9.10.2005

Rabbi Goes Too Far

Jewish Groups Oppose Rabbi's Claim That Hurricane Was God's Punishment

from Religion News Service

Jerusalem - Jewish groups have strongly condemned remarks by a leading Israeli rabbi who said that Hurricane Katrina was God's way of punishing the United States.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former Sephardi chief rabbi and the influential spiritual leader of the Shas political party, made the claim during his weekly sermon on Tuesday. He said that the devastation wrought by Katrina "was God's retribution" for pressuring Israel to relinquish Gaza and the northern West Bank to the Palestinians.

Yosef, a Torah scholar who often mixes religion and politics, said that President Bush perpetrated the removal of Jewish settlers and Israeli troops from the territories, which are scheduled to be handed over to the Palestinians within weeks.

"Now everyone is angry at him. This is his punishment for what he did to Gush Katif," Yosef said, referring to the evacuated enclave of Jewish settlements in Gaza, "and everyone else who did as he told them, their time will come too."

The Israel Office of the Anti-Defamation League called Yosef's remarks "outrageous in the extreme."

In a statement Thursday, the ADL said that Yosef's remarks showed "a profound lack of empathy for the suffering of others, not to mention an extremely warped worldview. It is disturbing that a man of faith would use human suffering and loss to advance a political agenda."

The ADL said that Yosef "owes an apology to the United States and to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. We hope that religious leaders in Israel will condemn his words as insensitive and beyond the acceptable limit for a national dialogue."

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism said Thursday that Yosef's assertions were "despicable" and "substantively absurd."

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