Holocaust victims were punished for sins of their past lives, claims eminent rabbi

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The Independent Online

Israel erupted in fury yesterday over a speech by an eminent rabbi in which he said that 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust because they were reincarnations of sinners.

Israel erupted in fury yesterday over a speech by an eminent rabbi in which he said that 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust because they were reincarnations of sinners.

There was condemnation across the political spectrum of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the aging spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas, the third-largest party in the Knesset. The party could determine whether Ehud Barak's government survives and, with it, the Middle East peace process.

The rabbi's comment, in a sermon broadcast in Israel and abroad, were considered so unacceptable the Prime Minister's office said in a statement they were "liable to hurt the feelings" of families of Holocaust victims and the nation.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews have long debated why God did not intervene as the Nazis were massacring millions of Jews. It appears the explanation of Rabbi Yosef - who condemned the Nazis - is based on the theory that the Holocaust was punishment for sin: the victims, he said, were "reincarnations of the souls of sinners, people who transgressed and did all sorts of things that should not have been done. They have been reincarnated in order to atone".

His remarks caused a storm of protest in Israel, which has 300,000 Holocaust survivors. The two main ultra-Orthodox radio stations, which broadcast the sermon on Saturday night, were inundated with protests.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum called his words "miserable" said that they "seriously harm the memory of the victims".

There were passionate words from one woman, Helen Kaminsky, whose relatives were buried alive in Ukraine. She demanded the rabbi's retirement and a personal apolocy. "This senile guy and lowlife, he should step down," Ms Kaminsky sobbed. "How could he say such a thing? You don't imagine how many people have been hurt today. They should silence him."

Eli Yishai, chairman of Shas, which has 17 Knesset seats, said criticism of the party's spiritual guru was unjustified. "Rabbi Ovadia weeps for every Jew who is killed... but nobody, not even a saint, has not sinned. Everyone dies in a state of sin."

The rabbi also called the Palestinians "snakes" and attacked Mr Barak for his peace efforts.

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