Rabbi Rafael Halperin, of Optica Halperin, dies at 87

Halperin was a champion weightlifter and the national karate champion. He also did well as a boxer before turning to wrestling.

August 22, 2011 06:19
3 minute read.

Halperin 311. (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.

Though 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 fight.

Halperin became a champion weightlifter and the national karate champion. He also did well as a boxer before turning to wrestling.

After fighting in the War of Independence, Halperin went to America to seek his fortune.

His religious observance had lapsed somewhat.

Upon 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 matches.

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 cutter.

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 nature.

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.

They were able to study better simply because Halperin was prepared to cut his profit margins.

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 trained.

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.

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