Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

The Sephardic chief rabbi must go!

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef in 2015. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) — You know that annual “Brotherhood Shabbat” that your synagogue sponsors?

Do yourselves a favor: Don’t invite the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, to give the sermon.

During his weekly sermon on Saturday evening, the chief rabbi compared black people to monkeys.

Rabbi Yosef was teaching about various blessings, especially the blessing for seeing unusual-looking animals or people.

In his discussion, Rabbi Yosef used the word “kushi” to describe black people.

Kushi is the ancient biblical term for Ethiopian. Both in ancient and modern usage, the term often has negative connotations. He then went on to compare black people to “monkeys.”

“You can’t make the blessing on every ‘kushi’ (black person) you see — in America you see one every five minutes, so you make it only on a person with a white father and mother,” the chief rabbi said.

“How would you know? Let’s say you know! So they had a monkey as a son, a son like this, so you say the blessing on him.”

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

This is not the first time that Rabbi Yosef has pushed the “awkward” button in a sermon. He has compared secular women who dress immodestly to “animals.” He has also said that non-Jews who live in Israel are only there to serve Jews.

The Anti-Defamation League slammed the rabbi. “Racially charged comment made by Israeli Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, comparing people of color to ‘monkeys,’ is utterly unacceptable,” the ADL posted in a tweet.

My take on all this?

Thanks a whole lot, Rabbi Yosef.

First: In a time of growing anti-Semitism, Rabbi Yosef has just handed Jew-haters the ultimate afikomen prize: all the proof they need that Jews are misanthropes.

This is nothing less than a “hillul ha-shem,” a desecration of God’s name and reputation.

The Talmudic Encyclopedia defines a desecration of God’s name as doing anything that would cause people to say that the Jews have no Torah.

It would be fair for the Jews to ask Rabbi Yosef: Do such public pronouncements serve as a wholesome advertisement for Torah Judaism?

Moreover, the Talmud says that if you see a Jew who is kind and generous, then people will think that Judaism itself is kind and generous. The opposite is also, sadly, true.

Which is a way of saying: Jews are God’s PR department.

For that reason:

• I call upon every American Jewish organization to demand Rabbi Yosef’s resignation.
• I call upon every Orthodox rabbi in North America — especially, Sephardic rabbis — to disassociate from Rabbi Yosef.
• I call upon every American Jewish organization to refuse to grant Rabbi Yosef a speaking audience.

Let’s go one step further.

If we rightly condemn Louis Farrakhan for his depiction of Judaism as a “gutter religion,” if we shun black politicians who fail to shun the preacher — how can we fail to do the same thing?

There is a piece of graffiti in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv that marks the place where the late prime minister was shot.

The graffiti says this: “Shot by a man who was wearing a kippah.”

Was it scrawled in sarcasm — as if to say, “Ha, look at what ‘pious’ Jews are capable of doing!”

Or, was it written as a moan, as if to say: “My God, oy — look at what ‘pious’ Jews are capable of doing!”

It is true here as well. Look what so-called pious Jews are capable of saying and doing.

That is why it is time for world Jewry to stand up and say: This is not our Judaism.

It is also time for Rabbi Yosef to prepare for Pesach — not only by cleaning the chametz out of his home, but by rereading the Haggadah, the story retold at the Passover seder.

Especially, that part about how “in every generation, a person must see himself or herself as if he or she had personally gotten out of Egypt.”

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


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  • Your Farrakhan example is apt, just not in the way you might have meant it. We should rightfully denounce him, but there is no way we are going to “shun” every African American politician that’s met with him. You know that even Obama and Maxine Waters have met with him. Now I am certain that responsible politicians will say they repudiate his antisemitic remarks and that’s fine. But just as we should not dictate who they should meet with, there are going to be Sefardi Jews who will still follow R’ Yosef. Not everyone is going to shun him, but they should be expected to repudiate his remarks. Could we please not make this into yet another circular firing squad that the left seems to never be able to resist?

  • I wonder how some people can be so out of touch with the world they live in. Where has this Rabbi been all of these years? Has he so isolated himself, never watched the news or read a news paper? Does he have so little understanding of human beings that he doesn’t realize what his words mean to others? How did he ever get to occupy such an exalted post?