Home  > Historical Perspectives
Rabbi Elyashiv, ´the religious figure of his generation,´ dies at 102 (ISRAEL HAYOM) Yehuda Shlezinger 07/19/12)Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=5117 Israel Hayom Israel Hayom Articles-Index-TopPublishers-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 halt.

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 issues.

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 1920s.

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