Rabbi: Katrina is God’s punishment

Posted: Friday, September 16, 2005

JERUSALEM (AP) — Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, is being criticized for a televised sermon that called Hurricane Katrina a punishment from God for President Bush’s role in forcing Israelis to leave the Gaza Strip.

‘‘It was God’s retribution,’’ Yosef said. ‘‘He (Bush) perpetrated the expulsion. Now everyone is mad at him. This is his punishment for what he did to Gush Katif, and everyone else who did as he told them, their time will come, too.’’

Gush Katif is the largest group of Gaza settlements.

In response, U.S. Rabbi Jerome Epstein, chief executive of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said the vast majority of Jews reject Yosef’s ‘‘perverse belief’’ that ‘‘venomously and shamefully’’ claimed divine punishment.

Epstein said Israel’s pullout was undertaken with ‘‘the hope and dream of creating peace.’’

Yosef, 85, singled out black victims, saying ‘‘they don’t study Torah.’’ He used the word ‘‘Kushim,’’ which in the Bible refers to an ancient African group but in vernacular Hebrew is considered derogatory. The rabbi is a leader of Jews of Mideast origin, represented by the Shas faction in parliament.

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