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Israeli rabbi stirs uproar by saying Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners

ovadia yosef
Shas party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as seen in Jerusalem in 1997  

JERUSALEM (AP) -- An eminent rabbi who heads Israel's third biggest political party sparked an uproar in Israel on Sunday for saying that 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust because they were reincarnations of sinners.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, leader of the Shas party, also declared that Prime Minister Ehud Barak has "no sense" because he is trying to make peace with the Palestinians, whom he called "snakes."

Yosef was speaking in his weekly Saturday night sermon that is broadcast over the party's radio stations and is beamed overseas by satellite.

He said the 6 million Holocaust victims "were reincarnations of the souls of sinners, people who transgressed and did all sorts of things that should not be done. They had been reincarnated in order to atone."


All sectors of the population -- from Barak to Holocaust survivors -- condemned the rabbi's remarks.

"His words are liable to harm the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust and are liable to hurt the feelings of their families and the feelings of the entire nation," Barak said, according to a communique from his office.

Helen Kaminsky, whose relatives were buried alive at Babi Yar, a ravine outside Kiev where Nazis killed about 100,000 people in World War II, said she wanted a personal apology from the rabbi.

"This senile guy and lowlife, he should step down," said Kaminsky, 61, sobbing. "How could he say such a thing? You don't imagine how many people have been hurt today. They should silence him."

Kaminsky said Yosef's words made her feel like spitting in his face.

Legislator Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, a Holocaust survivor who heads the secularist Shinui party, said Rabbi Yosef "is in effect confirming what Hitler said, that the Jews are sinners."

Holocaust organizations and the two main Israeli radio stations said they were inundated with phone calls and fax messages, most of them criticizing Yosef's statement.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum labeled Yosef's remarks "miserable" and said they "seriously harm the memory of the victims."

"With all due respect to such a leader, it's hard to understand where Rabbi Yosef gets the courage to explain the intentions and ways of the supreme authority," the museum said in a release.

Shas chairman Eli Ishai said criticism of the rabbi 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."

Reincarnation is not a concept central to Jewish thinking, although it appears in the esoteric Zohar, the book that is the basis for Jewish mysticism, or "cabala."

Yosef, who ordered Shas to quit Barak's coalition when the prime minister was leaving for the Camp David summit with the Palestinians, described the Arabs as "snakes" interested mainly in murdering Jews, and said Barak has "no sense."

"What kind of peace is this?" Yosef said. "Will you put them beside us? You are bringing snakes beside us. ... Will we make peace with a snake?"

The Palestinian Information Ministry, in a press release, dismissed Yosef's statements about the Palestinians as "silly" and "fascist." The ministry, which is headed by the senior Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo, called on the Israeli government "to condemn such foolishness."

Shas was opposed to the concessions which Barak offered at Camp David, particularly his proposals to extend limited sovereignty to Palestinians in parts of Jerusalem.

Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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