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Open pages on a Closed Book

Yair Wasserman & Shimon Breitkopf

For decades, Rav Ovadiah meticulously documented even the most seemingly mundane events of his day, alongside the bigger political and theological questions that chased and surrounded him. From political earthquakes to the minutiae of life, the until-now secret diaries provide a fascinating look into the challenges of the illui-turned-leader of Sephardic Jewry. While most of these diaries will never be revealed, Mishpacha was given a rare opportunity to examine some of those fraying pages.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Anyone who has ever been to the home of Rav Ovadiah Yosef ztz”l surely remembers the image: the Rav sitting in his tall chair, his eyeglasses propped up on his wrinkled forehead, surrounded by piles of open seforim with marginal annotations. The pen in his hand is racing rapidly across the paper, forming line after line in his famously neat handwriting.

This is how he wrote dozens of seforim, along with tens of thousands of halachic decisions, letters, and approbations. Every day, for hours upon hours, Rav Ovadiah sat and wrote, learned and wrote, thought and wrote. He was 13 years old when he opened that first special notebook to record the poems he learned from his friend Shaul Aboud in Yeshivat Porat Yosef, and to describe how he felt the first day he put on tefillin. From then until the end of his life, his pen was his constant companion.

Even as he grew older and even when there were two devoted writers constantly at his side recording his words on their laptop computers, Rav Ovadiah’s pen didn’t rest. Some things even a state-of-the-art computer can’t replace: his pen was a tool for the exhaustive, all-encompassing documentation of every aspect of his life.

Rav Ovadiah’s pen now lies orphaned, next to his chair, his rabbinic garb, and his dark glasses. Yet his legacy lives on, not only in the many seforim he wrote and the teshuvos he rendered, but in the thousands of handwritten pages of his life’s personal documentary. From the excitement of his bar mitzvah day to the decisions he made that shaped the course of history, Rav Ovadiah documented every single thing that happened to him with the same meticulousness and thoroughness that characterized everything else he did. Some of it will eventually be published, while the rest will remain hidden for many years to come.


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