Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
Rabbi Ovadia YosefIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Shas party Spiritual Leader and former Israel Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is taking steps to minimize damage from a colleague’s charge labeling religious Zionist rabbis as ‘Amalek.’

“Rabbi Shalom Cohen said some things against knitted kipot,” Rabbi Yosef said in his weekly Saturday night sermon, “but clearly he doesn’t mean those who wear knitted kipot (members of the religious Zionist movement), for is it the kipa that determines who a person is?” 

“[Rather] he was referring to a few politicians who have relinquished the source of life [the Torah] and colluded with people who levied decrees on the world of Torah,” said the elderly Sephardic sage. “The rest of the knitted kipot are loved. I never differentiated between knitted kipot and black kipot. It’s nothing.”

Rabbi Yosef, 92 and still recovering from back surgery, was referring to Economy Minister and Bayit Yehudi party leader Naftali Bennett, whose party is based in the religious Zionist movement. Bennett linked his election effort with the secular Yesh Atid party headed by Finance Minister Yair Lapid in order to enter the coalition. Recently, the two teamed on a new law military draft that eliminates across-the-board exemptions from military service for hareidi-religious men. The law has met with a tidal wave of protests in the hareidi-religious world.

Rabbi Shalom Cohen, a senior member of the party’s Council of Sages and dean of the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, last week viciously attacked the religious Zionist sector in a sermon delivered in the presence of Rabbi Yosef.

"Are these even Jews?” he asked rhetorically in the televised address, at one point referring specifically to Rabbi Chaim Druckman, long-time leader of the religious Zionist movement, by name, and “all of the Amalek people.”

The term “Amalek” refers to the eternal Biblical enemy of the Jews, who on several occasions attacked the Jewish nation when they were at their most vulnerable, with genocidal intent. The Jewish People were commanded by G-d to utterly destroy the nation of Amalek.

The firestorm of protest that followed Rabbi Shalom’s sermon, however, prompted party leaders to issue a statement of clarification. Shas is fielding a number of candidates in the rapidly approaching elections for Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel.

Although the rabbi himself refused to retract his words, associates said the next day that when he spoke of ‘knitted kipot wearers as Amalek’ he did not mean to disparage all religious Zionists, but rather only the leadership of the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party and their supporters, “who have declared war upon the world of Torah and yeshivot.” 

When contacted by Arutz Sheva after his sermon was published, however, Rabbi Shalom said bluntly, “Leave me alone and don’t bother me.”