Biography of Rav Ovadia Yosef

Rav Ovadia Yosef was niftar this past Monday. I spoke to my class today about him as our first biography of the year. It is hard to capture the greatness of a man who was one of the biggest geonim of the generation but was also the greatest civil Rights leader of Israel who tranformed the lives of 50% of the Israeli population who faced discrimination, poverty, hopelessness and spiritual ignorance. Zechuso Yagen Aleinu.

Some videos & Links of Interest Rav Lau (who visited Rochester last year with Rav Ovadia)
4 minutes in the day of rav Ovadia
CNN reports on his funeral –
pictures from his life –
Pictures from his Funeral –

OVADIA YOSEF  (born 1920-2013 )

On the 3rd of Cheshvan, Rav Ovadia Yosef was niftar. By
that evening, over 800,000 people streamed into Yerushalayim for the largest
funeral in the history of the State of Israel. 1 in 10 Israelis came to the
funeral. There were sefardim, Ashkenazim, rich and poor, religious and secular
and the greatest Gedolei Torah and the most unlearned Jewsl. There were so many
people that the police warned that the buildings were in danger of collapsing.
What made Rav Ovadia Yosef so loved by so many people that they
dropped everything to come to a funeral with only 4 hours notice? The reason
they came is because of how much Rav Ovadia had meant to each one of them

Rav Ovadia Yosef was born in Baghdad on September 23, 1920. In 1924
he immigrated to Yerushalayim with his family. His family was very poor. His
father was a grocer and worked hard to provide for his family, but they often
went hungry.

As a teenager, Rav Ovadia studied at the Porat
Yosef Yeshiva. He was in the top class taught by the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Ezra
Attiya (1885-1970) a gadol from the Sephardic Jewish world.
Rav Attiya made sure that the young Ovadia would
stay in yeshiva. One day, Rav Ovadia stopped coming to yeshiva. Rav Attiya went
to his home to find out what happened. The Yosef family was shockingly
poor.  R’ Ovadia Yosef’s father said that
he needed his son to help him in his store. The next morning, the father came
to his store and found Rav Attiya there with an apron on. Rav Attiya volunteered
to work for free as long as R’ Ovadia could return to yeshiva. “Your son’s
learning is more important than my time!” Rav Ovadiah Yosef was allowed to
return to yeshiva.
When he was in yeshiva, the dorm counselor noticed
that his room always had light coming from the door. Even after all the other
students  had gone to sleep, Rav Ovadia
kept learning.
When R’ Ovadia was 17, Rav Addia asked him to
teach a nightly class in a Persian shul in the Bukaharan Quarter. The people
who came were local workers and did not know much Torah. At this time, Sefardim
were treated very poorly and were poor and unlearned. They were used to
learning a little halacha. Rav Ovadiah Yosef, who was already a Talmid Chacham,
taught these people on their level so they would come close to Torah. He wrote
that he would study each halacha until he understood it very well. He taught the
halacha according to Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch. There,
he began a life long mission to “restore the glory of Jewish tradition” to try
to have all the Sephardic Jews in Israel follow the halacha according to Rav
Yosef Karo.
At the age of 20, he was given semicha to be a
Rav.  In 1947,Rav Ovadia Yosef went to
Egypt to be a Rebbe in the yeshiva and to be the head of the Beis Din and
assistant Chief Rabbi of Egypt. After several years, he returned to Israel.
When Rav Ovadia first got married he was very
poor. His wife had worked to put aside money to buy a closet where they could
store their clothes. One day, he mentioned to his wife how he had written a
sefer. She took all the money she had saved and used it to publish his seforim.
After that first sefer, Rav Ovadiah published many
seforim including his important set of halacha sefarim “yabia omer” Rabbi
Shlomo Zalman Auerbach wrote in the introduction to the second volume that Rav
OvadiaYosef is “one of the greatest Torah scholars which have risen in
Israel in recent generations.” At the time, he was only in his thirties. These
sefarim have answers to many halachic questions people have asked him. It is
considered very special because he included almost every source regarding a
topic from very rare sources. Rav Ovadia acted like an encyclopedia for all
Torah for Klal Yisrael.
When Rav Ovadia was a young man, he began to go
blind, an effect of the poverty of his youth. He went to the Kever of Rav Yosef
Karo (who is called Maran by Sefardim) and davened that he still had much of
the Torah of Maran to teach. Baruch Hashem, his vision was saved, but for the
rest of his life he wore glasses to protect his eyes.
When Rav Ovadia was in Eretz Yisroel he became a
Dayan in the Yerushalayim Beis Din, then a higher level Beis Din in
Yerushalayim before becoming the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Tel Aviv and finally
of Israel.  As a Rav, he took
responsibility to help many people who were in difficult situations. After the
Yom Kippur war, many men went missing and their wives were agunos. He
learned many seforim until he could find a way so that each woman could
Rav Yosef’s biggest goal was for Sephardim to come
back to Torah and Mitzvos. When the Sefardim came to Israel, they were very
poor and didn’t have yeshivos. He founded school systems, yeshivos and Beis
Yaakovs so that all Sephardic Jews could come close to Torah. He provided hot
lunches so that the children wouldn’t go hungry. He gave shiurim every night
with humor and love. He was warm and friendly to all. When two boys were left
as orphans, he brought them to shul and sat with them. Despite his amkus
B’Torah, he related to each Jew with joy so that they would love Hashem too.As
a result of his decades of work, there are now great Rabbanim and Poskim, and
many families who are Shomer Torah and Mitzvos.

After being the chief Rabbi in 1983, Rav Ovadia founded a
political party which had representatives in the government. He was respected
and had great influence on the government of Israel. Because of his work, the
oppressed Sephardim were accepted by the other Jews in Israel and were able to
have good schools and get good jobs.

Rav Ovadia continued to teach Torah until the end
of his life. Even though he was one of the biggest Torah scholars of our
generation, he taught Torah to whomever wanted on their level. He told stories
and taught Torah so that everyone would understand.


Rabbi Ovadia Yosef lived Har Nof in Yerushalayim until the end of
his life. He was buried next to his wife Margalit, with whom he had eleven
children and numerous grand and great grandchildren.