Rabbi Avichai Rontzki
Rabbi Avichai Rontzki Yoni Kempinski

Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, head of the yeshiva in Itamar and the former chief rabbi of the IDF, died Sunday morning after a long battle with cancer.

In a special interview last Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi spoke to Arutz Sheva about his struggle with the serious illness afflicting him. "I have a very large maelstrom of thoughts and feelings around this New Year, both personal and general," he said. I hope that the coming year will be better than this year. "

Rabbi Rontzki, who was the fifth chief IDF rabbi, was released from the army with a rank of Brigadier General. In 1980, he helped found the yeshiva in Elon Moreh, where he also taught.

In 1984, the Rontzkis were among the founders of the Samaria community of Itamar, established by hozrim betshuva (those returning to Jewish observance) who had studied at Machon Meir in Jerusalem. He also studied at Jerusalem's Merkaz Harav yeshiva.

Rabbi Rontzki wrote the well known four volume army halakhic guide for IDF service K"Hitzim B"yad Gibor (Arrows in the hands of a hero, Psalms 127) During Operation Cast Lead, members of the military rabbinate accompanied combat forces by order of Rabbi Rontzki, giving the soldiers lectures and Torah classes. The rabbi angered radical leftist groups after entering the Gaza Strip several times with combat soldiers, strengthening their resolve as they prepared to fight against terrorist groups.

The Rontzkis spent several months in northern India after he left the army, where he told Arutz Sheva: “Many of those who come here want to learn Indian spirituality, whether it is Hinduism or Buddhism. Many of them are high quality people, including IDF officers, pilots, and others. It's hard for me to accept that they come here for 'the truth' – which is really back at home, in our Torah.”

In 2012, the rabbi announced his entry into politics and the establishment of the “Yisraelim” party together with Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Shortly thereafter, the group joined the Jewish Home party.

The rabbi ran in the Jewish Home primaries ahead of elections for the twentieth Knesset, landing 13th on the list. Later, he volunteered to donate a kidney and, during medical examinations before the operation, a malignant tumor was discovered in his body. Since then, he had been fighting cancer, until his passing this morning.

Rabbi Rontzki leaves behind a wife, six children, and grandchildren.