The Board of Deputies has accused the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel of “betraying his office” after he referred to black people as “monkeys”.
Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board, said that the organisation “deplored the reprehensible racist remarks made by Rabbi Yitzchak 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 backwards ideas.”
Rabbi Yosef was giving a sermon on Saturday night when he used the word Kushi. Although it is a word used in the Talmud, in modern Hebrew it is a pejorative term for black people.
A tractate of the Talmud talks about saying a blessing when one sees an “unusual” person, giving as examples a black person, a red person and a very white person.
Rabbi Yosef, however, said that the blessing should not be made every time one sees a black person – “in America you see one every five minutes.
“So you make it only on a person with a white father and mother… they had a monkey as a son, so you say the blessing on him.”
A spokesperson for Rabbi Yosef said that he was talking in the context of the Talmud, which says that the same blessing is recited on seeing a number of creatures, including monkeys and apes.
However, the Anti Defamation League (ADL), the leading antisemitism watchdog in the United States, described Rabbi Yosef’s comments as “racially charged” and “utterly unacceptable”.
This is not the first time Rabbi Yosef has made controversial comments. Last year he preached that women should dress modestly “because they are not animals”. In 2016 he stated that non-Jews should not be allowed to live in Israel, except to serve the Jewish population, but later reversed this position.