JERUSALEM, Israel - Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Israeli Sephardic chief rabbi and spiritual head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, raised the ire of numbers of Israeli officials with his latest teaching.
In his sermon Saturday evening, Rabbi Yosef intimated that Israeli soldiers have lost their lives during war because of not being religiously observant.
"It is no wonder that IDF soldiers are killed in war. They don't observe Shabbat [the Sabbath]. They don't observe the Torah [the law] and they don't pray. They don't don tefilin [phylacteries] everyday, so is it any wonder they are killed in war? No it is not," he said.
"Soldiers who are believers and who pray, God helps in wars. They are not killed," he said.
As word of his remarks spread Monday, the responses poured in from both religious and secular Israelis.
Eli Ben-Shem, whose son was killed in 1997 when two Israel Air Force helicopters collided, heads an organization that represents families of fallen soldiers.
"It is specifically those religious people who have been hurt by his comments," Ben-Shem said, noting that many soldiers who died in last summer's war were religiously observant.
Member of Knesset (MK) Danny Yatom said the rabbi's remarks "don't even pass the test of reality since a significant number of religious and observant boys" were among those killed in the Second Lebanon War.
"Rabbi Ovadia Yosef would do well to retract his comments," he said.
Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter said that most of his family, who were very observant Jews, perished in the Holocaust.
"I didn't have a chance to meet any of my family who perished in the Holocaust," Dichter told Army Radio. "The enemy doesn't differentiate between religious and secular members of society.".
Eli Yishai, chairman of the Shas party, said the rabbi's remarks were taken out of context.
"When a soldier is killed, the rabbi sheds tears," he said. "Every one of us is commanded and obligated to pray and observe the Torah and commandments for the sake of the IDF soldiers," Yishai said.
"When a soldier is wounded, we view this as the fault of all the people of Israel who need to repent," he said.
Sources: YNet news service, The Jerusalem Post