In an attempt to clarify his recent statement that "soldiers died in war because they did not observe mitzvot," Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said Monday that he was actually referring to soldiers in biblical times.
In a sermon delivered just two weeks after Israel marked the war’s first anniversary, Shas’ spiritual leader said, “It is no wonder that soldiers are killed in war; they don’t observe Shabbat, don’t observe the Torah, don’t pray every day, don’t lay phylacteries on a daily basis – so is it any wonder that they are killed? No, it’s not. "
The rabbi's words caused fury and drew harsh criticism from bereaved parents of soldiers who died in the last war.
However, according to Shas Chairman Eli Yishai Rabbi Ovadia was not talking about today's soldiers, "but on the draft conditions in biblical times." Yosef explained that in those days, it was customary that people who violated Torah rules did not go to war, because they were in greater risk of getting killed.
"The rabbi meant it in the sense of mutual responsibility," Yishai said. "That is, if the public sins, the soldiers might pay the price. The rabbi called on the public to repent in Elul, the month of selichot (forgiveness), and to pray in order to protect the soldiers.
"The rabbi concluded his sermon with a prayer for the safety of the IDF soldiers. Those who criticized his words did not understand the rabbis' terminology," he added.
Yishai also said that on many occasions he saw the rabbi cry after learning of the death of soldiers.
Nevertheless, Yosef's aides stressed that he would not apologize for his statements, because he never meant to hurt the bereaved families.