Hacham Ovadia Yosef

A Short Tribute

Maran Ovadia Yosef was born to Georgia and Yaakov on 12 Tishrei, 5681 (1920) in Baghdad, Iraq.

In 1924, at the age of four, he immigrated with his family to the Land of Israel, where they settled in Jerusalem's Beit Israel neighborhood. He studied at the Bnei Zion yeshiva in the Bukharim neighborhood and, from 1933, continued at the Porat Yosef yeshiva in the Old City. Hacham Ezra Attiah, the Rosh Yeshiva, was his spiritual mentor.

In 1937, when he was 18 years of age, he was sent to replace Hacham Douek at Ohel Rachel, the Persian community's synagogue in the Beit Israel neighborhood. He would express his differences with the Ben Ish Hai's rulings in his classes, provoking objections, but with Hacham Ezra Attiah's encouragement, he pursued his approach and his reservations were published in a series of books titled Hilchot 'Olam.

In 1940, at the age of twenty, he was ordained as a rabbi and dayan by Hacham Ben Zion Meir Chai Uziel. In 1944, he married Margalit, Abraham Fatal's daughter. Ove the years, the couple had eleven children.

By 1945 he was already officiating at the Jerusalem rabbinic court. In 1947, Maran Ovadia Yosef moved to Egypt, where he was the associate of Chief Rabbi Hacham Nahum Effendi, head of the rabbinic court and Rosh Yeshiva at Ahava Ve'Achva.

In 1950, Maran Ovadia Yosef left his position in Egypt to return to Israel. He continued his studies at the Bnei Zion study house and officiated as dayan at the rabbinic court in the city of Petach Tikva, where he would rule following Sephardi custom. He ruled to permit levirate marriage rather than halitza [the process by which a childless widow and a brother of her deceased husband may avoid the religious duty to marry], contrary to the amendments made by Israel's Chief Rabbinate.

In 1952, he published Hazon 'Ovadia, his book on Passover Halakhot. In 1954, he was awarded the Rav Kook Prize, founded the Or HaTorah yeshiva for young Sephardi men, and published the first volume of his Responsa, Yabi'a Omer.

In 1958 he was appointed a dayan in Jerusalem's regional rabbinic court, and in 1965 became a member of the Great Rabbinic Court. In 1868, he was elected Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yaffo. During the period of his term as Rabbi of Tel Aviv, he continued to contribute to strengthening the Sephardi approach to Halakhic ruling, whereby "enforcement through permission is preferable"; in 1970 he was awarded the Israel Prize.

In 1972, Maran Hacham Ovadia Yosef was appointed Rishon LeZion. During his term, he annulled the ban on Jews' marriage with Karaites who accept the yoke of fulfilling the commandments; he established that Beita Israel are Jews on all counts, a historic ruling that led to the application of the Law of Return to the Jews of Ethiopia. He also freed the agunot [women bound by marriage to an absent husband] of the missing Yom Kippur soldiers from their marriage bonds. In 1977, he published the first volume of the Yekhaveh Da'at series based on the Voice of Israel radio program on Halakha.

In 1983, his term as Chief Rabbi ended as a result of the passing of a law limiting the term of Chief Rabbis. A year later, the SHAS political party was founded; he was its spiritual leader and presided over its supreme authority, the Torah Sages Committee.

His wife Margalit passed away in 1994.

Maran Hacham Ovadia Yosef, Rabbi of the entire nation, passed away on 3 Heshvan, 5774 (2013). An estimated million people participated in his funeral, and he was buried in the Sanhedria cemetery.


A few quotes from the Rabbi on 'Customs of Israel' in which he instructs that the custom, in this Ashkenazi tradition, is not to be considered as a rule, because they were under domination
Despite the fact that to date it has not been customary to perform marriages during the bein ha'metzarim period among Sephardim and among 'Edot HaMizrach as well, I have instructed that leniency be applied from now on…
I have heard that there are some who protest my approach, saying that since the Chief Rabbis of Tel Aviv-Yaffo who set stringency as the norm preceded me, the custom should not be changed, and that this is not a matter I have the have authority to oppose. It is, in any case, a known fact that the Sephardi Chief Rabbis preceding me were dominated by their colleagues, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbis…who were in charge and controlled those rabbis who perform marriages, and imposed Ashkenazi custom everywhere. They remained silent for the sake of peace, ministers refrained from speaking, "Nobles held back their words; They clapped their hands to their mouths". These things are clear and public knowledge. In such a case, it is certainly not to be considered a custom…and for us, who are not dominated, praise the LORD, I will stand guard to reinstate the glory of the past, and instruct in keeping with the opinion of Maran [our master] whose teachings we have accepted.
Yabi'a Omer Responsa, Part 6 – Orakh Haim, Section 43, p. 142, Jerusalem, 1976