Rabbi Rafael Halperin: Pro Wrestler, Businessman, Torah Jew

Rabbi Rafael Halperin has passed away at 87. His many accomplishments included winning wrestling medals and increasing Sabbath observance.

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Maayana Miskin,

Rabbi Halperin and family
Rabbi Halperin and family
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Rabbi Rafael Halperin passed away on Saturday at age 87. He died at home following a lengthy struggle with cancer, and was buried in his hometown of Bnei Brak on Saturday night.

Rabbi Halperin was a colorful figure whose many accomplishments included pro wrestling awards, publishing an encyclopedia and a successful Sabbath-observant business empire along with Torah learning and increasing Jewish observance.

He was born in Austria, and moved to Israel, then British Mandatory Palestine, as a young child. He studied in Haifa and Jerusalem, while also becoming well known for his skills as an athlete. The young Halperin won top awards in martial arts, wrestling and body building.

He became a pro wrestler and worked for some time in the United States. He stuck to his principles and refused to deliberately lose matches to fit a scripted outcome. His awards from that period included two first-place medals from international wrestling competitions.

After returning to Israel he became religiously observant. He also fulfilled his dream of opening Israel's first professional gym, and began his well-known chain of discount opticians' stores, Optika Halperin, which has since grown to include 80 outlets.

Now Rabbi Halperin, he focused on other activities as well, becoming an author, publishing a book of graphic Jewish history and later an encyclopedia suited for a religious audience. He was known for his generous donations to yeshivas and synagogues. He supported Sabbath observance in particular, and paid for broadcasting systems to be set up in several cities to alert the public on Friday to the Sabbath's imminent entrance.

He remained active later in life, and in his 80s continued to dream up ways to increase observance of the Sabbath in Israel. His campaign to use buying power to encourage businesses to keep the Sabbath won significant public support, and led banks to join him in creating the Sabbath-observant credit card.