Reform Jewish Leader Condemns Despicable Statement on Hurricane Katrina by Rabbinic Leader of Shas Movement in Israel
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), issued a statement today concerning reported comments made by Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef (former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the Shas Movement) concerning Hurricane Katrina, noting that his statements “deserve to be universally condemned."
Saperstein: Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef statements on Hurricane Katrina “deserve to be universally condemned"
Contact: Alexis Rice 202.387.2800
Washington, September 7, 2005 – Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) released this statement today:
If news reports today are correct, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef (former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the Shas Movement ) described Hurricane Katrina as “God’s retribution” against President Bush for his support of the Gaza withdrawal and as God’s decision to drown blacks because they are “irreligious.” Such statements are beneath contempt; they deserve to be universally condemned and we do so completely. We pray that the reports are mistaken, or, if not, that Rabbi Yosef completely and unequivocally repudiates them and apologizes immediately to the victims of Katrina and the African American community.
Those who read them should understand that in recent years, as Rabbi Yosef has aged, he has become increasingly erratic in his statements and uttered increasingly repugnant statements against a variety of groups including other Jews with whom he disagrees, as well as people of other faiths. But in expressing such sentiments, he has not a scintilla of support from any mainstream Jewish leader or movement; such utterances are completely irreconcilable with Jewish values.
These statements are nothing short of an abomination. They are so utterly beneath contempt that they must be censured and repudiated by rabbis of every stream—including those groups of Orthodox rabbis who are associated with Rabbi Yosef.
The contrast between the real-life response of religious communities and Rabbi Yosef’s words could not be more stark. In the United States and Israel, religious leaders across faith and denominational lines have come together to help the victims of Katrina. Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Orthodox and fervently Orthodox Jewish communities have, separately and cooperatively, provided millions of dollars for relief, opened synagogues, homes and camps across the nation (such as our large Jacobs Camp in nearby Jackson, Mississippi) to the displaced populations without regard to race or religion, and provided varied forms of direct service to victims. In Israel, the government, fully supported by religious leaders of all streams, has sent supplies and offered the expertise of counselors and others experienced in helping trauma victims – experience forged by Israel’s long battle against terrorism and the treatment of the victims of terrorism.
It barely bears mentioning that not only are Rabbi Yosef’s statements despicable, they are substantively absurd. It was not President Bush but Prime Minister Sharon who launched and implemented the initiative to withdraw from Gaza and did so with the support of a majority of Israelis and a majority of American Jews. And far from being irreligious, African Americans are perhaps the most passionately religious segment of America, whose use of the stories and prophetic teachings of our Hebrew Scriptures have helped uplift the moral conscience of the world in modern times.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.