The Common Good

Foremost Rabbinic Authority in the World Dies at 102

JERUSALEM — Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv, considered by many the foremost rabbinic authority in the Jewish world, died in Jerusalem on Wednesday. He was 102.

Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel.  Image v
Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel. Image via SeanPavonePhoto / Shutterstock.

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Born in Lithuania, Elyashiv moved to Jerusalem with his family at the age of 14, where he was recognized as a budding Torah scholar. 

Throughout his life Elyashiv wielded a huge influence not only among his fellow ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews but with many Sephardi Jews as well.

His rulings on every matter related to Jewish life, usually seen as extremely conservative, have shaped the way hundreds of thousands of haredim (as ultra-Orthodox Jews are often called) conduct their lives and run their communities. 

Although Elyashiv was at one time a member of Israel’s rabbinic establishment, his fiercely conservative outlook put him at odds with more moderate Orthodox and even some ultra-Orthodox leaders. He forbade the use of the Internet and advocated complete gender segregation (outside one’s family) in schools, synagogues and public gatherings.

Many of Elyashiv’s rulings angered secular and non-haredi Israelis because they affected the public at large. His admonitions against permitting women’s images from being shown in public places inspired his followers to tear down advertisements, and advertisers not to feature women.  

Elyashiv’s decree that young men should study only Jewish subjects led to a spike in the number of Torah scholars but left those men with few marketable job skills. With many children and difficulty finding skilled employment, many haredi families live below the poverty line, on public assistance.

The rabbi’s endorsement of one political party over another also helped shaped the composition of successive Israeli governments.

“In his rulings, Rabbi Elyashiv left a deep mark on the ultra-Orthodox world and on the entire people of Israel,’’ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. ‘‘The rabbi’s way was that of love of the Torah and love of man, humility, and the protection of the sanctity of life.’’

Despite his advanced age, Elyahsiv reportedly rendered religious rulings until a few months ago, when illness left him physically incapacitated. 

Elyashiv was buried Wednesday just hours after he died, in only a prayer shawl and not a coffin, according to Israeli custom. An estimated 250,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews attended his funeral.

Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel.  Image via SeanPavonePhoto  / Shutterstock.

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