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Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Dies: Spiritual Leader of Sephardic Jews Was 93

Image: Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Dies: Spiritual Leader of Sephardic Jews Was 93

By Michael Mullins   |   Monday, 07 Oct 2013 02:09 PM

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the longtime spiritual leader of Sephardic Jews, died Monday in Jerusalem. He was 93.

Suffering from kidney failure and other health problems, Yosef was hospitalized and was reportedly in critical condition when he was admitted to the hospital.

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The inspirational rabbi suffered from a variety of ailments for several years, The Associated Press reported.

The legendary spiritual and political figure played a vital role in governing coalitions. Israel's newspaper the daily Haaretz called him a "kingmaker of Israeli politics and Jewish law."

As a co-founder of Israel's ultra-orthodox religious political party known as Shas, Yosef gave Jews from North Africa and Arab countries a stronger voice in Israeli government, which traditionally favored European Jews, NPR reported.

"The light of the sun has been extinguished," Aryeh Deri, a Shas leader, wailed. "How will we remain alone? Who will lead us?"

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed "deep sorrow" over Yosef's death in a statement on Monday saying that "the Jewish people have lost one of the wisest men of this generation," while referring to him as "a giant in Torah and Jewish law and a teacher for tens of thousands."

Born in Baghdad in 1920, Yosef moved with his family to Jerusalem when he was a child. The rabbi rose to power in 1972 when he became Israel's chief Sephardic rabbi until 1983. Yosef's son is the current chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel.

As beloved as Yosef was, he still had critics, with some Israelis claiming he exacerbated ethnic tensions between Sephardic and European Jews in Israeli.

Others say he has offended various segments of Israeli society through his fierce statements, including gays, Palestinians, secular Jews and even Holocaust survivors, the AP noted.

Among his controversial comments in recent years, Yosef allegedly said an Israeli soldier's death in 2007 was because he was not religious enough and that the victims of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 suffered and died "because they have no God," the AP reported.

In 2010, Yosef called Palestinians "evil, bitter enemies of Israel," and said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should "perish from the world." The Rabbi later apologized for the comment.

The rabbi is survived by 11 children, and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

According to Israel police, more than half a million mourners participated in the rabbi's funeral procession on Monday in Jerusalem.

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