Yitzhak Yosef is the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, also known as the Rishon LeZion, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Hazon Ovadia, and the author of a popular set of books on Jewish law called Yalkut Yosef. Rabbi Yosef is the son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, and bases his rulings on Jewish law on his father’s methods of ruling. His books are considered foundational among large sectors of Sephardic Jews in Israel and the world. For these books, he has won the Rabbi Toledano Prize from the Tel Aviv Religious Council, as well as the Rav Kook Prize.
Yosef was born in 1952, the sixth son of Shas’ spiritual leader, and former Israeli Chief Rabbi, Ovadia Yosef. He went to school at Talmud Torah Yavneh in the Independent Education System. At age 12, he began his studies at the junior yeshiva of Porat Yosef in Katamon, Jerusalem. After that, he studied at Yeshivat HaNegev in Netivot, and from there, at Hebron Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
In 1971, when he was 18 and studying at Yeshivat HaNegev, he collected halakhic rulings from the five volumes of Yavia Omer, the book of his father’s responsa, that had been published by then, and published them in the book Yalkut Yosef. The book was published with his father’s support and supervision. It is often considered one of his father’s books because it is a summary of his father’s rulings, since he went over it section by section and added his comments.
In 1973, with his father’s election as Chief Rabbi of Israel, together they established the Kollel Hazon Ovadia. In 1980, he was ordained as a rabbi and judge, along with the rest of the first class of the graduates, by the chief rabbis of Israel and by chief rabbi of Jerusalem Shalom Messas. With the beginning of the second class, he was appointed head of the school.
In 1975, he was appointed rabbi of the moshavim Nes Harim and Mata, both near Jerusalem, and began to deliver classes on halakhah several times a week and care for other Jewish matters in the villages. As part of his responsibilities, he gave lectures and classes in the secular public schools and strengthened religious education there.
In 1992, he expanded Hazon Ovadia to a yeshiva for boys high school age and older. This was necessary because of unrest among the Sephardi Haredi community stemming from disagreements with the Ashkenazi Litvak yeshivot.
On July 24, 2013, Rabbi Yosef was elected to serve as Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and Rishon Lezion, a position he will hold for the next decade. The inauguration took place on 14 August 2013 at the official residence of the President of Israel.
On August 21, 2013, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef released a psak halakhah stating it is an obligation and mitzvah for parents to have their children vaccinated for polio virus.
Yosef has frequently provoked controversies with his comments. In March 2016, for example, Yosef called for religious Jews to keep their children away from secular or traditional members of their family because they could be a negative influence.
Later that month, when Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told military staff that rules of engagement must respect the law, and soldiers should not kill an attacker who has already been subdued, Yosef said soldiers must kill anyone who comes to attack them regardless of legal or military repercussions. Later he said: “If they no longer have a knife, they must be put in prison for life until the Messiah comes and says who are Amalekites, and then we can kill them.”
He also said that according to Jewish law, gentiles “should not live in the Land of Israel” unless they practice the seven Noahide Laws. Should they refuse to do so, they should be sent to Saudi Arabia. He added that non-Jews are allowed in Israel to serve the Jewish population. Leaders of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) condemned Yosef’s statements and called for their retraction. He was eventually pressured into retracting his comments.
In December 2016, he said that it was “not the way of the Torah” for women to join the IDF or even sign up for civilian national service: “All the great sages through the generations, including all Israel’s chief rabbis, believe that it is forbidden for girls to go into the army... not just to the army – but to national service too.”
In May 2017, Yosef compared secular women to animals because they dressed immodestly.
In January 2020, he was criticized for calling immigrants from the former Soviet Union “Communist, religion-hating” gentiles. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Yosef’s remarks “outrageous” and said the immigrants from the former Soviet Union are a “huge blessing to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.” Yosef stood by his comments, saying they were distorted by politicians who had been inciting against Jews and Judaism and that he was only referring to a minority of immigrants.
In January 2021, Yosef was criticized for flouting the coronavirus health restrictions. He later attracted negative attention for saying science and math are “nonsense” and that students should study only Torah. Critics accused Yosef of promoting dependence on government handouts and charitable donations instead of advancing self-reliance.
In July 2021, he stoked controversy again for saying that it’s “better to live abroad than among secular Israelis.”
In 2021, he endorsed the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States and serves as its halachic guide.
Yosef is married to Ruth, daughter of the kabbalist Rachamim Attia. They have five children.
Sources: Rabbi Ratzon Arussi (Hebrew) (recorded lecture[starting at to 00:50] at http://net-sah.org/en/node/19263, posted Feb. 12, 2010).
Yair Ettinger, “Religious Zionists could gain historic foothold in rabbinate,” Haaretz. (September 24, 2008).
“New Chief Rabbis David Lau & Yitzchak Yosef Sworn In,” Arutz Sheva. (August 14, 2013).
Jeremy Sharon, “Chief Rabbis call on public to have children vaccinated,” Jerusalem Post (August 21, 2013).
Jeremy Sharon, “Shas without Rabbi Ovadia Yosef,” Jerusalem Post (October 8, 2013).