Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef joked in his weekly sermon Saturday night that former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren put then-Foreign Minister Abba Eban to sleep during his inauguration nearly 50 years ago.
"In Cheshvan 5732 (1972), the Rav(Rabbi Ovadia Yosef) was crowned Chief Rabbi of Israel and the coronation was made at the President's Residence." Rabbi Yosef said. "Also there were President Zalman Shazar and all the heads of state were all named. That was the coronation of the two chief rabbis."
He said, "Then there was the issue of the brother and sister, the Langer siblings, which was a problem of mamzerim (children born from a union forbidden according to halakha who cannot marry anyone but other mamzerim). Rabbi Goren then wrote [that they were not mamzerim). The head of the Great Rabbinical Court, the entire rabbinical court, ruled that they were forbidden [to marry] and he ruled that they were permitted. There was an argument. The heads of government came at the time and began to chide [Rabbi Ovadia Yosef]. 'You should learn from your colleague, from Rabbi Goren. You also have the power to permit.' They chided him. Moshe Dayan said something I remember to this day: 'I don't care how you permit, I just want the bottom line that they are permitted.' Just like that."
"They talked, they talked. The rabbi sat and was silent," he said. "After they finished the chief rabbis had to respond. They called up [Rabbi Ovadia]. As he spoke he told them a joke. Abba Eban, who was Foreign Minister, sat next to Golda Meir. He had fallen asleep. Rabbi Goren put him to sleep. So Golda Meir went and woke him up. 'Get up, get up, it's interesting.' So he woke up, and the rabbi began to explain to them."
Rabbi Yosef spoke about the power to permit Rabbi Ovadia Yosef had, and about the criticism he subsequently received from leading haredi rabbis. "Who is greater for us than the late Maran who had the power to permit. How much Maran suffered from the rabbis of Bnei Brak thirty-twenty years ago, how much he suffered from them because of the power to permit. There is no one like him in terms of the power to permit. Who untied all the agunoy (chained women unable to remarry) from the Yom Kippur War? 950 agunot, who allowed them to remarry? Who allowed all the IDF converts, which was seen as a very difficult problem, Maran went into the thick of it to permit these. But many things Maran forbade. There is no end. The power to permit does not apply to everything. If you can work within the halakhic framework, close to the poskim, to make it easier, - then of course, the power to permit is preferable."