Rabbi Shaar Yashuv, of Blessed Memory

The life of the venerable Chief Rabbi of Haifa, who passed away last week.

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Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

Last week, Rabbi Shaar Yashuv, zt”l (may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing), the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, President of both the ‘Harry Fischel Institute’, and ‘Ariel Institutions’ for the training of rabbis and rabbinical judges, passed away.

His Father, the Nazir

Rabbi Shaar Yashuv was the son of the Nazir (Nazarite), Rabbi David Cohen ztz”l, and a prominent disciple of ‘Israel’s Holy Light’, our teacher and guide, HaRav Kook (that was the title Rabbi Shaar Yashuv was careful to say whenever he mentioned Rav Kook). The Rabbi the Nazir, served as one of the heads of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva. In addition to his greatness in all areas of Torah, he was one of the few eminent rabbis of the last generations who also delved deeply into the areas of the humanities, Kabbalah and philosophy.

He was the scion of a distinguished rabbinic family. His grandfather, for instance, Rabbi Mendel Zechariah HaKohen Katz, was the Rabbi of Radin where the Chofetz Chaim lived. Rabbi Shaar Yashuv would relate that at times, when a question arose in the house of the Chofetz Chaim, he would send members of his family to ask his grandfather, the Mara d’Atra (the local rabbinic authority). His grandfather, in turn, would honor the Chofetz Chaim, and reply that in the Mishna Berura, (which the Chofetz Chaim had penned), it is written that the halakha is so and so. This is how these two great and noble rabbis regarded each other. The Nazir’s wife was his cousin, and she herself grew up in Radin, in the shadow of his grandfather and the Chofetz Chaim.

Thus, the Rabbi Nazir, grew in Torah, Talmud scholarship, and ethics in the homes of his relatives, and various yeshivas. When he reached the age of twenty, he broadened his studies to the field of philosophy as well, and learned in the Academy for Jewish Studies established by Baron Guenzburg in Petersburg, integrating Torah, languages, and the humanities.

Subsequently, he received a scholarship with honors from the Baron to learn in any European university he chose. He began studying in Germany, and at the outbreak of World War I, he moved to Basel, where he began writing his doctoral dissertation in philosophy. Before starting his academic studies, he visited Radin and received a blessing from the Chofetz Chaim and guidance in arranging his daily study of Torah subjects. In order to guard his high level of Torah and fear of Heaven, he took upon himself customs of extreme chassidut (piety) and nezirut (Nazarite vows), and in order enot to have thoughts about other women, he kept a picture of his fiancée, his cousin, on his desk at all times.

Following the World War I and the Communist Revolution in Russia, the two parted ways for twelve years, and only after they immigrated to Israel, when Rabbi David Cohen was thirty-six years old, did they reunite, and marry. During the war, when he was a doctoral student of philosophy in Switzerland, he began giving classes in Gemara in the community. Having heard that Rabbi Kook was in the vicinity, he asked to meet him. In preparation for the meeting, he immersed himself in the waters of the Rhine River, clutched the book of Rabbi Chaim Vital ‘Shaarei Teshuva’ in his hands, and travelled to the town where Rav Kook was visiting.

The meeting with Rabbi Kook generated a tremendous spiritual revolution within him. He had discovered what he had been searching for, and even more. He found an eminent rabbi with a lofty spiritual doctrine that united the wisdom of the Torah, Kabbalah and philosophy, together with a deep connection to segulat Yisrael (the uniqueness of Israel), the vision of redemption forAm Yisrael, and for all of mankind. With endless devotion, he exerted his energies entirely towards spiritual elevation and holiness, in order to clarify and reveal Torah wisdom leading to the Final Redemption. In order to join Rav Kook, who had immigrated to Israel to serve as Rabbi of Jerusalem, he abandoned his doctoral dissertation a few months before its completion, immigrated to Israel, and continued to advance in Torah.

His customs of piety and holiness expressed his boundless yearning for ruach ha’kodesh and prophecy. To this end, he undertook customs of nezirute, and out of respect and enormous moral sensitivity to animals, he also was strict not to gain pleasure from any animal products. Occasionally he would test his spiritual condition, asking students sitting next to him to see if his feelings were correct, and to look outside the window to see if his colleague, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, was passing by. And indeed, when they did, they saw Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda walking down the street.

