Battle for Rabbi Yosef's health goes viral
As iconoclastic religious figure hangs between life and death, popular Israeli Facebook page shuts down temporarily over 'religious oppression' after critical post leads to death threats. Meanwhile, rabbi’s Facebook page offers supporters chance to donate day of their life for him
The looming death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, an iconoclastic religious figure who changed Israel’s political and religious landscape with the formation of ultra-Orthodox Sephardic political party Shas, has not gone unnoticed on Facebook.
As of Monday evening, the 93-year-old rabbi was in serious yet stable condition in a Jerusalem hospital. Online though, things have been anything but stable, and over the last few days Facebook denizens and pages have been clashing in a digital war over the controversial rabbi’s legacy, pitting the largely Ashkenazi liberal secular public against the mostly Sephardic, religious traditional one, highlighting cultural tensions in an unlikely arena.
The online storm got a little out of hand when one status by a Yosef detractor resulted in death threats and the short shutdown of one of Israel’s most popular Facebook pages.
"Statusim Metzaitzim" (Tweeting Statuses), a popular page with over 300,000 likes that searches Israeli social media for the most inspiring/ funny/ Israeli posts, reposted a status penned by an Israeli journalist.
In the post, the young secular woman lamented the national swansong over the rabbi, a figure which is highly unpopular in secular society for his history of controversial rhetoric (for example, Yosef once claimed that Hurricane Katrina occurred as a result of United States' support for the Gaza disengagement).
Together with an additional status on the subject, the page’s reposted post went re-viral and the woman began receiving death threats from the rabbi’s supporters. The semi-independent Facebook aggregator decided not to risk the wrath of the righteous House of Yosef supporters, and in an unprecedented move chose to temporarily shut down, closing shop for the first time in its generally successful and uninterrupted history.
“Tweeting Statuses is going to take a break now. Threats on our writers' lives suck the life out of our desire to post different statuses and funny pictures,” the page's creator wrote Tuesday, dramatically concluding that “Iran is here,” taking a jab at the rabbi by comparison to the Iranian ayatollahs.
Tweeting Statuses began operating again at around noon Wednesday, taking an additional jab at the furor caused by the rabbi’s hospitalization, saying “reports of our death were premature.” Later Wednesday the page published another post criticizing attempts to postpone the rabbi’s death through prayer.
10,000 iPhones for rabbi's recovery
Yet not everything about the rabbi has been negative, with some initiatives bordering on bizarre and esoteric.
Associates of the rabbi, always an early adapter, operate a very active Facebook page which has been working over hours in recent days. In a new post, in exchange for a "share," the page offers supporters a chance to donate a day of their own life to the rabbi so he can live on at their philanthropic expense.
The unit of lifetime is completely preserved in the transaction, and all users need to do is repost a predesigned image bearing the rabbi's likeness and a text that reads “God Almighty, I (John Doe), give one day of my life to the credit and longevity of the Maran (Master) Rabbi Haim Ovadia Yosef.”
The post itself beseeches those wishing to donate to the rabbi to “share” the post “forward.”
In another case, it was reported that a small and particularly zealous group of anti-Internet haredi activists took advantage of the rabbi’s illness by calling on the public to destroy their iPhones to save the rabbi. The iPhone, they claim, is corrupting haredi society by letting non-kosher content filter in.
“Destroy an iPhone and save the Maran,” the poster which was ironically spread online told the haredi public, as part of the aptly named “10,000 iPhones for the rabbi’s health” campaign.
Prior to his move to political life, the rabbi grew to prominence as a revolutionary interpreter of religious Jewish law – and a somewhat more progressive one at that. He is considered by his followers – directly, ultra-Orthodox Sephardic public, and indirectly, the wider religious society – as a master sage, or Maran, and the generation’s greatest authority on religious law. Hence, his health is no laughing matter.
For the meantime the rabbi lives, and while supporters and detractors battle over whether the Maran’s hashtag will be flooded with prayers or condemnations, doctors fight for the life of this polemic yet somehow always omnipresent figure.