1/26/2009

Rav Ovadia Yosef vs. Rav Mordechai Eliyahu on Rachel Imenu

This whole debate between Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu about whether Rachel Imenu appeared, and in what form, to soldiers in Gaza must be seen against the backdrop pf the elections. A bit of background: RME and ROY are the leaders of two distinct approaches – halakhic, social, and ideological – within Mizrahi Judaism in Israel. ROY represents the Aleppan tradition, avoids psak based on kabbalistic sources, is generally suspicious of the Ashkenazi ruling elite, and sees no need to try to forge any type of uniformity of observance between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Politically, he’s quite obviously affiliated with the Shas movement (which is like saying that Alexander Hamilton was affiliated with the Federalists). Since founding that movement, he has become much more tolerant of the folk elements of religion, out of what seems to be a concession to the reality of the Mizrahi street that forms his constituency.

RME, on the other hand, is bears the torch of the Ben Ish Hai and the Baghdadi halakhic tradition, which incorporates kabbalistic elements to a much greater degree. Politically, he affiliated with the National Union party and in general follows a similar line as Merkaz ha-Rav. He has generally been much closer to Rav Uziel and Rav Hayim David Halevi in his cooperation with Ashkenazi communities, religious and secular.

It seems that the context of the story from the RME camp is mostly concerned with the role of RME himself – how he prayed several times at Kever Rachel, before and during the operation, for the safety of the troops. In addition to the “mystical” element, there’s a polemic element: the safety of the troops was weighing heavily on the nationalist RME’s mind, and so he went to pray at a site which, though indisputably a Jewish holy site, is smack-dab on the middle of Bethlehem. ROY’s “narrative” seems to be more of a rhetorical flourish. God is its protagonist, not a holy rabbi. In his story, it makes no difference whether the mysterious woman was actually the long-dead matriarch, some closet Zionist sympathizer in the heart of Hamastan, or something else. The point of the story is that God saved our boys (and allowed them to kill a bunch of terrorists).

Thus, Rav Ovadiah’s story affirms the positive attitude toward the army operations (which he could hardly afford not to do given the current climate), but, at the same time, steals the thunder from RME both as a political figure and as a holy man.

ADD moment: how come none of these Sephardic rabbis ever have last names?

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