Rabbi Shaar Yashuv’s Childhood

When Rabbi Shaar Yashuv’s mother was pregnant with him, his father, the Rabbi Nazir, requested that his wife refrain from drinking wine. Thus, Rabbi Shaar Yashuv was raised as a nazir from the womb, and in addition, his parents trained him in customs of hassidut – to avoid gaining pleasure from any animal products. On the shoulders of the young Shaar Yashuv rested all the hopes and ideals of his holy father – greatness in Torah, ruach ha’kodesh and prophecy, building of the nation and the Land, and redemption of humanity. To a certain extent, the young child Shaar Yashuv was the hope of the house of Rabbi Kook, as the son of Rav Kook, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, who did not merit having children, was considered a close uncle, and Rabbi Kook was like his grandfather.

I heard from my friend Rabbi Ze’ev Sultanovitch, that Rabbi Shaar Yashuv’s mother, Rebbetzin Sarah, told him that at the age of six, his father the Nazir, had already started to teach him Gemara. The Rebbetzin, fearing that her husband was placing too much of a burden on the shoulders of their young son, went to Rav Kook for advice. Rav Kook asked her whether Shaar Yashuv understood what his father taught him, and when she replied that indeed, he did understand, Rabbi Kook concluded that if so, he could continue learning.

It is told that Rabbi Shaar Yashuv was an especially handsome boy, tall, with blue eyes, and his golden Nazirite locks of hair flowed over his shoulders. Possessing noble qualities of gentleness and courage, intelligence, and an illustrious family lineage, the eminent rabbis of Jerusalem showed great affection for him. One woman told me that as a child in the Shaarei Chesed neighborhood of Jerusalem, some of her friends came to view from a distance, the ‘Shirat Ha’Yam’ event of Rabbi Charlap, whom they considered an angel of the Army of Hashem. To her surprise, from her distant vantage point, she saw Rabbi Charlap dancing enthusiastically and happily with a tall girl. Afterwards, it turned out that it had been the youthful Shaar Yashuv, for as a nazir, his hair cascaded over his shoulders.

Schooling and Volunteering as a Youth

At the age of sixteen when along with his yeshiva studies he became involved in the religious, right-wing youth movement ‘Chashmonaim‘ and assisted in underground activities, the young Shaar Yashuv asked to be released from his Nazarite vow, so as not to stand out the eyes of the British Police. I am not certain if his father was upset about this.

Perhaps this happened at a time when he became closer to Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, who, unlike his colleague the Nazir, did not adapt customs of asceticism; rather, with his Torah learning and greatness, was more involved with society and their concerns, observing the events of the here and now, and explaining the salvation that grew from them, as opposed to his friend the Nazir, who stressed the anticipation of the future, Divine salvation. In any case, it is clear that Rabbi Shaar Yashuv remained bound to his father with all his heart, and although he absolved his vow, in practice, he did not drink wine, and for most of his life, was a vegetarian.

The First to be Nurtured on Torat EretzYisrael

As well as studying Torah in its entirety, in all of its components – Talmud, Halakha, Aggadah, Kabbalah, and Divine philosophy – Rabbi Shaar Yashuv expanded his education in the study of law at the Hebrew University, with the purpose of magnifying and glorifying the Torah. Alert to public affairs, and ready to volunteer for the sake of building the nation and the Land, he even served as a combat officer, Rabbi of the Air Force, and Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. Since the majority of his endeavors had always been in the field of Torah, he was seen fit to serve as the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, and in 1975 was selected for this office at the age of forty-eight.

His noble personality and radiance elevated the dignity of the Torah in the city, and in his pleasant manner, knew how to bond the diverse populations of “red Haifa” of old. Similarly, as a member of the Chief Rabbinical Council, he greatly contributed to increasing peace among Torah scholars, and between Israel and the nations, and was the only Jew who spoke on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate in the Vatican Council about moral values and religion.

He was also was an avid supporter and faithful to the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria, and to the aggrandizing and glorification of Torat Eretz Yisrael in higher yeshivas, Hesder yeshivas, and Pre-Military leadership academies.

It could be said that Rabbi Shaar Yashuv was the first child to grow up in the lap of Torat Eretz Yisrael, and thanks to his devotion, Torah learning and talent, paved the way for those who followed him, for example, in his clarification of the mitzvah for yeshiva students to serve in the army, and by paving the way for the integration of army service with yeshiva study.

