On Sunday, October 13, 100,000 people gathered together at the junction of Shmuel Hanavi and Bar-Ilan Streets to pay tribute to Maran HaGaon HaRav Ovadia Yosef, zt’l at a memorial in Jerusalem at the conclusion of the period of shiva.
Sunday evening’s memorial near the grave site of the Shas party spiritual leader drew acolytes from around the globe for the one-time Sephardic chief rabbi, who died on Oct. 7 at the age of 93. HaRav Yosef, zt’l was considered to be a foremost halachic authority and a towering religious and political figure in this generation.
JTA reported that several roads in the city near the cemetery were closed off several hours before the memorial, where some 20 people were injured due to crowding.
Shas party leaders and other prominent rabbis participated in the ceremony, including HaRav Yosef’s son and the current chief Sephardic rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef; party head Aryeh Deri; and former Sephardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar.
From a giant tiered stage, the crowd listened to a series of eulogies and sermons delivered by numerous rabbis, including two of the three remaining members of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.
The Shas Council of Torah Sages is the ultimate arbiter for Shas policy and Harav Ovadia as president, had the final say in such halachic matters.
The senior figure on the Shas council, HaRav Shalom Cohen spoke at length about HaRav Ovadia’s legacy, and took the opportunity to announce that the Shas leader’s son Rabbi David Yosef would join the council, the JPost reported.
During his speech, Cohen made reference to the political future of Shas and declared that party chairman MK Arye Deri had been chosen to lead the movement.
“The rabbi left behind a strong man: our friend Rabbi Arye Deri. He trusted him and believed in him and gave him the power to do everything that needs to be done,” Cohen said, according to a Jerusalem Post report.
Rabbi David Yosef himself gave an impassioned speech and said that he and his brothers would continue in their father’s footsteps.
“Everyone must unite behind the Council of Torah Sages in order to continue this path,” he said.
He went on to say that the “Torah world” and the “yeshiva world” were the most dear things to his father.
“We will guard the Torah world. We will not allow the decree of enlistment to happen,” he proclaimed, in reference to government legislation intended to draft haredi yeshiva students into national service.
By extensively praising Deri from the stage, Yosef emphatically emphasized that it would be the Shas chairman who would be leading the political party into the future.
“My father loved him more than a son, and trusted in him absolutely. He should merit to continue my father’s path,” declared Rabbi David Yosef, according to a JPost report
Deri spoke, as well, to honor HaRav Ovadia, zt’l during the gathering. Speaking with a palpable passion, Deri told the crowds assembled that it was imperative to return “to the former glory of Sephardi Judaism” by “falling in love” with it. In honor of HaRav Yosef’s memory, Deri announced that the Maayan Torah education network which is affiliated with the Shas party will have its name changed to Bnei Yosef (Sons of Yosef).
The grand rabbis of the Belz and Sanz hassidic dynasties delivered speeches from a stage, as did Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, former Sephardi chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron and several others, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The Orthodox news website Kikar Shabbat reported Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was denied permission to eulogize Yosef at his funeral because he is not religious, citing an unnamed member of the burial society.
Over 800,000 mourners filled Jerusalem for the funeral; the largest assemblage in Israel’s history.
Controversy shrouded the memorial however, as many perceived it to have gratuitous political overtones. According to a report in Israel Hayom, the memorial morphed into a “Shas political rally” and an “informal crowning of MK Aryeh Deri” as the leader of the party.
Conflicting reports circulated about the tenor of the memorial, with Israel Hayom reporting that HaRav Ovadia’s family “was outraged that the memorial had turned into a rally for Deri and his supporters.” They reported that election signs were hanging in the streets and among those who were seated on the stage was Moshe Lion who is Aryeh Deri’s favored candidate for leadership in Jerusalem.
Delivering an address at the memorial was former Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar. Some found this surprising as Rabbi Amar had been at odds with the family of HaRav Ovadia, zt’l because he was prevented by HaRav Ovadia from seeking another term in this auspicious position in favor of Rabbi Yitzckak Yosef, HaRav Ovadia’s son who is currently the chief rabbi. Rabbi Amar lauded all of HaRav Ovadia’s sons and of HaRav Ovadia he said, “I am not worthy, and it is not fitting that I speak of him.”
Israel Hayom reported that HaRav Ovadia’s son, Rabbi David Yosef expressed his strong criticism of the memorial by saying, “It was an ugly campaign and political assembly. How, 50 meters from the grave, only seven days [after his death], can they do something like this? The rabbi is turning in his grave.” On the other hand, reports also indicated that Rabbi David Yosef praised MK Deri of the Shas party, saying that he is “a founder and driving force of the revolution. Father loved him more than a son, relied on his wisdom. If in the last few months we succeeded at keeping father stable, it’s thanks to Deri’s wisdom.”
Harav Ovadia’s son Avraham Yosef and his former assistant Zvi Hakak poured cement over the grave. On Monday morning, the family of HaRav Ovadia arrived at the Sanhedria Cemetery for morning prayers and to erect the tombstone.
Israel Hayom reported that prior to the memorial on Sunday, Naftali Bennett, leader of the Bayit HaYehudi party arrived at the family home of the Yosef family in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem but did not enter the mourners’ tent, “to avoid unnecessary friction.” Yosef’s sons told him that their father had wanted to meet him a few days before Rosh Hashanah but didn’t manage to. They asked that he take care of the Jewish identity of Israeli children.
Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz proposed naming Road 16 after HaRav Ovadia. The plan to pave the road, which will allow an additional central entrance to Jerusalem from the Motza Junction, has been moved to the coming days.
The new road will begin near Mevasseret Tzion and Motza Illit, just after the Harel Junction, on the road that leads into Jerusalem from the west, and pass through tunnels until it joins up with the Begin Highway that runs through the city from north to south, according to a report on Israel National News.
Work is set to begin on the road next year. “I decided to name the new entrance to Jerusalem after Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zt”l,” said Katz in a statement Sunday. Rabbi Ovadia was a great figure for the entire nation of Israel, and a great figure for the city of Jerusalem. This entrance will begin at Mevasseret and pass near the neighborhood of Har Nof, where the rabbi lived. Road 16 will symbolically link between two great figures: Menachem Begin and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, through the two major entrances to the city,” according to an A7 report.
The new route will ease traffic congestion at the entrance and exit to the city and in the neighborhoods that border on the road, and will make the Givat Shaul area more accessible, the report added.
The road will have two lanes going in each direction, and be 4.7 km (almost 3 miles) long. The maximum speed allowed on it will be 80 kph. There will be a connecting road between it and the Motza junction, and it will also connect with Shmuel Bait street, between Shaarei Tzedek Hospital and Begin Road.
Most of the road will pass underground, in two tunnels, one under Har Nof, and the other under Yefeh Nof, the Kerek Kayemet forests and Har Nof. It will also pass over Nahal Revida, on a bridge.
Thousands of Sephardic Jews in the New York City area also paid their respects to HaRav Ovadia, zt’l in several memorials held on Sunday. Among the synagogues participating in the memorials were Shaare Shalom on Avenue S and East 21st Street, Congregation Shaare Zion on Ocean Parkway and the Ahaba ve”Achva shul.