Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef is fighting back. After taking fire from Ashkenazi rabbis on his rulings regarding the shmita year, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s son is waging a war of his own.
In a newsletter distributed by the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, Rabbi Yosef condemned Ashkenazi heads of yeshivas who are encouraging their Sephardic pupils to follow their customs and are ‘turning them Ashkenazi’ in their practices.
The rabbi focused in particular on the customary ‘seclusion’ of a bride and groom on their wedding day, which typically occurs in a private room following the couple’s union. Sephardic Jews typically enact this symbolic seclusion, called yichud, right after the traditional wedding meal. Ashkenazi Jews, on the other hand, send the bride and groom off for seclusion right after the chupah; that is the wedding ceremony itself.
'Deviating from the ways of our Sephardic rabbis'
Rabbi Yosef deemed this Ashkenazi custom as ‘ugly’ and ‘vulgar’ based upon prior religious edicts issued by top Sephardic rabbis, such as the head of the Ben Porat Yeshiva Rabbi Shaul Tzadakha, as well as Rabbi Ezra Attia and Rabbi Abba Shaul.
Chastising Sephardic yeshiva students who have taken on Ashkenazi customs, Rabbi Yosef noted that “they are acting in an inappropriate manner”. He also criticized Ashkenazi heads of yeshivas stating that “these Ashkenazi rabbis should not encourage Sephardic students to deviate from customs and traditions enacted by top rabbis and halachic rulers.”
Further backing his assertions, Rabbi Yosef also quoted his father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who wrote in his response entitled ‘Yabia Omer’ that “whoever transgresses from Sephardic custom in this respect ought to be hushed and chastised out of respect for the torah greats of the generation”.
Yet another Ashkenazi custom, namely allowing the groom to hold the bride’s hand on their way to the seclusion room, and also allowing the couple to be accompanied by friends as they head off to consummate their marriage, was also criticized by Rabbi Yosef. He noted that the bride and groom ought to head off to seclusion right after the traditional wedding feast, and that they ought to be accompanied by relatives alone.
Rabbi Yosef spared no words for the Sephardic yeshiva students who take on such practices. “Only in recent years have Sephardic students attending Ashkenazi yeshivas begun to deviate from the ways of our Sephardic rabbis. It is clear, however, that we must not forsake the traditions of our forefathers.”
The rabbi also praised Sephardic rabbis who insist upon Sephardic custom throughout the wedding ceremonies that they oversee.