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Op-Ed: Memorial to Maran Ovadia Yosef, zts"l

Words in memory of a great Torah leader, who passed away on Monday, 3 Heshvan.
Published: Tuesday, October 08, 2013 10:48 AM


Woe to the ship whose captain is gone, woe to the generation that has lost its leader.

The Rishon Letzion Rav Ovadia Yosef was the wonder of our time, on the one hand a leader who cared personally about every Jew and on the other hand a leader who moved an entire generation forward.

All kinds of people from all levels of society found answers to their questions, problems and requests at his door.

Rabbi Chaim Ovadia Yosef was a man who embodied everything, as the Talmud says in Tractate Sota about the pair of scholars Yosi ben Yoezer of Tzraida and Yosi ben Yochanan of Jerusalem: "when they died…there were no more eshkolot (clusters)".

The Gemara asks: "What are eshkolot [in this context]? Rabbi Yehuda responded: 'One who embodies everything'".

The [medieval commentator] Rashi explains that the expression describes someone who has the entire Torah within him, embodies its entire truth without blemish or controversy, someone who is a Torah giant and expert in the revealed and hidden mystic aspects of Torah.

Halakhot Gedolot on Tractate Temura says it succinctly: "Someone who is free from sin and whose Torah was was given to hm straight from Moses without any blemish."

These words ring true for Maran Rishon Letzion Rav Chaim Ovadia Yosef, zt"l (zecher tzaddik levracha, may the righteous man's memory be blessed, ed.) who made it his mission to help agunot and mesoravot get (women whose husbands are missing or refuse to grant a divorce, leaving them unable to remarry, ed.), who made it his mission to solve complex halakhic problems that dealt with the individual and the entire Jewish people.

He expended every effort to answer all those who turned to him with questions, whether difficult or uncomplicated. He considered this endeavor for the general public and specifically, the Sephardic Jews, a responsibility he was granted so as to bring them closer to their Father in heaven.

After the Yom Kippur War of 1973, as the Chief Rabbi of Israel at the time, Rav Ovadia Yosef, received a request from then IDF Chief Rabbi, Brig. Gen. Mordecai Piron. The subject was how to deal with close to one thousand files of missing IDF soldiers who were left in the field, all of them married men. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zts"l accepted responsibility for one of the most complicated halakhic missions in all the history of the State of Israel and was appointed head of the "IDF Beit Din for Agunot",  acting to free nearly one thousand women from the status of "agunot".

This is how he explains the mission at the start of his Responsa on the subject: "As a result of the Yom Kippur War, I was asked by my friend the great Rabbi Mordechai Prion, IDF Chief Rabbi,  and the great Rabbi Gad Navon, assistant IDF Chief Rabbi, shlita (may they be granted long life, ed.), to sit with them as head of the rabbinic court for Agunot to debate and reach halakhic decisions about close to one thousand files of holy IDF soldiers, may G-d avenge their blood, who were married and left young widows behind them.

"I saw the tears of the bereft, who cannot be consoled, and declare that whoever finds a way to release a woman from aguna status, has symbolically rebuilt one of the ruins of ancient Jerusalem…because there is no emergency greater than that of changing aguna status, and one must not put it off just as one cannot put off saving someone whose life is endangered."

When the massive aliyah from the Soviet Union began, the rabbi addressed the halakhic questions the immigration entailed and wrote at the start of a Responsum on the subject:"I have seen fit to discuss the subject of the new aliyah from the Soviet Union, one that we have merited by G-d's kindness in allowing prisoners to be set free and releasing those held in bondage behind the Iron Curtain after being held there for more than seventy years under a cruel and hostile communist regime.

"Behold, they are coming up to Zion in the thousands and tens of thousands, as it says [in the Torah] 'if your exiled are at the ends of the heavens, the Lord your G-d will gather you together and take you from there'. The prophet's visionary words are beginning to come true: 'Raise your eyes and look, they have all gathered and are coming back to you, your sons from afar…who are those flying like clouds and like doves returning to their dovecotes? Those redeemed by G-d will return to Zion in joy and with the greatest happiness…'

"Yes, there are many halakhic questions about this aliya, there is room to worry that many non-Jews are taking advantage of the opportunity to come to our country because of the economic deprivation in the Soviet Union, and joining the Jews who are coming to Israel.

"Therefore, we must know if someone who comes to register as a Jew can be believed, even if he has no verifiable documents that attest to his being a Jew. Is it enough for us if he declares he is Jewish or do we need reliable witnesses? The basic ruling is that Russian immigrants who declare that they are Jewish can be trusted, but if there is any suspicion that their declaration is false, it must be carefully investigated. And the Torah must be adhered to.

"May it be G-d's will that these words act as a lantern to light our way to increase Torah and Awe of G-d with dedication for the individual and the nation."

Our lantern is extinguished. May we find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Translated from Arutz Sheva's Hebrew site by R. Sylvetsky