Thursday, October 10, 2013

Rabbi Obadia Yosef and the power of Halakhic leniency

As we explained yesterday, one of the principles that guided the rulings of rabbi Obadia Yosef is that a Rabbi must do all possible efforts to make the practice of Judaism more accessible and simpler for his community. Therefore whenever Rabbi Yosef was able to find a way (not a loophole!) he would rule with leniency. This principle is known as koha dehetera 'adif,   "the power of being lenient is preferable". This does not means just that it is recommendable for a Rabbi to be lenient, but also that a Rabbi that is lenient is preferred over other Rabbis. Just like it happens with doctors,etc. the more a Rabbi knows, the more lenient he can be. Whereas when a Rabbi does not know the whole spectrum of the law, his limitations will bring him to be stricter.
Rabbi Obadia Yosef viewed ruling in a lenient way as a characteristic of Sephardic posqim. He quoted the Hida who explained the "Halakhic character" of Sephardic legislators. "The Sephardim are seized by a measure of piety (hesed) and therefore are lenient in the Halakha...".

There were cases of family law, delicate cases like mamzerut, in which Rabbi Yosef was the only Rabbi among all the Rabbis of his generation, who was able to find a way to free a family from this anguish. 

Another example: after the Yom Kippur war in 1973, many soldiers were missing in action. According to Jewish Law if the body, or a witness that saw the dead body, cannot found then the wife cannot be considered a widow and therefore she can't remarry ('aguna).  In Oct. 7th the New York Times wrote an article on Rabbi Yosef and it referred to this case: "In another unconventional ruling, the Rabbi allowed hundreds of women whose husbands were missing after the 1973 war to remarry, although, traditionally, remarriage is allowed only after ... there is incontrovertible proof that her former husband has died."

Rabbi Yosef considered that it was a great achievement finding sufficient Halakhic backup or reasoning to prove that a lenient position is correct. 

Israel's Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, 
expressing his condolences for the 
passing of Rabbi Obadia Yosef z"l