brain death as death for legal purposes.

Rabbi Yosef supported peace treaties involving Israeli withdrawal from conquered territory. He argued that such deals were allowed under Jewish law because they saved Jewish life.



Rabbi Yosef In Politics

A sea of black filled the streets of northern Jerusalem earlier this week for the funeral  of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. (Photo by Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

A sea of black filled the streets of northern Jerusalem earlier this week for the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. (Photo by Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

In the history of the modern State of Israel, political leaders and Torah scholars have occupied separate domains. Rabbi Yosef will be remembered for combining those two roles.

Rabbi Yosef formed the Council of Torah Sages, the body that holds the top rabbinic authority in Shas. Under his leadership, Shas became a pivotal player in Israeli politics and has cast the deciding vote in numerous political battles.

Because the party represents both Haredi and poor Sephardim, it advocates a unique mix of dovish foreign policy, conservative religious policy and liberal economic policy.

“Shas is Yosef’s most controversial creation,” wrote Israeli columnist Shmuel Rosner on Monday. “It made him a villain in the eyes of many Israelis. It made him a divisive figure. … Yet, he was a revolutionary.”



Rabbi Yosef’s Rhetoric

In his later years, Rabbi Yosef stirred controversy with a number of inflammatory statements, often made at a weekly Saturday night sermon. In 2000, he said that Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners, and in 2005, he said that the victims of Hurricane Katrina deserved the tragedy “because they have no God.” In 2010, Rabbi Yosef said, “The sole purpose of non-Jews is to serve Jews.”

He once noted that the public should “hold a feast” in the event of Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni’s death and called her fellow party member Yossi Sarid “the devil” and an “Amalek” (the biblical archenemy
of the Israelites). He wished for the “ruination of the home” of Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair, who in 1993 pushed to indict Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri, effectively forcing him out of politics.

Still, expressions of grief and condolence came from all aspects of Israeli society (and even from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas). In the history of modern Israel, wrote the Orthodox Union in a statement, there has not been a leader like Rabbi Yosef.

“Rabbi Ovadia was a giant in Torah and Jewish law and a teacher of tens of thousands,” said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a statement. “He worked greatly to enhance Jewish heritage and at the same time his rulings took into consideration the times and the realities of renewed life in the State of Israel. He was imbued with love of the Torah and the people.”

Said President Shimon Peres in his eulogy: “When I pressed his hand [in the hospital, just after he passed], I felt I was touching history and when I kissed his head it was as though I kissed the very greatness of Israel.”
So what’s next?

“There has been a lot of talk in the past few days about the question of his heir apparent,” wrote Rosner, noting it could be one of Rabbi Yosef’s sons or Rabbi Shlomo Amar. “The thing about the question is that if we even need to ask it, this means there is no heir. There is no one that is acceptable to everybody, no leader like Rabbi Yosef.”

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef visited Baltimore in 1983 to meet with Rabbi Herman Neuberger, Z”l. He also traveled to Washington on that trip to meet with President Ronald Reagan. Rabbi Yosef is survived by 10 children.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief —

Rare 18th-century Haggadah Discovered In Garage Could Fetch Six Figures

A rare 18th-century Passover Haggadah was discovered in the trash during a house clearance in the UK. The prayer book dates back to 1726, and its illustrations are hand painted on goat skin.

The manuscript arrived in the UK from Belgium with a family that was fleeing the Nazis. With an estimated value between 100,000 and half a million pounds, the book will go to auction next month.

“I think one of the fascinations of Haggadot is that illustrations often are not necessarily depicting what the Jew in Egypt would have looked like, but what the local Jew would have looked like… I very much hope it finds a very good home,” Rabbi Yehuda Brodie of Manchester, UK, told the BBC.


Study: Kosher Chicken May Have Higher E. Coli Risk

Kosher chicken might be less safe to consume than conventional poultry, a new study found.

Researchers with Northern Arizona State University examined the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant E. coli on four types of raw chicken: conventional, organic, kosher and those raised without antibiotics, all purchased throughout the New York area from April 2012 to June 2012. The study found kosher chicken, regardless of brand, had the highest frequency of antibiotic-resistant E. coli — nearly twice the amount in conventional products. It also found no difference in levels of antibiotic resistance between strains found on organic and conventional chicken.

The study screened for all types of E. coli strains, most of which are not harmful to humans, according to Food Safety News.

The findings go against widespread consumer perception that kosher food is healthier and cleaner.

The reasons for the greater levels in kosher poultry than non-kosher are not clear. The authors wrote that their research “suggests that use of antibiotics in the kosher production chain is common and that it may be more intensive than use of antibiotics among conventional, organic or RWA practices.”

The article suggested more studies are needed to test whether antibiotic resistance among kosher products is consistently higher than in other categories.

The study was published on the F1000 Research website, which calls itself the first “open science journal for life scientists.”


Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 93, Passes Away

Ovadya Yosef (1) As tens of thousands prayed for the recovery of the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Haim Ovadia Yosef, he passed away on Monday, October 7, 2013, at the age of 93, with his family and close colleagues, including several Shas leaders and President Shimon Peres at his side.

Rabbi Haim Ovadia Yosef was the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, a noted Talmudic scholar and leading Halakhic authority.

He served as the spiritual leader of the Shas political party in the Knesset. His Halakhic responsa are highly regarded within Orthodox circles and are considered binding in many Sephardic communities, where he was regarded as the most important living Halachic authority.

Rabbi Yosef was born in Baghdad, Iraq on September 23, 1920, the day after the Yom Kippur. In 1924, when he was four years old, he immigrated to Jerusalem with his family, then under British rule. As a teenager he studied at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva, where distinguished himself as a top student. Yosef’s father ran a small grocery, but the family knew times of poverty. He received rabbinic ordination at the early age of 20.

