Shas Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Is Born
(L-R) Shas Party members Eli Yishai, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Arye Deri. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem

September 23, 1920

Ovadia Yosef, a Sephardi rabbi, politician and community leader, is born in Baghdad. He moves from Iraq to Jerusalem at age 4 with his family.

While studying at Porat Yosef Yeshiva, he writes the first of his more than 30 books at age 18, then is ordained as a rabbi at 20. He is appointed to a religious court at 25 and two years later is named the chief rabbi of Cairo, but in 1950, within three years, he returns to a now-independent Israel. He becomes Tel Aviv’s chief rabbi in 1968 and Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi in 1973. As chief rabbi, he accepts that Ethiopia’s Beta Israel are Jewish.

But Yosef is better known for the period after his chief rabbinate ends in 1983, the same year that the religious Sephardi political party Shas forms. He becomes the party’s spiritual leader and one of its public faces. He provides political advice and sometimes directives, and Shas candidates require his blessing. Yosef is an advocate of the peace process and supports withdrawing from territory in the Land of Israel to reach an accord with the Palestinians and save lives. But he also calls Arabs vipers and criticizes Reform Judaism.

Before Yosef’s death in 2013 at age 93, Israeli President Shimon Peres sits with him and later says, “When I pressed his hand, I felt I was touching history, and when I kissed his head, it was as though I kissed the very greatness of Israel.” Nearly 700,000 people attend the rabbi’s funeral.