Paving the Way for Integration of Army and Yeshiva

Thanks to our acquaintance (he recited blessings under the wedding canopy for a number of our children, and even visited Har Bracha several times and gave classes – once, along with his wife Rebbetzin Dr. Naomi, who also gave a class to the women), I was fortunate to receive from him a long and detailed letter concerning how the idea of combining army and yeshiva came about, in which, among other things, he wrote: “For the sake of historical truth, I must add that I was personally involved in the first attempt to establish a yeshiva of Torah scholars in the framework of ‘Ha’Medina ve’Ha’Tzavah Sh’Ba’Derech‘ – an experiment that led to the first halakhic ruling obligating yeshiva students to enlist in the army. I did this in the winter of 1947, along with members of the Etzel and Lehi, the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, and other yeshivas in Jerusalem. It was immediately after the 29th of November, and the beginning of the bloody events that preceded the War of Independence, in the framework of the enlistment process of ‘Tzavah Sh’Ba’Derech‘ in Jerusalem, in the months of Shvat, Adar, and Nissan 1948…

“At that time, the halakha had not yet been decided that yeshiva students as well were obligated to go out to a milchmet mitzvah( obligatory war) of ‘kibbush ha’aretz’ (conquering the Land of Israel) and ‘ezrat Yisrael mee’yad tzar ha’ba aleyhem’ (a war fought to assist Israel to defend itself from an attacking enemy).

As we know, the concept of integrating Torah and combat is an ancient concept from the times of Joshua. See the words of our Sages on the verse “Atah ba’tee” (“I have now come”) (Joshua 5:14): ‘He [this stranger] said to him: ‘Yesterday evening, you omitted the evening Tamid, and today you have neglected the study of the Torah. ‘For which of these [offences] have you come?’ ‘I have now come,’ he replied (because of neglecting Torah). Straightway [we read], ‘And Joshua lodged that night in the midst of the vale.’ Whereon R. Yochanan observed: It teaches that he spent the night in the profundities of the halakha (see Sanhedrin 44b; compare it to Megilah 3a and Tosafot ‘va’yalen, Yerushalmi Chagiga, perek bet, Tosafot Bavli Chagiga 16, b ‘av’, Eruvin Tosafot ‘mee’yad’).

This implies that already in the days of Joshua and the first conquest of Israel, soldiers combined Torah study with milchemet mitzvah. Apparently, in those days they fought during the day, and studied Torah at night – and this was the source of inspiration for the words of King David: ‘Let high praises to God be heard in their throats, while they wield two-edged swords in their hands’ (Psalms 149:6).”

The Founding of the First Integration from Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva

And thus he continued writing in his letter: “To prepare the IDF, a body named ‘Mercaz Hamifkad L’Sherut Ha’am’ was established by the Zionist leadership. In Jerusalem, the head of this center was none other than a rabbi from Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav, the Gaon Rabbi Mordechai Halevi Fromm ztz”l, the husband of Rebbetzin Tzipora, granddaughter of ‘Israel’s Holy Light’, Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l, and the daughter of our mentor and guide, the Gaon Rabbi Shalom Natan Raanan Kook ztz”l, director of the yeshiva.

To enable all of us, both students of the yeshiva and graduates of the various Underground organizations – the Haganah, Etzel, and Lehi – to fight together, we initiated the establishment of ‘Yeshiva Lochemet’, as part of the defense of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was the only place where the three Underground organizations united as one fighting force, commanded by our friend, member of ‘Brit Ha’Chashmonaim’, Moshe Russnak z”l, a member of the Moriah corps of the Haganah, together with his deputy Isser Nathanson z”l, a member of the Etzel.

With our efforts, the establishment of ‘Yeshiva Lochemet‘ was agreed upon to protect the Old City, and we were given the use of a synagogue and a dormitory, and together with the command of the Jewish Quarter, our agenda was also agreed upon: eight hours of army duty, eight hours devoted to prayer and Torah study, and eight hours for eating, resting, sleeping, and all other personal needs.

“For this initiative, I received the blessing and consent of the Rosh Yeshiva, our mentor and guide, HaRav HaGaon Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook zt”l, and of course, the blessing of my father and teacher, HaRav HaNazir HaKadosh zt”l. However, there were heads of the yeshiva who had reservations about the initiative (here he used an understatement, E.M.), perhaps out of fear that it would cause the cancellation of the ‘deferment arrangement’ in practice until today. The Rosh Yeshiva of Mercaz Harav, Maran HaGaon Rabbi Moshe Charlop zt”l kept silent, but there were members of his family and close associates who fought the idea.