Ovadya Yosef (4)In 1947, Rabbi Yosef was invited to Cairo to teach in a yeshiva. He also served as head of the Cairo rabbinical court. Following a conflict between him and other members of the community he resigned from his position, two years after having arrived in Cairo. Approximately one year after his resignation, he returned to what had become the State of Israel.

After returning to Israel, Yosef served on the rabbinical court in Petah Tikva, where his bold religious authority was already being revealed.

In 1952 he published his first book, on the laws of Pesach, titled “Chazon Ovadia.” The book won much praise and received the approval of, among others, the two Chief Rabbis of Israel at that time, Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel and Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog.

Two years later, Rabbi Yosef founded the Or HaTorah Yeshiva for gifted Sephardic Yeshiva students. This Yeshiva, which did not remain open for long, was the first of many which he established, later with the help of his sons, in order to facilitate Torah education for Sephardic Jews and establish the leadership of the community for future generations. In 1954 and 1956 he published the first two volumes of his major work “Yabia Omer,” which also received much praise. Rabbi Yosef’s responsa are noted for citing almost every source regarding a specific topic and are often referred to simply as indices of all previous rulings.

Ovadya Yosef (3)Between 1958 and 1965 Rabbi Yosef served as a magistrate in the Jerusalem district religious court. He was then appointed to the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Appeals in Jerusalem, eventually becoming the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1968, a position which he held until his election as Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel in 1973.

In 1973 Yosef was elected the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel by a majority of 81 to 68 votes. His candidacy was criticized by some as he was competing against an incumbent Chief Rabbi. The election process was characterized by tension and political controversy. During his years as Chief Rabbi, Yosef dealt with a variety of important social and Halachic issues.

Ovadya Yosef (2)In April 2005, Israeli security services arrested three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who had been observing Rabbi Yosef in public and were held on the suspicion of his intended murder. One of them, Musa Darwish, was convicted on December 15, 2005 of Rabbi Yossef’s attempted murder and of throwing firebombs at vehicles on the Jerusalem-Ma’aleh Adumim road. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and three years probation.

He remained an active public figure in political and religious life in his capacity as the spiritual leader of the Shas political party and through his regular sermons.

His health weakened over the past year. On January 13, 2013 Rabbi Yosef was released from hospital after a minor stroke. On September 24, 2013 he was reportedly put into an induced sleep and was being aided by a breathing respirator. He showed some signs of recovering, but finally succumbed to his illness.

Rabbi Yosef leaves a vast gap in his absence. As the official announcement was made, his fervent group of followers gathered at the hospital, breaking down in tears. One of the Shas rabbis related to Israeli press that following the former chief rabbi’s passing, he now feels “orphaned.”


Esther Goldberger is making clothes that reflect her personality — bright and colorful. (JT)

Esther Goldberger is making clothes that reflect her personality — bright and colorful. (JT)

Just before Maria Patricia de Sousa set out for a yearlong stint at a seminary in Jerusalem seven years ago, she stopped by the house of an Orthodox Jewish woman in her home city of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

She wanted to find out about life in Jerusalem — where to eat, how to get around, what to bring for a Sabbath gift. But de Sousa soon learned that she had overlooked a major detail.

Her guide to the Orthodox world took one look at her — “dressed,” de Sousa said, “like a typical girl in the summer in Brazil” — and said gently, ‘I think you’re going to have to find some new clothes.’”

DellaSuza is a hit with Orthodox women who are looking to dress modestly but fashionably.

DellaSuza is a hit with Orthodox women who are looking to dress modestly but fashionably.

Seven years later, the woman now known as Esther Goldberger is the proprietor of DellaSuza, a Montreal-based fashion line for religious women.

Goldberger, 36, designs the label’s lightweight dresses, tops and skirts at home and produces them with a small staff at her office.

“I started DellaSuza as a one-woman operation,” she said. “And there were many, many nights of
insomnia and a lot of work.”

A former bilingual secretary and Baptist Sunday school teacher, Goldberger said she started to read about Judaism and “fell in love” with the faith. She studied the religion in Brazil, which eventually led her to a seminary in Har Nof, an Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood. She was the only non-Jewish student there.

Her decision to convert horrified her Baptist family.

“In the beginning they freaked out,” Goldberger said. “But they accept me with love, and that’s it.”

Goldberger met her husband online, inspiring another move — to Canada. She and Artie settled down in his hometown of Montreal.

She quickly found life as a housewife lacking and decided to study fashion at the city’s LaSalle College. Again, Goldberger said, she was the only Jewishly observant woman in her class.

Goldberger is the latest to join a small cadre of designers who have sought to remake haute couture for Orthodox women, whose modesty requirements make much of mainstream fashion inaccessible. But while many designers for Orthodox women focus on formal wear for special occasions, Goldberger said that she saw an opportunity to design modest clothing that can meet the demands of a religious woman’s everyday life.

“So many of these women want to dress in something comfortable to go to the store, to run after their kids in the park, but nobody thinks about them,” Goldberger said.

Her clothing designs reflect her sunny personality — bright colors and vivid patterns — all within the confines of modesty laws. Goldberger also writes a series of chatty columns about fashion for The Jewish Press, an Orthodox newspaper, with titles such as “The Glitzy World of Inverted

Goldberger is excited about the possibilities of expanding her line, providing modest clothing as well for Muslim and Christian women. She said she still struggles with convincing people, including her husband, that designing clothes is more than just a hobby.

“All my life it’s always been the same,” she said. “When I started studying Judaism in Brazil, I heard, ‘No, that’s not for you.’ The same thing when I met my husband online and when I decided to start a fashion line. ‘Don’t think about that. That’s not for you.’

“But I never listen,” Goldberger said. “I just keep going.”