Rabbi Elyashiv, ´the religious figure of his generation,´ dies at 102 (ISRAEL HAYOM) Yehuda Shlezinger 07/19/12)
Israel Hayom Articles-Index-Top
More than 250,000 attend funeral of top Ashkenazi rabbi, who made
ultra-Orthodox parties a force to be reckoned with • "Rabbi
Elyashiv´s way was to love the Torah and humanity and to maintain the
sanctity of life," says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The ultra-Orthodox community is mourning the loss of Rabbi Yosef
Shalom Elyashiv, revered as one of the most prominent Ashkenazi
halachic (Jewish law) authorities in Israel and abroad, who died
Wednesday at the age of 102, after a prolonged several-month
hospitalization at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Some 250,000 adherents, including rabbis, politicians and other
public officials, attended Elyashiv´s funeral Wednesday, which was
held within hours of his death as is customary in Jewish law.
The funeral procession left from his home in Jerusalem´s Mea Shearim
neighborhood and ended in Har Hamenuchot (Givat Shaul) cemetery at
the western outskirts of the capital. Many streets had to be cordoned
off due to the large numbers who wanted to bid farewell to Elyashiv.
In the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Barak just east of
Tel Aviv, thousands took to the streets in mourning, as a result of
which the public transportation in many neighborhoods ground to a
Emergency services reported that about 50 people required medical
attention during the funeral due to congestion. During Elyashiv´s
hospitalization his followers and medical team said he would
miraculously get better only to fall ill again in what was a constant
battle between life and death.
Elyashiv was a highly influential figure in the haredi world and in
Israeli politics overall. With a single utterance he could topple
governments or seal a coalition deal due to his clout over haredi
legislators. His rulings were instrumental in pushing through – or
thwarting – legislation and government policy on a wide range of
Elyashiv was born in 1910 in the town of Šiauliai (Shavel in
Yiddish), Lithuania. His mother was the daughter to a prominent
Kabalist rabbi. She and her husband, managed to conceive their only
son after 17 years of marriage, but Elyashiv more than compensated
for that by becoming the progenitor for over 1,000 descendants. The
family eventually immigrated to British-controlled Palestine in the
When he was 20 he married the daughter of one of the prominent
rabbinical figures during the time of the British Mandate of
Palestine, Rabbi Aryeh Levin. Levin was known as the Father of the
Prisoners for his frequent visits with the Jewish underground
prisoners who were held by the British for their affiliation in the
Irgun and Stern Gang (revisionists groups who wanted to expel end the
British Mandate for Palestine and establish a Jewish state).
In 1938 Elyashiv was ordained as a rabbi and in 1952 he made his
first step toward becoming a rabbinical court judge, when Ashkenazi
Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog (the father of Israel´s sixth president Haim
Herzog and the grandfather of Labor MK Isaac (Buji) Herzog) asked him
and his fellow yeshiva students to come up with a solution in a case
involving a woman whose husband´s whereabouts were unknown [under
Jewish law a married woman is deemed Aguna (bound) and cannot remarry
until the fate of her husband had been determined].
Elyashiv penned a brilliant religious opinion that impressed the
chief rabbi, who eventually ruled the same way. Elyashiv´s articulate
response won him a seat on the Chief Rabbinate´s Supreme Rabbinical
Court and a waiver from the necessary exams that would-be rabbinical
judge would normally have to take.
Elyashiv served on the court for 20 years, despite the objection of
prominent anti-Zionist rabbis. In 1972 he left the Chief Rabbinate
following the controversial ruling by then-Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren,
who famously ruled that two siblings who were considered illegitimate
under Jewish law were declared legitimate and subsequently allowed to
marry their respective spouses. Elyashiv vehemently opposed the
interpretation of Jewish law in that case.
Like many haredi rabbis, Elyashiv subscribed to a moderate world view
on political issues but was highly suspicious of left wing parties,
mainly because of their alleged secularist inclinations. Elyashiv
made his first debut in national politics in 1988, when he accepted
Rabbi Elazar Shach´s invitation to serve as one of the leaders of
Degel Hatorah, the part the latter had just founded.
In 1999 Elyashiv instructed his party to join prime minister Ehud
Barak´s new coalition with Meretz and other left wing parties as he
believed the move would derail efforts to draft Yeshiva students. But
that order was soon reversed in the wake of Barak´s controversial
decision to allow the Israel Electric Corporation to transport a
turbine component during the Sabbath, which he considered a violation
of the so called "status quo agreement" on religious affairs which
prohibits state agencies from performing most activities on Jewish
holidays. Six years later, on the eve of the 2005 pullout from the
Gaza Strip, known as the Disengagement Plan, he allowed his party to
join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s government after being promised
that haredi schools would not have to introduce the so called "core
subjects" into their curriculum, including math and English.
He also departed from haredi policy of staying out of high office for
fear of being associated with the Zionist enterprise. Elyashiv
allowed Degel Hatorah representative at the Jerusalem municipality
Uri Lupolianski to run for mayor. Many Ashkenazi haredi politicians
still abide by the old policy and refuse to hold the title of cabinet
minister lest they take part in government decision making processes
that advance a secular agenda.
Elyashiv´s rulings have repeatedly stirred controversy due to their
strict interpretation of Jewish law. Most notably, he ruled that a
person´s death cannot be called so long as his or her heart is still
functioning, even if the patient is brain dead. This effectively
prohibited Ashkenazi haredim from signing donor cards.
Elyashiv also ruled that produce collected on land affected by
Shmita – the Jewish precept in which every seven years a farmer must
let the land rest – is tainted even if the farmers are not Jewish,
which was a financial blow to many in the agriculture industry.
Unlike other rabbis, Elyashiv seldom appeared in public and rarely
issued statements, owing to his secluded lifestyle.
In 2009 Elyashiv celebrated the birth of a grandson to his great
grandson, which came as a welcome blessing in light of the tragedies
his family had gone through. In 1948 his youngest daughter, Rivka,
who was 18 months old at the time, was killed by a Jordanian shell in
the hands of her older sister Leah. Shortly thereafter, Elyashiv lost
his baby son Yitzhak, who had become ill soon after birth.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement Wednesday
mourning Elyashiv and touting his many accomplishments.
"In his rulings, Rabbi Elyashiv made a lasting impression on the
ultra-Orthodox world and on the Jewish People. In his teachings, he
outlined a path for many, who drew their strength from his wisdom and
his sharp thinking. Rabbi Elyashiv´s way was to love the Torah and
humanity, to be self-effacing and to maintain the sanctity of life.
Today, the Jewish People lost a rabbi with an incisive mind, a wise
man of great stature, an emissary who was faithful to the values of
the Torah and who gave to others. We mourn his passing."
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY