Rabbi Meir Scheinwald, head of the Meir Harel Hesder Yeshiva in the city of Modi'in, has warned top members of Shas to avoid using the memory of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef z”tl for “political purposes.” Playing politics with the memory of such a personality, he said, could only serve to cheapen his standing – exactly as happened with Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.
During the shiva week for Rabbi Yosef – which ends Monday morning – various spokespeople claiming to represent Shas, Rabbi Yosef's political movement, or the Rabbi himself, have emerged with claims that they were told by Rabbi Yosef before his death that specific individuals were given leadership roles by the Rabbi, which would entail removing others from positions of authority as heads of institutions or Shas-affiliated organizations.
Among the claims, for example, is one by party officials close to former Shas chairman Eli Yishai that current Chairman Aryeh Deri was disloyal to Rabbi Yosef, and in time, Yishai would probably have been reinstated as Shas head. The officials also protested Deri's plan to appoint new members to the Shas Council of Torah Sages, the party's supreme decision-making body, in the days following Rabbi Yosef's death, claiming that Deri was trying to “grab power” to secure his position as head of Shas. In a radio interview last week, Yishai said that he did not approve of the rumors being circulated by his followers.
The imbroglio between Yishai and Deri, said Rabbi Scheinwald, was an unfortunate example of what he was talking about. In his letter to Shas officials, the Rabbi said that it was possible that by playing politics, one side or the other could benefit – but that the benefit would not last, and the party as a whole would lose out eventually.
“It's very worrying to see how specific interests are trying in recent days to take control of the public perception of Rabbi Yosef's legacy,” Rabbi Scheinwald wrote. “Among them are leftists who are using the Rabbi's ostensible support for withdrawals from territory that he was one of 'them,' after he ruled that Jewish law permits giving up land to Arabs if it can save Jewish lives.
"Even more worrying,” he wrote, “is the trend in Shas to 'hijack' his legacy, which was evident even in Rabbi Yosef's funeral, in order to score points for candidates in the upcoming municipal elections. All this, even before the week of mourning is over.”
Doing this, he said, would “cheapen” Rabbi Yosef's legacy – exactly what happened to the legacy of former Prime Minister Rabin, who was killed by a gunman in 1995. Today, he wrote, a large part of the nation does not mourn Rabin too deeply, because leftists used his legacy to justify their political positions. It's not an honorable use of a leader's memory, Rabbi Scheinwald wrote – and it would be a shame if it happened to Rabbi Yosef.
“You must learn the lesson of Rabin's legacy,” he added.
This is not the first time a prominent rabbinic figure has leveled rebuke at Shas party members for using Rabbi Yosef's name and legacy for their own gain.
Days before Rabbi Yosef's death, his son - Rabbi David Yosef - publicly condemned what he termed an "ugly" battle of succession, even as the rabbi struggled for life in a Jerusalem hospital.
"I do not know how people in this situation are not ashamed to busy themselves with these issues at this time. To engage in fighting over issues of inheritance at this point in time is very ugly," Rabbi David said in an interview with Army Radio.