Elyashiv undergoes successful surgery at age 101

By JONAH MANDEL
June 20, 2011 09:02

Doctors predict senior Ashkenazi rabbi to be released from hospital this week; prognosis comes after thousands pray for his speedy recovery.

4 minute read.



Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv

Elyashiv. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Senior Ashkenazi adjudicator Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv successfully underwent vascular surgery at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center on Sunday night.

The 101-year-old rabbi's doctors predicted he would be released from the hospital later this week.

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During the surgery, thousands prayed for Elyashiv's speedy recovery around the world.

The leader of the Lithuanian stream of ultra-orthodox Judaism was operated on some seven years ago, when a bleeding artery endangered his life. A few months ago the rabbi was experiencing weakness, and head of the Department of Vascular Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Dr. Daniel Clair, who performed the initial operation, decided that a supplementary procedure was necessary. Clair was flown in to perform Sunday's operation.

Rabbi Yaakov Valenstien, the deputy mayor of Modi’in Ilit who is close to Elyashiv, was one of the organizers of a mass prayer held at the Western Wall. Valenstien told The Jerusalem Post that the surgery would not be under general anesthesia. He noted that thousands of people were praying for Elyashiv’s health in all the haredi concentrations in Israel and abroad.

While nobody from within the haredi world will openly discuss it, Elyashiv’s medical condition and advanced age raise the question of who will succeed him as leader of the haredi world. Though the haredi community can be very roughly divided into three – the hassidim, Sephardim and Lithuanians – the Lithuanian rabbinic leadership has a special status within it, “particularly in matters of policy and ideology,” as Dr. Benjamin Brown wrote.

A lecturer at the Hebrew University’s Department of Jewish Thought and researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, Brown recently authored a book published by the IDI titled “Toward Democratization in the Haredi Leadership?”, in which he shows the evolution of the “Da’at Torah,” the doctrine “which empowers [leading Torah scholars from the Lithuanian community] to decide also [on] public and private questions unrelated to halacha,” as he puts it.

This “special status” is what will make the Lithuanian leadership so pivotal in mediating, or resisting, the major issues facing the haredi society, such as “the integration of yeshiva students into military service and of married yeshiva students into the labor market,” Brown writes. “As the power of the haredim in Israeli society has grown, so has the importance of these questions – and of those who decide them.”

Three names are usually cited as possible successors to Elyashiv – Rabbi Hayim Kanievsky, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach.

But as Brown says, “there are always surprises” in such processes. At the same time, however, Brown is convinced that the successor will continue Elyashiv’s “pragmatic line of action,” which stands in contrast to that of Elyashiv’s predecessor Rabbi Eliezer Menachem Shach, and is aimed at attaining the haredi interests without imposing his opinions on the general and haredi societies, Brown told the Post on Sunday.

“The era of ideology is dying, and this is a time of pragmatism,” said Brown. “If someone attempts to take a head-strong attitude to deal with [the challenges the haredi world is facing], he is liable to find his leadership and authority challenged.

The haredim understand this very well.

“The leadership cannot revert to the trauma that haredim won’t declare; with all his greatness, Shach left the haredi society in a very problematic condition, because of the deep internal rifts in it,” he continued. “Elyashiv is less interested in public questions, and he decides how involved he wants to get in them. Anything that could cause disagreement with other leading rabbis risks the unity and peace among the different camps in the haredi world.”

The differences between Elyashiv and Shach are evident not only in the internal politics of the haredi world, but also in their attitudes to the secular entity of Israel.

“There is something slightly more statesmanlike in his positions,” Brown cautiously said of Elyashiv. “He does give a certain status to the State of Israel, and bears a degree of respect for it, unlike Shach who saw the state solely as a means of getting what he needed.”

“Elyashiv doesn’t make speeches holding the state in contempt, or attack it,” Brown continued. “That is also what enables him to be slightly more open to the Nahal Haredi and the movement of haredim joining the labor force. Of course he could never give his open, a priori consent, but his silence on the issue means much,” said Brown. “He’s not initiating it, but giving his pragmatic acquiescence in not objecting it.”


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