“In a class I gave in the past in Yeshiva Har Bracha, I spoke about the attempt made by means of a leaflet distributed in the streets of Jerusalem, depicting ‘the Holy Light of Israel’, Maran Rav Kook zt”l, as allegedly being opposed to the recruitment of yeshiva students, and the vigorous denial of Maran HaGaon Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook zt”l

“In those days, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was under siege. We tried to enter the city in a British army convoy which passed the lines once or twice a week, with medical staff and essential supplies. I managed to enter the Jewish Quarter, and participate in its war of defense … my friends, unfortunately, failed entering the city, but fought in the framework of the IDF. Some of them fell as kedoshim (holy martyrs) in the difficult struggle.

“It seems to me that in the framework of the IDF, we (soldiers combining army and yeshiva) were the first. Indeed, the army recruited us into its ranks bedi’a’vad (after the fact), and the date of enlistment on my recruitment card is 2.1.48, in other words, three and a half months before the day the State of Israel’s independence was declared…

“Fondly yours, and with great blessings and appreciation, Rabbi Shaar Yashuv HaKohen.”

Clarifying the Mitzvah of Military Service

Rabbi Shaar Yashuv related the following story (printed at the end of Part II of ‘L’Netivot Yisrael’, Beit El Publications):

“In 1948, there was a debate over the participation of yeshiva students from Jerusalem in the battle for the defense of the besieged city. We, the students of Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav, followed the instruction of our rabbis, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook zt”l, and my father and teacher, HaRav HaNazir zt”l. We were active in all the Underground groups – the Haganah, Irgun and Lehi, and reported to the ‘Mifkad Sherut L’Am’, the body which laid the foundation for the IDF, which was then being formed, but many heads of other yeshivas could not accept this. Even in the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva there was a difference of opinion (however, even in yeshivas that were not associated within the framework of ‘Eretz Yisrael‘ yeshivas, founded by ‘The Holy Light of Israel’, Maran HaRav Kook zt”l, later, they also joined a special battalion that built fortifications in Jerusalem, which our friend, the late Rabbi Tuvia Bir zt”l headed, and was called ‘Tuvia’s Brigade’, but this was already at a later stage, during the very severe phase of the siege).

“As I said, I reported to serve in the special units… I did so with the consent and blessing of my father and teacher, HaRav HaNazir zt”l. The Old City of Jerusalem was in a siege within a siege, and in order to enter it, one had to wait for a British army convoy to pass. During the waiting period, I continued studying in yeshiva. One day, I noticed next to the yeshiva on Rav Kook Street, a large poster entitled ‘Daat Torah’ of Maran Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook zt”l against the enlistment of yeshiva students into the army, with sharp words quoted from his letters about the severity of someone who involves Torah scholars in battle, and his resolute opinion was that it was inappropriate to recruit B’nei Torah into the army, and that they should be discharged, and other things that really amazed me.

“I stood in front of this poster, and thought: ‘What am I going to do now?’ Every one of our yeshiva students, heaven forbid, is going against the ruling of the Rav zt”l? After reading the poster, I went down, lost in thought and deliberation, and turned towards the center of town, down Rav Kook Street. Suddenly, coming towards me was my teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, limping slightly as he normally did, and walking slowly. As I was one of his close students, he could recognize (by the look on my face) what type of a mood I was in. He said to me: ‘Shaar Yashuv, what happened? Why are you so annoyed and pale?’ I told him what I had seen, and when I pointed to the poster, he literally roared (even someone who remembered the roars of our Rabbi when he got excited, never heard such a roar): ‘It’s fake! It’s a blatant forgery!’ Thus he loudly shouted, over and over again.

“After he calmed down, he explained to me: ‘These things are taken from a letter from Rabbi Kook to Dr. Hertz, the Chief Rabbi of London, about recruitment into the British army. The names of yeshiva students who came from Russia or Poland to London, as refugees of World War I, and studied Torah, were omitted from the list of ‘pirchei kehuna’ the Chief Rabbi of England had submitted to the authorities (who were exempted from military service, similar to their priests, l’havdil). That was what Rav Kook had reproached him about, and it is completely unrelated to the battle for Jerusalem.’

“To my request that he clarify for us his opinion in writing, he replied that the city was under siege, and there was no printing-press able to operate without fuel, except for one printing-press which served the State Committee. After taking the matter of printing upon myself, he agreed to write his legendary composition, ‘L’Mitzvot Ha’aretz – On the Duty of Enlistment in Israel’s National Guard’.

