Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed PR photo

The desire to unite the various sectors of Am Yisrael was reflected in all his undertakings, from the establishment of the Techiya movement, to partnership in joint discussion circles in recent years

The yeshiva he founded and headed for almost fifty years produced important Torah scholars, and men of action – builders of the Land

Rabbi Eliezer Waldman ztz”l was born on the 30th of Shevat, 5697 (1937) in Petah Tikva. His parents attempted to settle in the country, however, after eight years of working in orchards and construction, when he was nearly three years old, they moved to the United States. In his youth, he studied at the haredi Yeshiva High School Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in New York. The Rosh Yeshiva was Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner ztz”l, author of ‘Pachad Yitzhak’.

Later on, he began studying at Yeshiva University. As a member of the Bnei Akiva youth movement, at the age of twenty in the middle of his studies, in Elul 5716 (1956), he immigrated to Israel for a one-year leadership training program – he spent half the year in the Hesder Yeshiva of Kerem B’Yavneh, and the other half working in Kibbutz Yavneh. At the end of the year, he fulfilled the movement’s vision and decided to immigrate to Israel.

He began his studies at the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, and became a close disciple of our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz”l. Together with the customary study of Gemara and halakha, the writings of Maran Rabbi Kook ztz”l were the light of his life and soul. They quenched his thirst his entire life, and through them, lifted and directed his great love for Torah, Am Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael.

While still in Bnei Akiva in New York, his friends bought him Rabbi Kook’s seminal book ‘Orot‘ as a birthday present – a book that has worn-out and been bound repeatedly – which accompanied him until his final days. When I last visited him in the hospital, he seemed to be reciting a few lines from it to me.

With Rabbi Chaim Druckman Shlita

In Bnei Akiva in New York, he met a shliach who came from Israel, his counselor who became his good friend, Rabbi Chaim Druckman shlita. For decades, until recent months, every Sunday they would meet to study in a chevruta at Rabbi Waldman’s house in Kiryat Arba. On Sunday, the 15th of Tevet, Rabbi Chaim went up to Kiryat Arba once again, but this time to mourn his friend and ally on his last journey to the ancient cemetery in the holy city of Hebron.

עם השנים הלימוד מעמיק ומתרחב יותר. הרב דרוקמן והרב ולדמן
עם השנים הלימוד מעמיק ומתרחב יותר. הרב דרוקמן והרב ולדמן צילום: ערוץ 7

Did You Await Salvation

At the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, tzipiyah le’yeshua (awaiting of salvation) was tangible. Our Sages said (Shabbat 31a) that when a person departs this world and stands before the Heavenly court, he is asked six questions: 1) did you conduct business faithfully? 2) Did you designate times for Torah study? 3) Did you engage in procreation? 4) Did you await salvation? 5) Did you engage in wisdom (to understand the Torah)? 6) Did you understand one matter from another (to understand the ways of the world)?

The meaning of “awaiting salvation” was explained by Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven of Girona (RaN): did you yearn and desire for the words of the prophets to be fulfilled in your lifetime. This is the way students were educated in the Beit Midrash of Maran Rabbi Kook. Everyone remembers how Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda cried out from the walls of his heart on Yom Ha’atzmaut, three weeks before the Six Day War, over Hebron, Schem, and Jericho, had we forgotten them "Where are they"?! And behold, the miracle took place, in the Six Day War the IDF liberated Judea and Samaria and the Temple Mount.

On orders of Rabbi Goren ztz”l, soldiers who were students of Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, immediately traveled to bring Rabbi David Cohen the Nazir, and Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, to the Western Wall to pray next to him, together with the soldiers who liberated it.

Rabbi Waldman related that Rabbi Cohen the Nazir told them that he had seen Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l near the Western Wall. The students were astonished and asked: “Rabbi Kook?!” (After all, Rabbi Kook had died about thirty years earlier). The Nazir replied: “Of course! How could Rabbi Kook not have been there?!” And he added:” And he was dressed in Shabbat clothes!”

Yishuv and Yeshiva in Kiryat Arba

This ‘awaiting of redemption’ that continues to grow and be fulfilled in our times, inspired the spirit of Rabbi Waldman, and aroused him to dedicate himself to the settlement of Judea and Samaria. He chose to establish his place in Hebron, the city of the Patriarchs, the place where our forefather Abraham began to settle the Land, and where the kingship of the House of David began to grow. The place where forty years earlier, in the riots of 1929, the Arabs of Hebron murdered righteous Jews and yeshiva students, and destroyed the ancient Jewish settlement.

Towards Pesach 5728 (1968), a group of Jews, students of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger and Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, arrived at the Park Hotel in Hebron.

Later, when Rabbi Waldman was asked about that Seder night, he replied in a voice choked with tears: “It is difficult to describe in words what happened there … It was a great privilege to be partners with HaKadosh Baruch Hu in the Redemption process.”

Establishment of the Yeshiva in Kiryat Arba

In the year 5732 (1972), when he was about thirty-five years old, he established the Hesder Yeshiva in Kiryat Arba, which, in its spirit, continued the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva. When young men from the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva (which is a Yeshiva Gevoha, without army enlistment) wished to enlist, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda referred them to the Kiryat Arba yeshiva, which was steeped in the Torah of Eretz Yisrael in the spirit of Maran Rav Kook ztz”l.

By virtue of Rabbi Waldman’s educational influence on the yeshiva students, pioneers, teachers, rabbis, and activists arose from it, whose common denominator is a love of humanity and great devotion to the Torah, the People, and the Land of Israel. By virtue of them, communities and educational institutions were established, and masses of glorious families who settle the Land and sanctify God’s Name in all their ways, aspiring to reveal Torat Eretz Yisrael, which breathes life into learning and action, in the lives of individuals and society.

