Chacham Ovadiah Yosef Turns 93


chacham-ovadiah-yosefChacham Ovadiah Yosef is celebrating his 93rd birthday today, 11 Tishrei.

One of the most brilliant Torah minds of our day, Chacham Ovadiah was born on September 23, 1920.

He is a former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and currently serves as the spiritual leader of the Shas political party in the Knesset.

Chacham Ovadiah was born in Baghdad, Iraq, the day after Yom Kippur. In 1924, when he was four years old, he immigrated to Yerushalayim with his family. As a teenager he studied at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva, where he advanced to the highest shiur taught by the rosh yeshiva, Rav Ezra Attiya.

Legend has it that Rav Attiya was instrumental in keeping the young Chacham Ovadiah in the Torah world. At one point, the diligent young talmid chochomsuddenly stopped coming to yeshiva for several days. Rav Attiya paid a visit to his home and was shocked by the poverty he saw there. Chacham Ovadiah’s father explained that he ran a small grocery and needed the boy to work for him. Rav Attiya attempted to convince the father of the importance of Torah learning, to no avail. The next morning, when Chacham Ovadiah’s father entered his store, he found Rav Attiya standing there, wearing a work apron. The rosh yeshiva explained that he had come to the store early that morning when Chacham Ovadiah was opening up. He had told the boy that he had found a substitute worker who would work without pay and sent him back to yeshiva.

“You said that you needed someone to help and could not afford to pay. I am that someone. Your son’s learning is more important than my time!” the rosh yeshivatold Chacham Ovadiah’s father, who finally conceded and allowed his son to continue learning in yeshiva.

Chacham Ovadiah received semichah at the age of 20. He became long-time friends with Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, who began his yeshiva career in the same class and who advanced to become rosh yeshiva of Porat Yosef in 1983.

In 1947, Chacham Ovadiah was invited to Cairo by Rav Aharon Choueka, the founder of yeshiva Ahavah Ve’achvah, to serve as a maggid shiur in the yeshiva. Chacham Ovadiah also served, at the request of Rav Ben Tzion Meir Chai Uziel, as head of the Cairo Bais Din. Chacham Ovadiah found that religious observance among both the Jewish community at large, and its leadership, was lax. One of the major halachic issues was the lack of any organized system of kashrus, Following a number of events, Chacham Ovadiah resigned from his position two years after having arrived in Cairo. Approximately one year after his resignation, he returned to what, in the meantime, had become Israel.

After returning to Israel, Chacham Ovadiah learned at Yeshiva Bnei Tzion, then headed by Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank. He also served on the bais din in Petah Tikva. His boldness as a posek was already revealed during his first term as a dayan when, at the age of 30, he wrote a halachic ruling permitting yibum instead ofchalitzah, which contradicted a p’sak made by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel a year earlier which had forbidden yibum.

In 1951-1952, Chacham Ovadiah published his sefer on the halachos of Pesach titled Chazon Ovadia. The sefer won much praise and received the approval of, among others, the two Chief Rabbis of Israel at that time, Rav Ben Tzion Meir Chai Uziel and Rav Yitzchok Halevi Herzog.

Two years later, Chacham Ovadiah founded Yeshiva Or HaTorah for gifted Sephardic talmidim. 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 1953-4 and 1955-6, Chacham Ovadiah published the first two volumes of his major work, Yabia Omer, which also received much praise.

Between 1958 and 1965, Chacham Ovadiah served as a dayan in the Yerushalayim district bais din. He was then appointed to the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Appeals in Yerushalayim, 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, Chacham Ovadiah was elected the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel by a majority of 81 to 68 votes, replacing Rav Yitzchak Nissim. In the same election, Rabbi Shlomo Goren was chosen as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel.

The Council of the Chief Rabbinate was controlled by Rabbi Goren, and for some time Chacham Ovadiah decided that, as a consequence, there was no point in attending its sessions. During his years as Chief Rabbi, Chacham Ovadiah dealt with a variety of important social and halachic issues.

Chacham Ovadiah lives in the Yerushalayim neighborhood of Har Nof.

Chacham Ovadiah’s teshuvos are noted for citing almost every source regarding a specific topic. Among Chacham Ovadiah’s earliest works was a detailed commentary on the Ben Ish Chai titled Halichos Olam. He was asked to finish the commentary of the Kaf Hachaim by Rav Yaakov Chaim Sofer after the author’s passing. Two sets of Chacham Ovadiah’s responsa have been published, Yabia Omer and Yechaveh Da’as. There is also another series of seforim under the title of Chazon Ovadia, which Chacham Ovadiah has written laws concerning ShabbosYomim Tovim and other topics. Chacham Ovadiah has printed a commentary onPirkei Avos under the title, Anaf Etz Avos; and Maor Yisroel, a commentary on various parts of Shas. His son, Rav Yitzchak Yosef, has published a widely-read codification of Chacham Ovadiah’s rulings entitled Yalkut Yosef. Another son, Rav David Yosef, has printed various siddurim and liturgy according to Chacham Ovadiah’s rulings, and another halachic compendium titled Halachah Berurah.

May Chacham Ovadiah have strength to continue learning and leading Yidden ad meah ve’esrim shanah.

{ Israel News Bureau}


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here