This is another one of those “bet you didn’t hear about it” blogs, but the situation is worth knowing about. The political setting in Israel is significantly differently than in the United States. Israel has a larger number of political parties. None of this two party system stuff that runs the USA (I don’t count the Tea Party as more than distraction). It works something like this.

Israel‘s political system is based on proportional representation which allows for a multi-party system with numerous parties. There are currently four parties with more than ten seats in the 120-seat Knesset, and a single party usually has no chance of gaining power by itself (only once has a party held an absolute majority in the Knesset), forcing the parties to cooperate and form coalition governments. Actually, 12 parties have seats in the Knesset. Twenty-Four other parties have no seats. You can imagine the fracas that must develop at election time! Screaming and shouting supreme!

Recently the leader of the ultra-orthodox Shas party died and was mourned by all of Israel. If you do not follow Israeli events closely, you may know little about Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Nevertheless, he was an important part of the Israeli system and daily life in Israel. He is very much worth remembering. Rabbi Josef led Sephardic Jews in Israel as well as influencing the rest of the country for over 70 years. Thousands of mourners continued coming by his grave even the day after the funeral. A security guard noted that the outpouring was unprecedented.

Within minutes of his death, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the family and declared Rabbi Josef to have been  “a great halachi (Jewish law) authority.” Even though of a different political persuasion, the prime minister recognized that he was a giant in Torah studies. Rabbi Josef was the chief rabbi of Israel and generally worn a distinctive robe and hat. The black robe with gold embroidery and circular large black hat gave him the look of an Old Testament figure.

As the leader of the Shas party, Rabbi Josef skillfully maneuvered political decisions giving the religious party far more influence than their numbers demanded. He had a history of criticizing Israeli politicians, often calling them colorful names such as “blind goats.” No lingering ill-will. Such is the way of Israeli politics.

His presence on Israel’s national stage as a person of supreme halachic authority will have a profound influence on Israeli society for decades.


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Filed under Israel, Judism, middle east

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