Last updated: 13 January, 2013

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Shas chief in hospital

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 92, the spiritual leader of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Shas party, was discharged from hospital on Sunday morning, a day after a colleague said he suffered a mild stroke.

Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein-Kerem hospital confirmed that the former chief rabbi of Israel had been released but refused to comment on his condition.

Aryeh Deri, a leading member of Shas and long-time Yosef confidant, told an Israeli TV station on Saturday that his mentor was lucid and his speech was fluent.

“There was a stroke. It was small; it didn’t cause much damage,” Deri said.

The powerful Yosef, who heads Shas’s supreme body, the Council of Torah Sages, was taken to Hadassah for a series of tests on Saturday morning after feeling unwell, Deri said.

Rabbi Yosef’s influence is not limited to the world of Sephardic Jewry.

Political leaders are always keen to secure his backing because of the pivotal role the Shas party can play in forming any coalition government: to ignore Shas is to alienate around half a million voters.

Shas currently has 11 members in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament. The latest opinion polls predict that it will win 10-12 seats in the early general election called for January 22.

Last August, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to have sent one of his closest aides to win Rabbi Yosef’s backing for any Israeli military attack on Iran.

Israel — the Middle East’s sole if unacknowledged state to have the atomic bomb — and Western powers suspect the Islamic republic of carrying out a covert nuclear weapons programme, a charge Tehran vehemently denies.