Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, has been criticised after he likened a black child born to white parents to a “monkey” in explaining a point of ritual.
Yosef, in a Saturday evening lecture, was speaking of the traditional blessing of the trees that takes place during Nissan, the current month on the Hebrew calendar. He was addressing whether Jewish law requires saying the blessing upon seeing one tree or two.
Comparing the blessing of the trees to other blessings, he cited the blessing required when one sees an unusual or “differentiated” creature and noted that one does not need to seek two such creatures to bless them.
In a video obtained by Ynet, the online version of Yediot Acharonot, Yosef goes into an extensive discourse on recounting the blessing when one sees a black person. He repeatedly uses the term “Kushi,” which derives from the biblical term for Ethiopia. The term was commonplace in Israel’s early decades but has been seen since at least the 1980s as a mild pejorative.
Yosef said the blessing does not apply to every black person.
“You don’t bless every Kushi, you walk in American streets, every five minutes you see a Kushi, are you going to deliver the blessing of the differentiated? It has to be a Kushi whose mother and father are white … if you know, however you know, that a monkey son came forth from them, that it came from them this way, then you say on him, the blessing of the differentiated creature. So, you’re going to say, do you need two Kushis (to say the blessing)? No!” he said.
Ynet obtained a response from Yosef’s office which noted that the Talmud uses the example of a black person to explain appropriate uses of the blessing of the differentiated, and also mentions monkeys. However, the passage cited does not compare black children to monkeys. Instead it appears to list differentiated creatures that would require blessing, including black people, elephants and monkeys. Additionally, the use of the term Kushi is normative in the Talmud, but no longer so in everyday Israeli speech.
Board of Deputies of British Jews president Jonathan Arkush issued a statement condemning his comments. He said: “We deplore the reprehensible racist remarks made by the Dephardi Chief Rabbi fo Israel Yitzhak Yosef, who used a slang term and apparently referred to a black person as a monkey. In so doing he has betrayed his office. He should be working to eliminate all forms of racism, not voicing backward ideas.”
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.