Rabbi Avraham Shapira dies at 94

Former chief rabbi and head of Jerusalem's Mercaz Harav Yeshiva to be laid to rest Friday morning.

September 28, 2007 00:08
2 minute read.
Rabbi Avraham Shapira dies at 94

avraham shapira 224.88. (photo credit: )


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Former Chief Rabbi Avraham Elkana Shapira, the 94-year-old spiritual giant of religious Zionism, passed away Thursday morning after a sudden deterioration in his medical condition. The burial procession, which is expected to draw tens of thousands, is slated to leave Jerusalem's Mercaz Harav Yeshiva at 10:30 a.m. on Friday. Shapira is known principally for his uncompromising opposition to any territorial compromises, even within the context of a peace agreement. He called on soldiers to refuse orders to aid in the dismantling of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and in Northern Samaria during 2005's disengagement. Religious Zionist rabbis who opposed Shapira on military insubordination were severely criticized for rebelling against the man they had crowned as "the greatest halachic authority of the generation." Known by his students as "Rav Avrum," in 1982 Shapira was appointed head of religious Zionism's flagship Mercaz Harav Yeshiva after the death of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, son of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook. In contrast to Tzvi Yehuda, who was primarily an innovator in theology and Jewish thought and who was the spiritual father of the Gush Emunim settlement movement, Shapira was first and foremost an expert on Jewish law. Shapira's highly legalistic approach to spiritual leadership clashed with the more philosophical approach adopted by Rabbi Tzvi Tau, Tzvi Yehuda's most eminent spiritual heir. The tension between Shapira and Tau led to a split that created the Har Hamor Yeshiva more than a decade ago. Shapira has had the most influence on prominent settlement rabbis such as Elon Moreh's Rabbi Elyakim Levanon and Yitzhar's Rabbi David Dudkevitch, who are considered hard-line in their opposition to any compromise on Greater Israel. Both supported military insubordination during disengagement. In contrast, Tau has influenced Rabbi Eli Sadan, head of the Bnei David Pre-military Academy in Eli in Samaria. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Beit El is also closely tied to Tau. Aviner and Sadan, who both opposed insubordination, are considered more integrationist in their approach to cooperation between secular and religious Israelis. Their opposition to insubordination was based on their concern that it could lead to a total breakdown of Jewish unity. Between 1983 and 1993, Shapira was chief Ashkenazi rabbi while Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu served as the chief Sephardi rabbi. Shapira and Eliahu were considered the two most senior religious Zionist halachic authorities. Shapira was behind two ground breaking halachic decisions during his stint as chief rabbi. First, he recognized Ethiopian immigrants as members of the Jewish people. His decision, which followed that of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef of Shas, opened the way for the acceptance of Ethiopian immigrants to religious Zionist institutions. And in 1986, Shapira made the controversial decision to allow heart transplants and other organ transplants. To this day, according to most haredi halachic authorities heart transplants are impractical since heart failure, not brain death, determines halachic death. "In these two decisions, Rav Avrum upheld Rabbi [Avraham Yitzhak] Kook's ideal of what the chief rabbi was supposed to be," said Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, one of the founders of Gush Emunim. "He was undoubtedly a halachic man to his very core. But he knew how to rise to the challenges that face the burgeoning Jewish nation." MK Zevulun Orlev, head of the National Religious Party, praised Shapira as spiritual genius, a great scholar and the state's most important halacha authority. "Rabbi Shapira was a declared supporter of the NRP who identified with the party's path and message. He emphasized the importance of Torah learning," Orlev said. But Orlev often criticized Shapira for intervening in political issues such as territorial compromise and insubordination.

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