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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former Chief Rabbi Avraham Elkana Shapira, the 94-year-old spiritual giant of religious Zionism, was laid to rest Friday after passing away Thursday morning following a sudden deterioration in his medical condition.
The funeral procession, leaving Merkaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem at 10:30 a.m., reached the Mount of Olives where the rabbi was buried. Reportedly, thousands (by some accounts, tens of thousands) attended the funeral procession and the funeral.
Shapira is known principally for his uncompromising opposition to any territorial compromises, even within the context of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. He called on soldiers to refuse orders to aid in the dismantling of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and in northern Samaria during the 2005 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.
Opposition leader and Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu said Friday that Shapira was "a great spiritual leader in Israel. He established generations of disciples, and educated them on the love of the people of Israel, the love of the land of Israel, and no less than that, love of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel."
Rabbi Mordechai Eliyhau said during the funeral "woe to the world that has lost a leader and woe to the ship that has lost its captain â€¦ Woe to the world's rabbis who were connected [to Shapira] by [his] questions and ruling. The ship sinks at sea and there is no one to guide it." Eliyahu also lamented the cut to yeshiva funding in Israel.
Rabbi Meir Yisrael Lau, the rabbi of the Tel Aviv - Yaffo district, said Jerusalem, the rabbinate, and all of Israel were orphaned by Shapira's demise. "When you look at Yeshivat Harav, the walls of the place will testify, the walls that heard the lessons and rulings, the walls will testify to the words of Torah that were heard for over a quarter of a century here and in the old building in Harav Kook Street," he said.
Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Ammar said he felt "personally an orphan. I have always found a listening ear with the rabbi. He did not only listen, advise and encourage but at times stood guard like a strong young man and fought the battle of Torah."
Matthew Wagner contributed to this report.