Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, haredi leader, dies at 94

One of the most prominent figures in Israeli haredi society passed away on Friday afternoon.

 Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (photo credit: Chaim Twito)
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky
(photo credit: Chaim Twito)

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, considered to be the leader of the generation in haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish society, passed away at age 94 on Friday.

The revered rabbi underwent resuscitation done by United Hatzalah members who rushed to the scene after he had collapsed, but they were unsuccessful and his death was determined a short time later. 

He had felt weak in recent days, and on Thursday during Purim he did not receive an audience in his home, which is irregular, especially at this time of year. 

After consultations with rabbis whether to hold his funeral right before Shabbat – since according to Jewish law it is customary to bury a dead person on the day he dies – today - it was decided to wait until for after Shabbat.

Kanievsky was the official rabbi of the non-profit organization Belev Echad, which was founded in Israel in 2011 and is dedicated to assisting sick and disabled children and adults. Since the passing of Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman in 2017, Kanievsky, along with Ponevezh Yeshiva head Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, was widely considered to be one of the leaders of the Israeli haredi community.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky seen at his home in the city of Bnei Brak, on March 17, 2021.  (credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky seen at his home in the city of Bnei Brak, on March 17, 2021. (credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)

Kanievsky was born on January 8, 1928, in Pinsk, the Second Polish Republic, to Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, known as the Steipler Gaon, and his wife Miriam Karelitz, sister of Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, known as the Chazon Ish.

He married Batsheva Elyashiv, daughter of Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, who was one the leading authorities in haredi society. She died in 2011.

He was considered a child prodigy of sorts in Torah study, having a photographic memory that he applied to his learnings.

Kanievsky was a student at the Lomza Yeshiva during the War of Independence in 1948 and was then drafted into the IDF.

Until his death, Kanievsky lived in a small and simple apartment in the city of Bnei Brak and received thousands of visits every year from Jews seeking advice.

A few months ago, during the COVID-19 crisis, Kanievsky said that children over the age of five should be vaccinated against coronavirus, a ruling that bolstered the vaccination drive among young children in the haredi sector. The rabbi met with senior medical officials and doctors, who informed him of new developments regarding the vaccine, rising case numbers, and the recent approval by the US Food and Drug Administration for administering the Pfizer vaccine to children from the age of five.

In 2017, the rabbi ruled that reporting instances of sexual child abuse to the police is consistent with Jewish law, a dramatic statement at the time.

Kanievsky is the author of many books on Jewish law, such as Derech Emunah (The Path of Faith) on agricultural laws, Derech Chochmah (The Path of Wisdom) on the laws of the Jewish temple rites, and Shoneh Halachos (Law Review), a systematic presentation of the popular legal work Mishnah Berurah. His halakhic rulings on prayer are recorded in Ishei Yisroel, and rulings pertaining to shiluach haken (sending away a mother bird to take her eggs) are recorded in Shaleiach T'Shalach.