Israeli ultra-Orthodox party’s spiritual leader dies at 91

Aug 21, 2022, 4:26 PM | Updated: Aug 22, 2022, 4:28 am

JERUSALEM (AP) — Shalom Cohen, a prominent rabbi and spiritual leader of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Shas political party, has died. He was 91.

Cohen was born in Jerusalem to a prestigious religious rabbi and headed a Jewish seminary before joining the newly formed Shas party in the 1980s. He was an outspoken critic of modern Israeli society, including Israel’s national anthem. He called for his community members to refrain from using smartphones or undertake secular post-high school academic studies.

Cohen died Monday at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, the hospital confirmed. It did not provide a cause of death.

After the death of the party’s founder, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in 2013, Cohen became the party’s spiritual leader.

Thousands were expected to attend his funeral later on Monday at Jerusalem’s Sanhedriya Cemetery.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party has long played kingmaker in Israeli politics, a position that has solidified Orthodox Judaism’s monopoly over many aspects of daily life — from public transportation on the Jewish Sabbath and holidays, to marriage and divorce. For the past decade, the party has been a stalwart ally of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri, who resigned from politics last year after accepting a plea deal over tax offenses, wrote on Twitter following the announcement of Cohen’s death, “woe to the world that has lost its leader and woe to the ship that has lost its captain.”

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Israeli ultra-Orthodox party’s spiritual leader dies at 91