JERUSALEM (AP) -- Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the religious scholar and spiritual leader of Israel's Sephardic Jews who transformed his downtrodden community of immigrants from North Africa and Arab nations and their descendants into a powerful force in Israeli politics, has died. He was 93.
Yosef had been hospitalized in critical condition for several days. Officials at the Jerusalem hospital that treated him announced his death.
Yosef was often called the outstanding Sephardic rabbinical authority of the century. His prominence helped boost the confidence of his community, which makes up roughly half of Israel's population but was long impoverished and faced discrimination by Ashkenazi -- or European -- Jews who traditionally dominated Israel's government and religious institution.
Yosef parlayed his religious authority into political power, founding Shas, a party representing Sephardic Jews.
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