Rabbi Shalom Cohen
Rabbi Shalom CohenIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Rabbi Shalom Cohen, a senior member of the Council of Sages of the Sephardic Shas party attacked the religious Zionist sector over the weekend, calling its members “Amalek.”

Rabbi Cohen, who is also dean of the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem's Old City, said the vicious words over the weekend in a sermon delivered in the presence of former Chief Rabbi and Shas Spiritual Leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. His statement came during the Nine Days that precede the fast day Tisha B'Av, which this year on Monday evening and ends Tuesday night. 

The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, Tisha B'Av is one of the grimmest days of the year on the Jewish calendar, the day on which both Holy Temples were destroyed, it is said, for the sin of "sina'at chinam" -- baseless hatred -- and the day on which other painful tragedies befell the Jewish People as well. Jews are exhorted to avoid at all costs anything that would draw negative attention from Above especially during the Nine Days, a time in which even swimming and distant travel is avoided.

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party (Jewish Home), immediately condemned the attack.

In a statement issued Sunday morning, Bennett called on “leaders and members of the hareidi-religious movement, from Rabbi Yosef to the political representatives, to condemn and disown such talk before it’s too late. I’ll not let the incitement campaign against the religious Zionist sector continue,” Bennett said.

This is not the first time that rabbonim of the Shas party have attacked members of the religious Zionist sector.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Spiritual Leader of the party and former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, himself aimed a scathing attack last month at Rabbi David Stav, a leading candidate for the position of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi in upcoming elections.

“My first reaction to myself was, ‘What does G-d want from me?’” Rabbi Stav told Arutz Sheva in an exclusive interview following the attack. The next thought, he said, was that the attack was a “hilul Hashem” – an act that casts shame upon the Torah. He decided not to respond.

At the time, Rabbi Yosef had told a large crowd that choosing Rabbi Stav as Chief Rabbi would be “like putting an idol in the sanctuary of the Temple.” 

Competition among the various religious sectors for the position of Chief Rabbi of Israel is fierce, as elections for the position approach rapidly, with the decision to be made in 10 more days.

Among Sephardic candidates are Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Tzfat – son of former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who served from 1983 to 1993, and Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, son of Rabbi Yosef.

Ashkenazi candidates include religious Zionist candidate Rabbi David Stav of Shoham, a graduate of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav, Rabbi Eliezer Igra, a senior judge for 25 years on the Great Rabbinical Court and Rabbi David Lau, Chief Rabbi of Modi’in and the son of former Chief Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau.