Rabbi Says Holocaust Victims Were Sinners

ByJack Katzenell

J E R U S A L E M, Aug. 6, 2000 -- Controversy raged in Israel today after arabbi who heads the biggest ultra-Orthodox political party said thesix million Jews who perished in the Nazi Holocaust died becausethey were reincarnations of sinners.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, leader of the Shas party, also declared thatPrime Minister Ehud Barak has “no sense” because he is trying tomake peace with the Palestinians, who are “snakes.”

Yosef was speaking in his weekly Saturday night sermon broadcastover the party’s radio stations and is even beamed overseas bysatellite.

He called the Nazis “evil” and the victims “poor people,”but he said the six million “were reincarnations of the souls ofsinners, people who transgressed and did all sorts of things whichshould not be done. They had been reincarnated in order to atone.”

Comments Stir Controversy

Barak told the cabinet today the statement is unworthy of arabbi of Yosef’s status. “His words could harm the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust and could hurt the feelings of theirfamilies and the feelings of the entire nation,” the primeminister said.

Legislator Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, who heads the secularist Shinuiparty, said Rabbi Yosef is “an old fool” who has done a serviceto those who are trying to rehabilitate Adolf Hitler’s reputation.

“In the world it will be said that a distinguished rabbi inIsrael is in effect confirming what Hitler said, that the Jews aresinners,” said Lapid, who is himself a Holocaust survivor.

The two main radio stations were inundated with phone calls andmessages, most of them criticizing Yosef’s statement. YehoshuaMashav, a listener, told Israel radio that in plain language Yosefwas saying Hitler was innocent and that “he was simply themessenger of God sent to give the Jewish people their justdeserts.”

We Are All Sinners

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international center forHolocaust remembrance, said the rabbi absolved the perpetrators ofthe Holocaust of their responsibility. “If those Jews deserved todie for past sins, why blame those who carried out the deathsentence?” said Ephraim Zuroff, director of the group’s Jerusalemoffice.

Israel’s Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, who is also a Holocaustsurvivor, said Judaism has a concept of reincarnation and of therighteous dying to atone for sin in a previous life, but he toldIsrael radio that did not account for the Holocaust.

“I have no explanation for the Holocaust,” said Lau, who was achild at the time and lost most of his family in the death camps.He appealed to Israelis to “stop probing into it [the Holocaust]in such a blatant, painful, hurtful manner.”

Shas chairman Eli Ishai said criticism of Yosef is unjustified.“Rabbi Ovadia weeps for every Jew who is killed ... but nobody,not even a saint, has not sinned. Everyone dies in a state of sin.Nobody can be perfect all his life.”

Not Exactly Promoting Tolerance

Yosef, who ordered Shas to quit Barak’s coalition as the primeminister was leaving for the Camp David summit, described the Arabsas “snakes” interested mainly in murdering Jews. He said Barak,who is trying to achieve a permanent peace with the Palestinians,has “no sense.”

“What kind of peace is this?” Yosef said. “Will you put thembeside us? You are bringing snakes beside us. ... Will we makepeace with a snake?”

Col. Jebril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Preventive SecurityService in the West Bank, said Yosef’s statement about Arabs wasracist. A religious leader should be trying to promote toleranceamong Jews, Muslims and Christians, Rajoub told Israel radio.

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