Inside Israel

Ombudsman: Axe chief Sephardi rabbi from religious court over anti-government action

The ombudsman of the Israeli judiciary called on Sunday for the potential removal of Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef from the Great Rabbinical Court of Appeals in Jerusalem.

Former Supreme Court justice Uri Shoham said his recommendation came in response to Yosef’s organization of a Rabbinate conference against government reforms. These aim to break up the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on Kashrut certification and religious conversions.

Shoham said the conference, which included rabbis from the state-run Rabbinate as well as municipal rabbis and rabbinical judges, was in contravention of ethical guidelines that prohibit public servants from intervening in sensitive partisan issues.

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, who is leading the work on the reforms and who was criticized at the conference, has nonetheless backed Yosef’s right to speak freely on the matter.

“Freedom of speech and expression by rabbis and spiritual leaders, even if they hold a government office, stands at the core of public trust [in them],” Kahana said in a statement.

In October 2020, Shoham asked the Selection Committee for Rabbinical Judges to consider removing Yosef over controversial comments he made about women, Reform Judaism and the High Court of Justice.

Yosef has a history of provocative comments. He has called Reform synagogues a form of “idolatry” and said the movement “falsified the Torah”; suggested secular women behave like animals due to their immodest dress; and questioned the High Court’s authority on rulings pertaining to religion, while vowing to ignore its decisions.

Yosef is the son of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former spiritual leader of the Shas political party.

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