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Last Updated: Monday, 27 August 2007, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Israel rabbi in fallen troops row
Ovadia Yosef poster
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is known for his sometime controversial sermons
An influential former chief rabbi of Israel has caused controversy by saying its soldiers fall in action because they do not observe Jewish law.

Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the orthodox Jewish party Shas, said God helped soldiers when they "believe and pray" and they did not get killed.

The remarks, in a sermon broadcast in Israel, have been sharply criticised in secular circles and by veterans groups.

Many of the 112 soldiers killed in last year's Lebanon were observant Jews.

Rabbi Yosef has often been at the centre of controversy for comments in his weekly sermons, which are known for their ultra-conservative content.


"Is it any wonder if, heaven forbid, soldiers are killed in a war?" Rabbi Yosef said in the recording of his weekly Saturday night sermon broadcast on Monday.

"They don't observe the Sabbath, they don't observe the Torah, they don't pray, they don't put on phylacteries every day. Is it any wonder that they're killed? It's no wonder. May the Almighty have mercy on them and bring them back to religion."

The head of Yad Labanim, a group representing fallen Israeli soldiers, called Rabbi Yosef's remarks "shameful" and very hurtful to religious families whose children had been killed.

"It is specifically those religious people who are close to him that have been hurt by the comments. Secular people don't pay much attention to him anyway," said Eli Ben-Shem.

David Einhorn, whose son was killed in the Lebanon War, strongly criticised the rabbi for his comments.

Mr Einhorn said his son was killed just before putting on phylacteries (boxes containing scriptures) for prayer.

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