Thursday, June 19, 2008
Hakham Mordechai Eliyahu a Champion of Zion
by Shelomo Alfassa
Hakham Mordechai Eliyahu is a voice of reason.
Hakham Mordechai Eliyahu has been in the news recently after suffering major health ailments; yet, he remains strong. During this period, where calls for public prayers in his name have been issued, some unfamiliar with him have asked, "Who is this rabbi?"
...one of the most popular and charismatic rabbinical leaders in all of Israel.
Hakham Mordechai Eliyahu is the former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, who served from 1982 to 1993, and is a member of the Bet Din HaRabani HaGadol (Supreme Rabbinical Court) based in Jerusalem. Hakham Eliyahu is considered one of the leading Zionist rabbis, and certainly one of the most popular and charismatic rabbinical leaders in all of Israel.
The rabbi was born in the Old City of Jerusalem in British-occupied Palestine during the dark year of 1929, when Arabs attacked, killed and maimed over 100 Jews throughout Hebron, Jaffa, Safed and other towns. A consequence of these sad events was an increased growth in Jewish nationalism and intensification of Jewish self-determination for Jews all over the holy land.
Hakham Eliyahu's upbringing was one imbued with a rigorous love of the land of Israel, which helped him become a staunch defender of such, first inspired by his father, the Iraqi-born rabbi, Hakham Salman Eliyahu (1878-1940). The elder Eliyahu was not only considered a respected rabbi and mekubal (Kabbalist) of Jerusalem, but he also had been educated in London. As a result of his Western education, he later served as personal secretary of the British High Commissioner of the Palestine British Mandate, Lord Herbert L. Samuel (1870-1963) - the first Jew to govern the historic land of Israel in 2,000 years.
Hakham Mordechai Eliyahu's early religious education was conducted by his father, who died when Eliyahu was still young. He continued to study under the prominent Syrian-born rabbi, Hakham Ezra Attia (1885-1970), the head of the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem, as well as under Ashkenazi rabbis such as Avraham Karelitz (1878-1953), author of the well-known book, Hazon Ish.
His commitment to the Torah was displayed when, as a youth, Eliyahu joined an underground group that struggled for a Torah-directed government in Israel and was involved in at least one attempt at pressuring the government by means that were considered, by some, to be illegal. Eliyahu would later graduate with honors from the Institute of Rabbis and Religious Judges, under the direction of former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Hakham Yishak Nissim (1896-1981). He later was elected as the youngest person in Israel to ever hold the post of dayan (judge).
The rabbi continued as a dayan in the religious court of Be'er Sheva for four years before transferring to Jerusalem, where he was elected to the Supreme Religious Court. It was in Be'er Sheva that people learned of his grace and outgoing manners that were coupled with his vast knowledge of the Torah. Because of this, the general public grew to trust him as a reliable source to solve problems and answer intricate questions. Soon after, he was elected as
Eliyahu joined an underground group that struggled for a Torah-directed government.
Rishon LeSion, Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel.
Rabbi Eliyahu's religious opinions are his own, and they have been elaborated in a siddur (prayer book) known as Kol Eliyahu. He has written many books on Jewish religious law and interpretations of the law, some which are very popular. In his person-to-person conduct, the rabbi is often swamped by people from all walks of life who want to get a blessing or seek advice. In recent years, his capacity as a Kabbalist became more public, but he has discouraged any reference to this aspect of his Torah knowledge or practice.
As Chief Rabbi, Hakham Eliyahu sought to give the non-religious public (inside and outside of Israel) a better understanding of Jewish traditions and the importance of the Torah. He grew up firmly planted with a love of all Jewish people, secular and religious, and the desire for those people to live free and be free in their own land. Fearless, he has developed into one of the most frank and honest rabbinical leaders of Israel, a man not scared to issue statements which reflected his passionate religious values in reference to international political events.
After the attacks by Arab terrorists against the United States on September 11, 2001, the rabbi essentially called for President George Bush to take up arms against the Arab terrorist enemies, not just issue empty words. The rabbi remains well known for his outspoken position on the Israeli government's decision to give land away to the Palestinian Arabs. When he stepped down from his formal position, he became automatically the accepted rabbinic leader of the religious Zionist camp in Israel and abroad.
Rabbi Eliyahu fought the Oslo Agreements to such an extent that the Attorney General saw fit to warn him that as a civil servant, he could not be perceived as supporting opposition to government policies. He was one of the very few senior rabbinic personalities who joined the inhabitants of Gush Katif in a day of fasting and prayer against their uprooting and expulsion. He could not conceive that any Jewish government in its right mind could undertake such a dastardly operation against Jews. Addressing the many thousands of people in the town square of N'vei Dekalim, he exclaimed, "It cannot and will not happen!" ("Hayo lo tihye!") Since then, he has been outspoken in his strong opposition to the dismantling of Jewish villages in Judea and Samaria.
Outraged after seeing the terror attacks that originated from Gaza, which killed and maimed hundreds of Israeli citizens, the rabbi wrote a letter to President Bush who was arriving in Israel during January of 2008 on his first official visit. Hakham Eliyahu desired to make sure the President was aware of the popular public opinion which does not call for establishing a larger Palestinian self-governing area.
The rabbi has been the spiritual advisor and one of the strongest advocates for Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew sentenced to life in a US prison for what many believe is solely a political reason. Pollard received a life sentence for spying for an ally (Israel), when the maximum sentence today for such an offense is 10 years and the median sentence for such an offense is two to four years. On many occasions, Hakham Eliyahu has visited Pollard in prison, and frequently writes letters and appeals on his behalf. Following heart surgery and in his hospital bed, Hakham Eliyahu wrote George Bush a letter reminding the President that Pollard has languished in American prisons for over 20 years; he pleaded:
He grew up firmly planted with a love of all Jewish people.
"I would like to point out that I am willing to act as Jonathan Pollard's guarantor, to take him into my custody and to accept full responsibility for him. I have visited Jonathan in prison on numerous occasions. He is a dignified man, a man of noble sensitivities who is deserving of special consideration."
Hakham Eliyahu is one of the voices of reason severely needed to continually counterbalance the growing Hareidi influence which has been encroaching upon the culture of the office of the Chief Rabbi. The office that Hakham Eliyahu once held has morphed into something it was never intended to be, one that forces its opinion based on a paradigm which at one time existed only within the Hareidi world and was never part of Torah-observant classical Judaism.
Hakham Mordechai Eliyahu remains an example of a man who loves and respects the Land, and a man who understands how Jews can live both as part of the modern world and yet remain loyal to the Torah.
15 Sivan 5768 / 18 June 08