On Rabbi Waldman’s place in the yeshiva was a note with the words of Rabbi Kook written on it: “The foundation of happiness is the love of truth in the intellect, the love of honesty in life, the love of beauty in emotion, the love of good in deed” (Orot HaKodesh Vol.1, pg. 91).

I also encouraged two of my sons to study with him in the Hevron Yeshiva.

Torat Eretz Yisrael

He once told me that it was customary to sit in reverence in Rabbi Hutner’s class in New York. If a student sat in an inappropriate way, or yawned without covering his mouth, Rabbi Hutner might stop the lesson with a sort of reprimand to him, and after the lesson, the student had to approach the rabbi, and apologize. When he immigrated to Israel and came to Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, he was amazed at how the students sat around him in a relaxed fashion.

I thought he said that as a criticism, for indeed, it is appropriate to sit respectfully before a rabbi. However, he corrected me, and said he meant it in the opposite way. He was amazed at the “closeness of hearts” between the rabbi and the students, and that this was the way Torah should be studied in Eretz Yisrael – out of freedom and contentment. Incidentally, in his old age, Rabbi Hutner immigrated to Israel, and Rabbi Waldman brought him to the Nir Yeshiva in Kiryat Arba to give a shiur.

For Rabbi Waldman, the love of the Eretz Yisrael was bound-up with the love of the Nation and the People of Israel. And although he vehemently opposed any territorial retreat, he was not a man of war and quarrels, rather, explained his position out of emet (truth), emunah (faith), and a deep love for human beings. This was also the way he conducted himself in all his paths – he loved truth and peace, and was accustomed to speak out of deep empathy, together with graciousness and a smiling face.

Public Activity in the Techiya Movement

Being connected to Clal Yisrael, and devoted with all his heart to the building of the nation and the Land, he also participated with non-observant Jews in activities aimed at Jewish tradition, the People and the Land. As a continuation of this, he was a member of the Techiya movement, and served as a Member of the Knesset on its behalf for approximately six years (1984-1990). Some people argued against him for not working within the religious movement of the NRP (Mafdal), but since Techiya was more loyal to the settlement of the country, he saw fit to support it. He also saw great value in the partnership of religious and secular people for shared, Clal-Yisraeli goals.

Nevertheless, he always remained in very good contact with his friends who supported the Mafdal, chief among them Rabbi Druckman, for in truth, there are differing ways of bringing about good.

In truth, the basic principle of the Techiya movement was that all Jews keep mitzvot, but no Jew keeps all the mitzvot; consequently, religious and secular people can work together to strengthen Jewish identity, and the shared vision of Am Yisrael. This principle was precious and sacred to Rabbi Waldman, because he emphasized the foundation of the unifying clal over the dividing details, and according to Rabbi Kook, this is the basis of the Kadosh (sacred) and the Torah, and only from this foundation will the great teshuva (repentance) of Clal Yisrael grow.

His deep connection to the entire society was also reflected in the fact that Rabbi Waldman’s family asked Mrs. Sharon Leshem Singer, a member of Kibbutz Urim and a group mediator at ‘Siach Shalom’, to eulogize him from the ezrat nashim (women’s section) at the Nir Yeshiva – a rare phenomenon that indicates the principles of achdut Yisrael (the unity of Israel), and kavod ha’briot (human dignity) he instilled in his children and students.

His Support of the Love of Israel, For all Israel

In the past year, when various people began to sharply criticize me for my position in support of good relations with all our brethren, including Conservative and Reform Jews, Rabbi Eliezer Waldman called me, and asked to express his support. He said he had read my words, and even the words of those who criticized me, and was deeply shocked by them. He also wished to strengthen me for my work in writing the ‘Peninei Halakha’ books, which are a great Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God).

He said that two weeks earlier, a Jew from Petah Tikva had called him, and asked him to sign a rabbinical petition against me. He rebuked him for sparking a dispute and strife, and despising Torah scholars, and expressed his sorrow at the illegitimate style of division and quarrels that had begun to permeate the Beit Midrash of Rabbi Kook.

Because I wanted to remember what he said, I wrote them down while he was speaking. B’ezrat Hashem, I will publish them in next week’s column.

His Final Days

Until his last days, he continued to meditate on the teachings of his rabbis and pray for redemption, but following the fracture in his hip joint, his body became weaker. When I visited him in the hospital about two months ago, he spoke divrei Torah and emunah with me, and asked about my sons, graduates of the yeshiva.

He was brought a cup of tea. His hand trembled, and spilled a little on the tallit katan he wore over the hospital shirt. He looked at the tallit that had gotten a little stained, and a cloud of sorrow passed over his face. He pressed the glass to his body, held it with both hands, and finished the idea he was in the middle of. He made a bracha over the tea with devotion and feeling “shehakol nihiyah bed’varo” (“by Whose word all things came to be”), and his eyes filled with tears of sorrow at the weakness of his body, and thanksgiving for the goodness of God. Thus, out of divrei Torah about Clal Yisrael and tzmichat ha’Geulah (the growth of Redemption), we parted.

In the ancient cemetery in Hebron, together with the Kodshei Hebron, near and visible to the Cave of the Patriarchs, Rabbi Waldman ztz”l was buried. Together with the souls of all the righteous, his soul will continue to pray for the resurrection of the nation, and tichiyat ha’maitim (the resurrection of the dead).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.