Revered arbiter of Jewish law Rabbi Karelitz passes away at age 93

Karelitz headed an ultra-Orthodox, independent rabbinical court in Bnei Brak whose decisions were widely recognized.

Rabbi Shmaryahu Yossef Nissim Karlitz (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Rabbi Shmaryahu Yossef Nissim Karlitz
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men participated in the funeral procession of the respected and revered ultra-Orthodox rabbi and arbiter of Jewish law Rabbi Nissim Karelitz on Tuesday, who died Monday night at the age of 93.
The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) city of Bnei Brak, where Karelitz lived, was brought to a standstill as members of the Lithuanian community from around the country came to pay their respects to the rabbi who was considered one of the most prominent arbiters of Jewish law of the generation.
The leading rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox world, Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, ordered all yeshiva students to participate in Karelitz’s funeral procession to honor him, while other leading rabbinical figures, including second-most senior figure, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, gave eulogies.
“We are eulogizing a great man who is accompanied [to heaven] by much Torah and many good deeds, and the highest level of fear of Heaven,” said Edelstein, Kikar Shabbat reported. “He clung to the Torah... He had great influence through the Torah he taught and through his good character traits. He established a generation of teachers and educators.”
During the procession, several participants and observers were injured – most of them by falling from high places they had climbed to observe the funeral.
United Hatzalah said its volunteers treated 15 people, all of whom sustained only light injuries.
Many public figures paid tribute to Karelitz upon news of his passing, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, chief rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau, and the heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties, among others.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu was “pained by the passing of the great Torah scholar,” describing Karelitz as “one of the giant arbiters of Jewish law of our generation.”
“His special personality and his amazing expertise in Torah and halachic literature created thousands of students who continue his path through great commitment to the Jewish people and its heritage,” Netanyahu said.
The rabbinical court he established in the city in 1967 was one of the largest and preeminent courts in the Jewish world.
The rulings of his court, which counts several dozen rabbinical judges, are respected and honored throughout the Jewish world, and deal with Jewish personal status issues, property law, and Jewish conversion.
Karelitz’s rabbinical court conversions led to an unprecedented rupture in the attitude of the state to Jewish converts, after the High Court of Justice ruled in 2013 that converts through Karelitz’s court were eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return.
This ruling gave de facto state recognition to the conversions of all Orthodox, independent rabbinical courts for the purposes of citizenship and registry in the Interior Ministry as Jewish, although the Chief Rabbinate continues to refuse to recognize such converts as Jewish for the purposes of marriage.
Karelitz was born in 1926 in Kosava, Belarus, to Rabbi Nahum Meir and Batya Karelitz.
His mother was the sister of Rabbi Avraham Yishayahu Kareltiz, known as the “Hazon Ish,” one of the most influential figures in the formation of ultra-Orthodox society in the 20th century.
Karelitz moved to Israel in 1935 with his family and married in 1951, after which time he embarked on his rabbinical career, teaching in various yeshivas, including an appointment to head the Hazon Ish Kollel after the death of his father in 1958.
In 1967, he established his rabbinical court, which he headed for 45 years until 2012, and was appointed to the Council of Torah Sages of the Agudat Yisrael organization in 1976, which represented all haredi Jews in Israel at the time, with the exception of those associated with the Edah Haredit.
And in 1988, after the Lithuanian non-hassidic leadership split politically from Agudat Yisrael, Karelitz became a member of the new Council of Torah Sages of the Degel Hatorah movement.
Karelitz was hospitalized at Ma’aynei Hayeshua Medical Center on Yom Kippur eve, and passed away there Monday night.