Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Egyptians thought Yosef was a spy

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef z"l spent three years in Egypt - between 1947 and 1950. It was a time when conditions deteriorated dramatically for Egyptian Jewry. He was even accused of being a Zionist spy, he recalled in a fascinating Ynet News interview with Refael Bashan in 1972  (with thanks: Jeremy):

"Because of his old age and frail condition, at times I would represent Rabbi Nahum (the chief rabbi of Egypt - ed) before the powers-that-be. I recall visiting King Farouk, to pay his respects on his birthday, despite the fact that we are talking about 1948, at the height of the War of Independence; I was treated with royal respect and an honor guard of police and soldiers who saluted me outside the palace.

What did you (and the king) discuss?

"(Simply) It was just polite talk. We drank steaming hot coffee and shook hands.

What was Faruk's relation to Egyptian Jewry? 

 "It was OK. But when Egypt began to suffer defeats on the battlefield, the situation deteriorated. Regarding myself, they began to (absurdly) suspect that I was an Israeli spy. Occasionally, we were surprised by searches by the secret police. I remember one night Egyptian officers broke into our house with guns, demanding: 'Where is your gun?' I told them: 'You want to know where my gun is, come, I'll show you'. And I took them to my library and said: 'Here, here are my weapons'.

"Afterwards the Egyptians began spreading rumors that I was disseminating Zionist propaganda, and they berated me for giving speeches in Hebrew. The truth of the matter was that they were right; I was telling worshipers to do everything in their power to come to Israel through Italy and France. Regarding the Hebrew issue I told the Egyptian authorities that I am speaking the language God gave the people of Israel.

צילום: דוד רובינגר
Rabbi Yosef in Cairo (Photo: David Rubinger)

"After three years, at the end of 1950 when my contract ended, I returned to Israel and was appointed a justice in Petah Tikva.

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