“The late Dr. Yitzhak Raphael z”l went out of his way to print the pamphlet, but I did not get a chance to see it, as I was called to war to defend the Old City…”

At the same time the pamphlet was printed, the Old City fell into hands of the enemy forces, and HaRav HaNazir and Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah were informed that Officer Shaar Yashuv had been seriously injured, and no one knew what his fate was. Imagine how they felt. They had instructed that it was a mitzvah to serve in the army, knew the price to be paid could be very painful, and here, in the middle of a debate with other rabbis about the mitzvah of military service, the Rav Nazir might have to sit shiva for his one and only son (he did have a daughter, the wife of Rabbi Goren), and Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah might have to mourn his favorite disciple who, with his encouragement, had gone out to war, and might never return.

After a few agonizing months, they were informed that Shaar Yashuv had been seriously injured, and was now in Jordanian captivity. Let’s return to the story as written by Rabbi Shaar Yashuv himself:

“When I came back from enemy captivity, wounded, and with my injured foot, about eight months later around Hanukkah time in 1948, I was transferred to a rehabilitation center located in the villa of the Aronson family in Zichron Ya’akov, which had been allocated for wounded military units. The next morning, I think it was a Thursday, at the end of the Morning Prayer, outside the window I saw Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda climbing up the path of the center to visit me. I was extremely excited (in those days, travelling from Jerusalem to Zichron Yaacov was long and exhausting). Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda entered my room, hugged and kissed me, and burst into tears. All of a sudden, he took out of his pocket the tiny booklet I previously mentioned (explaining the mitzvah of serving in the army), and on the front page, the dedication: “To my dear and beloved friend Rabbi Eliyahu Yosef Shaar Yashuv, son of Rabbi David HaKohen, the advisor and demanding initiator; a booklet prepared and preserved from its creation, to return the ransomed of Hashem to Jerusalem, all the joy of salvation which the whole world is its redemption, in the year of incense (תש”ט), Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook.”

I was fortunate to receive a photograph of the dedication from Rabbi Shaar Yashuv.

And behold, it turned out that the hopes his righteous and holy father had for him, had come to fruition. On his broad shoulders, the practical halakha of the great and holy mitzvah for yeshiva students to serve in the IDF was clarified. This was also the case in a number of other important issues, but this is not the place to elaborate.

His Feelings about “Peninei Halakha

Regularly, I would send to Rabbi Shaar Yashuv the books I merited publishing, and he would send back letters of support and blessings, with Torah observations. His support was very important to me, for as someone who grew up among the great students of Rav Kook, he was empowered to write me: “I have truly enjoyed reading in detail the book written with clarity and scope. All the matters are discussed in the spirit of the house of Maran, ‘Israel’s Holy Light’, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook ztz”l…” (He wrote this in regards to the book on Moadim [holydays]).

In “Peninei Halakha: Laws of Pesach” (8:8), I wrote an entire section with a long footnote in accordance with his extensive investigation of citric acid, indicating that there was absolutely no concern of the prohibition of chametz in citric acid. His words are embedded in other places throughout my books as well.

On the sixteenth of Adar 5771 (2011) he wrote me: “In honor of my cherished friend of mind and soul, the…Rabbi: Peace and blessing be upon you. I was delighted and very glad to see the three-volume, revised and complete edition of your book “Peninei Halakha: Laws of Shabbat” (with the additional book of ‘harchavot‘ [further investigations]) … I studied it a bit, and was moved by the clarity of wording, and the wondrous summary of complex and deep halachic subjects. Suffice it to mention the sections at the beginning of the second volume, ‘Mav’ir and Mekhabeh‘ (kindling and extinguishing a fire) and ‘Electricity and Electrical Appliances’ – illuminating the issue from all sides, from what is written in the Bible, to the summary of the halakha according to opinions of the later, and present-day rabbis. Indeed, such “fragrance” has never reached our generation, where complicated halakha’s are written in such a clear and straightforward way, allowing anyone reading or studying the book to understand. Well done! … (And he added remarks in regards to what I wrote about Torah study on Shabbat, and the integration of material and spiritual pleasure).

In conclusion, he wrote: “Of course there is much to discuss and shed light on the complexities of the laws, but to my deep regret, ‘what the heart desires, time exploits’, and especially in these days, my inconveniences have increased… I would be grateful if your yeshiva would pray for me, so I can go quickly from ‘the narrow straits, to the wide expanses’. My name is: Eliyahu Yosef Shaar Yashuv son of Sarah. Please give greetings to your father, my friend, the Gaon Rabbi Zalman Baruch, shlita. As a soul who blesses out of love, and prays for the salvation of Hashem for His nation and inheritance. Your staunch friend, the writer and undersigned, in honor of the Torah, its learners and doers, Rabbi Shaar Yashuv HaKohen.”

May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/