The ultra-Orthodox party Shas is worried: Less than two weeks before the elections the party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, suffered a mild stroke on Saturday, was hospitalized at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem in Jerusalem and was released Sunday morning.
The rabbi's close associates reported that the 92-year-old began feeling unwell late Friday and experienced some paralysis in his left arm. He refused to go to the hospital, however, fearing that he would violate the laws of Shabbat.
During the morning Shacharit prayer on Saturday, the rabbi again felt ill and was rushed to his chambers. Associates decided to evacuate him to the hospital.
Shas co-chairman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, considered to be extremely close to Yosef, told an ultra-Orthodox website on Sunday that the reason for the stroke was the fact that, "the rabbi was anxious over the danger of yeshiva boys being forcibly drafted."
Yishai was referring to various efforts to reverse a blanket exemption from mandatory military service which ultra-Orthodox men have historically enjoyed, in exchange for studying in yeshivas (institutions for studying religious texts only).
"I walked to the hospital to spend time by the rabbi's bed," Yishai said. "He asked during the course of the night: 'What will become of them (yeshiva students)'?"
After administering a series of tests, doctors decided to keep the rabbi at the hospital for observation on Saturday.
"The rabbi was hospitalized after feeling weak," Hadassah Ein Kerem director Dr. Yuval Weiss told reporters on Saturday. "Comprehensive tests show that he suffered what was most likely a very mild stroke."
"The rabbi has been fully alert the entire time and is he is perfectly communicative," said Dr. Weiss on Saturday. "He will undergo several more tests; hopefully within a few days he will be able to return home." As mentioned above, Yosef was released Sunday morning.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has suffered from heart problems and high blood sugar for years. Recently, he has been to the hospital several times and even underwent three angioplasties, the most recent in September 2006.
"His eminence is fully functioning and even performed the havdalah [at the end of Shabbat] ceremony," Shas said in a statement issued Saturday night. "In the morning, his doctors will convene to decide on how to proceed with his treatment."
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's weekly sermon was delivered by his son Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef on Saturday night. His son prayed for his father's full recovery and called on the public to pray for him. After the lecture, dozens of the rabbi's followers gathered to recite a special prayer for his health.
On Shabbat, Shas co-chairmen Aryeh Deri and Yishai visited the hospital, arriving by foot so as to abide by the prohibition against driving on the Sabbath. "I was very worried," Yishai, said. "But seeing the rabbi throughout the day assuaged my fears."
"The rabbi taught us Torah," Yishai added. "He is talking and feeling well."
Deri, who left a family function to visit his party's spiritual leader in the hospital, said, "this is our leader and we are worried, but his condition is good. I spoke with the rabbi and his speech is clear. Concentration, focus – everything is as good and smooth as always."
President Shimon Peres spoke with Yosef's son after Shabbat and inquired about the rabbi's health. "I want to express my hope that the rabbi will return home quickly and enjoy great health and a long life," the president said.
"Rabbi Ovadia always prayed for Israel's welfare," Peres said, "and today Israel is praying for his welfare and his full recovery."