NEW YORK (Apr. 22)
Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi, appealed here today to American Reform and Conservative Jews “to recognize the authenticity of halacha” (religious law) and declared that there can be no compromise on the issue of Who is a Jew on the part of the Orthodox religious establishment in Israel. “We are the guardian of the holy Jewish heritage and we cannot, therefore, desert it,” Rabbi Yosef said at a press conference at the Regency Hotel.
He arrived here yesterday for a two-week “spiritual tour” of the country. His one-week stay in New York is under the sponsorship of the American Sephardi Federation and the Sephardi Leadership Council of the United Jewish Appeal of Greater New York, It is his first visit to the U.S. He described the main goal of his visit as “to encourage our brothers not to assimilate” and to urge them to give the younger generation a Jewish education. He said another purpose of his tour was to strengthen American Jewry’s ties with the State of Israel and to strengthen the Jewish consciousness of American Jews.
Answering questions on the controversial Who is a Jew issue, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi said he would meet with Reform and Conservative leaders to discuss the question. He insisted, nevertheless, “The halacha is not male-able,” and said, “we will try to convince the Reform and Conservative Jews to come back to our holy Torah.”
Rabbi Yosef said that during his visit he would personally raise the plight of Syrian Jewry with American national leaders. New York municipal leaders and with United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. He said he would also take up the question of Israeli prisoners of war in Syria with the view to expediting their return.
SYRIA SENTENCES 2 JEWS TO DEATH
Rabbi Yosef disclosed information that II Jewish women in Syria have been imprisoned recently and were mistreated by the Syrian authorities. He said that according to information he has, two Jews detained in Syria in connection with the murders of four Jewish women have been sentenced to death.
Questioned about various problems in Israel, Rabbi Yosef said he believed there should be a religious party in Israel to unite all religious elements and look after their interests. He claimed that while many religious people voted for the Labor Party, that party did not always represent an answer to the problems of religious citizens.
He said that Jewish immigrants arriving from the Soviet Union uncircumcized were recognized as Jews but had to undergo circumcision rites. He said that so far none has refused. He said his office was working regularly on the problem of “agunot,” presumed widows whose husbands are not certified as dead. He said 900 married soldiers were killed in the Yom Kippur War and that the Chief Rabbinate, working with the Army Chief Chaplain, Gen, Mordechai Firon has so far certified the deaths of 800 of them.
MITZVAH TO REDEEM FALASHAS
Rabbi Yosef claimed that the Israeli army experienced a religious revival during the Yom Kippur War. He said that many soldiers had become practicing Jews and enrolled in yeshivot
Rabbi Yosef, speaking about the Falashas, the Black Jews of Ethiopia, said they numbered 80,000 a century ago but now only 20,000. He said it was considered a “mitzvah” to redeem the Falashas by bringing them to Israel but noted that has become more difficult since Ethiopia severed diplomatic relations with Israel. He said the Jewish credentials of Falasha emigres had to be examined carefully because of widespread intermarriage among them.
Rabbi Yosef said that while he is in the U.S. he would visit yeshiyot, schools and other institutions and urge the communities he meets with to expand their adult education efforts as well. According to the Chief Rabbi, Jewish education is the Jewish people’s best safeguard against assimilation and moral decline. He said he also believed strongly in the need to encourage the study of the Hebrew language at all levels and all ages.