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Former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira, zt"l, Passes at 94

Rabbi Avraham Elkana Shapira, head of Merkaz HaRav yeshiva and a former Chief Rabbi of Israel, was laid to rest in the Mt. of Olives cemetery.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 9/28/2007, 8:33 AM

Rabbi Avraham Elkana HaCohen Shapira, the head of the Merkaz HaRav Kook Yeshiva and a former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, passed away on the first day of the Sukkot holiday at the age of 94, leaving a legacy of Torah greatness and leadership.

The funeral procession began with a series of heartfelt and erudite eulogies at 10:30 a.m. on Friday at the Merkaz HaRav Kook yeshiva in Jerusalem. Addressing the tens of thousands who gathered in and around the yeshiva were many leading rabbis, including current Chief Rabbis Metzger and Amar; former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who served alongside Rabbi Shapira in the Chief Rabbinate; Hevron and Kiryat Arba's Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Dov Lior; Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, and others. Following the other speakers, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, the late rabbi's son and a recognized scholar in his own right, offered a tear-filled eulogy for his father as well.

The procession then made its way to the cemetery on Har HaZeitim (Mount of Olives), an ancient cemetery overlooking the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the rabbi was to be laid to rest. Tens of thousands of Jews from across the country were on hand to bid the Torah giant a final farewell.

Rabbi Shapira was born in Jerusalem in 1913. He learned in the Etz Chaim Yeshiva and later in the Hevron Yeshiva.  After his marriage he moved to the Merkaz HaRav Kook Yeshiva where he later remained as a teacher. In 1956, Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog appointed the 45-year-old Torah scholar to serve as a Dayan (Rabbinical Judge) in the Beit Din HaGadol in Jerusalem (the Supreme Rabbinical Court). In 1971, he was appointed head of the Beit Din HaGadol. In 1980, Rabbi Shapira was appointed as a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council. Through all these decades, Rabbi Shapira continued to teach regularly in the Mercaz Harav Kook Yeshiva, and then, in 1982, following the passing of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, zt”l, Rabbi Shapira was appointed as his successor as Rosh Yeshiva (Dean). The following year, the spiritual giant was also elected to serve as Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, a position in which he served from 1983 to 1993.

A recognized Posek (expert arbiter of Jewish law) by such Torah luminaries as Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, among many others, Rabbi Shapira was also considered by a large segment of the religious public as “the Gadol HaDor” (greatest Halakhic (Jewish law) authority of the generation). Despite great political pressures against him, his rulings held steadfast to the letter of Torah law forbidding the transfer of any parts of the Land of Israel to any foreign rule or entity.

When former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon implemented his 2005 Disengagement Plan from Gaza and northern Samaria, Rabbi Shapira issued a ruling forbidding Jewish soldiers to take part in its implementation and in the destruction of Jewish towns anywhere in the Land of Israel, comparing it to eating treif (non-kosher food) or violating the Sabbath.

Son Named His Successor
Rabbi Shapira asked that his son, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, succeed him as head of the Merkaz Harav Kook yeshiva, according to Rabbi Avraham's nephew, Rabbi Shlomo Shapira, and according to former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu. 

"Four and a half years ago, on his 90th birthday, he called me to his home in order to give me part of his will, and he told me that he is appointing and bequeathing the yeshiva to his eldest son Yaakov Shapira," Rabbi Shlomo said.

Speaking to Arutz-7's Hebrew news service, Rabbi Shlomo said: "This is a grave loss for the nation of Israel in general and for the Merkaz Harav Kook yeshiva specifically..."

High Alert in the Capital
Police officers and IDF soldiers were placed on high alert Friday in Jerusalem due to the tens of thousands of mourners expected at the funeral for Rabbi Shapira. Major thorughfares in Jerusalem were closed down for the funeral procession.

Protection was needed as well for the tens of thousands of celebrants who were streaming into the capital for the Sukkot holiday, and for the tens of thousands of Moslems praying at the Temple Mount for Ramadan.