JERUSALEM (AP) — The spiritual leader of an Israeli ultra-orthodox political party was hospitalized after a suspected minor stroke in Jerusalem on Saturday, a development that could shake his party's fortunes and mute one of Israel's most influential voices.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, 92, is conscious and in a stable condition, Hadassah hospital spokeswoman Etti Dvir said, adding that doctors had requested he remain in the facility for several days for observation and further checks. She did not provide further details on his ailment.
The enigmatic, Baghdad-born Yosef is the chief spiritual adviser of the Shas party, which represents Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern descent. His followers consider his decisions as binding religious law — rare discipline in Israel's otherwise fragmented political landscape.
Israeli media reported he was rushed to Hadassah hospital after collapsing during morning prayers in a synagogue on Saturday morning.
Dr. Yuval Weiss of Hadassah told reporters Saturday night that the rabbi "likely had a very mild stroke."
"He is conscious and fully communicating with those around him," Weiss said. "I hope he can return home in a few days," he said.
Yosef's influence reaches beyond the party, which holds 10 seats in the 120-seat Israeli parliament. Comments from the rabbi, with his trademark turban, gold-embroidered robes and dark glasses, have cast a pall over political debates ranging from whether ultra-Orthodox Jews should be conscripted into Israel's military, to war and peace with Palestinians.
He is known for his fierce statements that have offended widely disparate segments of society, including Holocaust survivors, gays, Palestinians and secular Jews.
The rabbi said during a sermon in August 2010 that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should "perish from the world" and described Palestinians as "evil, bitter enemies of Israel." He later apologized for the remarks.
In 2007, he said that Israeli soldiers died in battle because they were not religious enough and said the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. suffered "because they have no God."
In 2008, Shas under his direction forced new elections by refusing to remain in the government after then-prime minister Ehud Olmert resigned.