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Rabbis Porat and Bakshi-Doron Remember Rabbi Eliyahu

Rabbis Chanan Porat and Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron speak of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel who passed away this week.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 6/9/2010, 3:18 PM / Last Update: 6/9/2010, 4:43 PM

Israel news photo

Following the death of former Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu on Monday, Arutz-Sheva heard from various rabbis about their relationship with the deceased. Rabbi Eliyahu would generally visit Arutz-Sheva once or twice a year, especially before Passover, for a live phone-in program where listeners would ask questions in Jewish Law; he would often answer with a short anecdote and a succinct ruling.

Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, who succeeded Rabbi Eliyahu as the Rishon LeTzion (Chief Sephardic Rabbi) in 1993, told Arutz-Sheva:

“What a great loss, and how sorely we will miss his leadership. He was a dayan (religious court judge) for 30-40 years, and then when he became the President of the Rabbinical Courts [as Chief Rabbi], he strengthened the entire dayanut network... I know how Rabbi Eliyahu was personally connected with all the rabbis, even from abroad; he himself would answer the phones…  He was a great Torah giant, one who knew how to lead; now there is no one to turn to. You can see that there are people who already feel that they have no leader, and especially in the case of the religious-Zionists…”

Buried Next to the Hida
Rabbi Bakshi noted that Rabbi Eliyahu was buried next to the famed sage Rabbi Chaim David Azulai (the Hida), who lived in Hevron but spent his last years in Italy, where he died some 200 years ago. In 1960, then-Rishon LeTzion Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim appointed the young dayan Rabbi Eliyahu to oversee the re-burial of the Hida in the Land of Israel – which he did successfully. “Burying Rabbi Eliyahu next to the Hida is therefore so very appropriate,” Rabbi Bakshi said. “I remember the Hida’s [second] funeral, and the one who did it, and who also performed the purification [washing] process was Rabbi Eliyahu. There are rumors that he saw him whole. He was known for the special honor he showed the dead, and he often performed the purification, as in the case of Rabbi Atiyah. He ruled on various [Jewish-legal] issues for the burial societies…”

“Rabbi Eliyahu's familiarity with Kabbalah was well known. His father, Rabbi Salman Eliyahu, was a close student of the Ben Ish Chai, who was a giant in Kabbalah, as well as Halakhah [Jewish Law], and it is therefore no surprise that Rabbi Salman’s son would study Kabbalah. But his greatness was that it remained concealed, not like others who display it on the outside. He dealt with it quietly, and only once in a while would he give out any hints… May his merits defend us.”

Rabbi Chanan Porat, Torah scholar, former MK, and settlement leader: 

"We certainly feel the great loss of Rav Eliyahu. When I see his image in my mind, I think of the verse in the Scroll of Esther, 'And Mordechai would not bow or kneel [before Haman].' He stood with strength and courage, without compromising or flattering, but at the same time, always with pleasantness. I met with him dozens of times, and always noted this special trait, as well as his modesty and even humor. But none of this took away even the slightest from his uncompromising strength and firmness."

"Rabbi Eliyahu knew how to combine the traditional Torah world, some of which was perhaps far from the Zionists' views, with uncompromising adherence to the Land, as well as love of the country and the army and its self-sacrificing soldiers. During the uprooting [from Gush Katif], I saw the pain in his face, and he did whatever he could to prevent this national disgrace, and to help the residents there whom he loved so much… He never broke down or weakened, but rather continued his path, and he especially held himself strong during the long months of his sickness. This is a great loss, yet we must continue along his path and with his spirit of faith, careful adherence to Torah and all its details; he was among the great Halakhah [Jewish Law] decisors, while at the same time displaying love of nation and land. We will try to walk along this path as well."