Shas Leader Angers Israel by Saying Holocaust Victims 'Sinners'
Touching nerves on two of the country's most sensitive topics, one of Israel's most powerful rabbis labeled Holocaust victims "reincarnated sinners" and branded Palestinians as "an accursed evil people."
"The murdered were reincarnations of the souls of sinners," said Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
"All those from the Holocaust, six million poor Jews, whom the Nazis -- may their name be obliterated -- killed, did they die for nothing? No. These are reincarnations of those who had sinned and made others sin ... They were reincarnated to make amends," Yosef said in a weekly sermon Saturday.
Faced with outrage as his remarks were rebroadcast Sunday, Yosef publicly defended himself, saying he was trying only to give a theological explanation for the genocide and calling the Holocaust's six million Jewish victims "saintly and pure."
While Yosef is not the first rabbi to suggest that the German genocide was in response to the Jewish people's sins, the 79-year-old rabbi is a major voice among Jews of Sephardic, or Middle Eastern, origin.
The Iraqi-born rabbi is considered the major force behind the Shas party, which seeks to advance Sephardic Jews in an Israel, dominated by Ashkenazi, or European-origin Jews, who formed the overwhelming majority of the so-called Holocaust victims.
Another major proponent of Yosef's theory was Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, a vociferous anti-Zionist who said the Holocaust was meant to punish Jews for wanting to create a state before the coming of the Messiah.
Some other ultra-Orthodox Jews viewed the Holocaust as a form of "childbirth pains" announcing the imminence of the Messiah.
Rabbi Israel Lau, a Holocaust survivor who leads Israel's Ashkenazi Jewish community, said Sunday he did not want to enter the debate.
"I don't have explanations for what happened; I don't think reasons can be given," Lau said on public television.
But Avner Shalev, director of the Yad Vashem museum of the Holocaust, criticized Yosef, saying "all who draw a link between the Holocaust and questions of daily life are doing us ill."
Yosef wields political clout in Israel, where the Shas has become the third largest party, with 17 members of parliament. Shas recently withdrew its support from Prime Minister Ehud Barak in protest of his expected concessions to the Palestinians.
Barak said Sunday that the statements "are not worthy of Rabbi Yosef's stature and could harm the memory of the victims of the Shoah and the feelings of their families and the entire Jewish people."
Yosef also cut into Barak on Saturday, saying that he was running after Palestinians "like one possessed, just to make peace," Yosef charged. "He is bringing snakes near us. What kind of peace do you want to make with a snake?"
The Palestinian Authority's information ministry issued a statement denouncing Yosef's remarks as "racist and unethical" and called on the Israeli government to take action against him - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)