A new biography of Rav Ovadia Yosef has been published:
Rabbi Ovadia’s life story contains all the stuff of myth: growing up poor, setting oneself an ambitious goal from childhood, a meteoric rise to fame, and upon reaching the top, a tug-of-war between heirs and members of one’s inner circle. . . .
At the age of 14, he was forced to leave the yeshiva, until one day the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Ezra Attia, came to the store and begged the father to let the boy return. “If you need help in the store, I’ll stay. Keeping me away from Torah study matters less than keeping this boy away.” . . .
In this manner, Rabbi Ovadia worked his way up the ladder, waging a one-man campaign to “restore the glory of Jewish tradition” – which he did without any organization behind him or any financial backing. The outcome was not only a political party with 17 seats in the Knesset, but an educational network from kindergarten to higher yeshivas devoted to disseminating Rabbi Ovadia’s own teachings. These teachings were not a recycling of what he learned from his rabbis, but an attempt to create a cultural renaissance that would link Jews living in Israel today with the halakhic traditions of the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael in the 16th century, when Rabbi Yosef Caro wrote the Shulhan Arukh. . . .
Without budgets, without a foothold in any ministry, Rabbi Ovadia began to spread his teachings, with a little help from his son. Only after Shas was founded and its people were instated in the Ministry of Religious Affairs did the marketing machine go into full gear.
In contrast, for most of his pre-rebbe adult life, the Rebbe lived a life of privilege, studied philosophy (and, less frequently, engineering), frequented the cafés of Berlin and Paris, and did not work to help Jews. Even after he was saved from Hitler’s (yemakh shemo) Europe, the Rebbe played no significant role in the attempt to rescue of the millions of Jews still trapped in Europe. Perhaps the Rebbe’s avowed preference for alleviating the “spiritual needs” of assimilated Jews as opposed to aiding the rescue of dying Jews is at the root of his inaction in the face of slaughter.