(photo credit: Courtesy)
In some religious Jewish circles there is a belief that only the truly pious are
recalled by their Creator on Shabbat or on a holy day. If that is so, Rabbi
Rafael Halperin, 87, who died of cancer on Saturday in Bnei Brak, was indeed the
pious man he aspired to be.
Born in Vienna in 1924, he was an adolescent
when his parents decided to move to British Mandate Palestine.
given a religious education, the young Halperin, unlike his peers at school, was
always interested in athletics and bodybuilding.
His interest in
bodybuilding may have been sparked by an anti-Semitic incident during his
childhood that begot a need to prove that Jews were not the nebbishes depicted
in cartoons and comic strips but could hold their own in a
Halperin became a champion weightlifter and the national karate
champion. He also did well as a boxer before turning to wrestling.
fighting in the War of Independence, Halperin went to America to seek his
His religious observance had lapsed somewhat.
arriving, he antagonized some of the corrupt elements in the professional
wrestling business because he refused to take a fall. A man of integrity, he was
in the ring to win. Legend has it that he won 159 consecutive
After wrestling as “Mr. Israel” for Vince McMahon Sr.’s Capitol
Wrestling in the United States and Canada, Halperin returned to Israel,
determined to popularize professional wrestling as a sport and to make Israelis
more fitness conscious.
He opened a chain of bodybuilding fitness centers
named Shimshon, and he promoted healthy eating. He placed a great deal of
emphasis on good nutrition.
He also tried his hand at coffee shops,
restaurants and jewelry enterprises. He was also a skilled diamond
Once he was back in Israel, Halperin, despite his athletic
pursuits, which in those days did not go hand in glove with a Torah education,
went back to studying Torah and the works of the sages. He earned rabbinic
ordination and wrote many books, including an encyclopedia and a weightloss
guide. The overwhelming majority of his books were of a religious
Halperin went back to the army as a reservist during the Yom
Kippur War. Because of his many contacts he was able to arrange for perks for
his fellow soldiers.
Strongly guided by religious values, Halperin opened
a chain of optical stores, in which he sold eyeglasses at affordable prices,
that grew to more than 120 stores.
As time passed, Halperin became
increasingly observant, and became an outspoken opponent against business of any
kind being conducted on Shabbat.
This may have been the catalyst for his
relationship with some of the nation’s most influential rabbis. His relationship
with them may also have been due to the fact that he made it possible for more
people to see better, a lot of those people being yeshiva students.
were able to study better simply because Halperin was prepared to cut his profit
For much of his life, Halperin managed to acquire almost
everything that he wanted. However when he had to battle cancer, he discovered
that there was a stronger force in his body than the one that he had
The man who had always refused to yield was on this occasion not
given a choice.
He is survived by his wife, Bertie, sons Yaacov, Moshe,
Shmuel, David and Yehuda, and daughters Haya and Ettie, as well as more than 50
grandchildren and great-grandchildren.