Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Leader of Lithuanian Torah Jewry, Dies at 102 - The Jewish Voice
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Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Leader of Lithuanian Torah Jewry, Dies at 102

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The great Torah sage, head of the worldwide Lithuanian-chareidi yeshiva world, and widely acknowledged leading posek (halachic decisor) of this generation, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, passed away at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem last Wednesday at the age of 102.

Rav Elyashiv’s funeral drew an overwhelmingly massive crowd, with estimates ranging from 250,000 to 300,000 mourners, who accompanied the procession carrying the sage’s body from Meah Shearim to the burial site, Har HaMenuchos. As per the request of the deceased, there were no actual eulogies. Instead, renowned rabbis such as Rabbi Don Segal led the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms), and Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein – a son-in-law of Rav Elyashiv – offered words of encouragement to the mourners.

Reacting to the news of the sage’s passing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, “In his rulings, Rabbi Elyashiv left a deep mark on the ultra-Orthodox world and on the entire people of Israel. The rabbi’s way was that of love of the Torah and love of man, humility and the protection of the sanctity of life.” Israeli President Shimon Peres, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger and other leaders also offered condolences. Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai stated that Rav Ovadia Yosef, the leading rabbi of Sephardic Jewry, was “broken” at the loss and taking it very hard.

Rav Elyashiv was hospitalized for pneumonia last February and remained in the hospital due to other complications. His condition improved for several months – the doctors attending him called it nothing short of a miracle, when he was able to communicate some of the time and listen to Torah thoughts of his visitors – but the final deterioration in his condition began because of low and unstable blood pressure. Doctors were called to his bedside, where the rabbi was anaesthetized and respirated as doctors tried unsuccessfully to stabilize his condition.

The sage’s family was at his side in the Intensive Care Unit and was able to repeat the Viduy prayer (the prayer of confession and affirmation of belief said at a Jewish person’s deathbed) several times before the rabbi’s soul parted the earth. Standing attentively at his beside were leading sage Rav Shmuel Auerbach; the head of the Lithuanian chareidi education system (Chinuch Atzmai), Rav Avraham Leizerson; the hospital’s halachic arbiter Rav Weis; and the hospital’s senior physicians.

The eighth floor of Shaarei Tzedek hospital was closed and barricaded to prevent the worried students who rushed to the scene from blocking the area, with Border Police on call to keep order, but the sound of loud prayers and psalms could be heard throughout the hospital as they, and many renowned rabbinic figures, prayed for a miracle. All chareidi schools and yeshivas stopped the afternoon study session in Israel to pray for Rav Elyashiv’s recovery.

Following the rabbi’s passing, the head of Shaarei Tzedek hospital, Dr. Yonatan Halevy, gave a summary of the period of the rabbi’s hospitalization, and recounted how the entire hospital marveled as his unusual powers of recovery during the last few months. His voice breaking, one of the attending physicians, Dr. Silverstone said: “There is no way to make up this loss. May his prayers for us at G-d’s Throne be heard, we need them so much.”

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was born in 1910 in Lithuania to Rabbi Avraham Erener and Chaya Musha, daughter of the kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv. His parents were married for 17 years before his birth and he was an only child. In 1922, the family moved to Israel and changed their name to Elyashiv at the advice of the famed Chafetz Chaim, settling in the chareidi Jerusalem neighborhood of Meah Shearim.
The young scholar never attended a regular yeshiva framework, but was recognized as a genius in Talmud study at a young age. When after serving as rabbi of Ramle for a short time, Rabbi Elyashiv was appointed a Rabbinic Court judge (dayan), Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog, Israel’s Chief Rabbi, excused him from rabbinical and rabbinic court examinations, saying that they were unnecessary for someone of his caliber.

Rabbi Elyashiv married the daughter of Rabbi Arye Levine (called “father of the prisoners” as he visited and helped the Lehi fighters who were incarcerated and later hanged by the British during the Mandate period). Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, later head of the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, was the matchmaker and his father, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel and founder of the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva (called Yeshiva Merkazit at the time) , Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, performed the wedding.

Rabbi Elyashiv and his wife Shayna Chana z”l had 12 children. One daughter was killed in an artillery barrage during Israel’s War of Independence, and a son passed away as a child from a serious illness. Six of his daughters married respected rabbinical figures; two of those rabbis became top-level sages – Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l. At the time of his passing, Rav Elyashiv had nearly 1,000 descendants.

Rav Elyashiv’s home in Jerusalem was constantly filled with people seeking halachic advice. Although the sage did not write any Torah works on his own, his students wrote down his words for him, while he studied and lectured ceaselessly. Rav Elyashiv’s halachic positions have been collated in a three volume work called “Ashrei HaIsh,” and a series of sefarim called “Haaros,” consisting of the rabbi’s insights on various Talmudic tractates, has been published.

Rav Shach, the worldwide chareidi Torah leader, asked him to attend the founding of the Degel HaTorah chareidi party, and Rav Elyashiv took over the leadership of the Lithuanian chareidi world after Rav Shach’s death.

As a master of Jewish law, Rav Elyashiv had the unique ability to apply classical halachic precepts to contemporary technological and social issues, thus rendering decisions that have had major ramifications for observant Jews. When a significant portion of the general population stopped smoking due to modern health concerns, Rav Elyashiv issued a strongly-worded statement that the leniency to smoke on Yom Tov was now extremely questionable, if not totally forbidden. As a result, a majority of yeshiva students gave up smoking on Yom Tov.

When the issue of illegal copying of licensed computer software became acute, Microsoft actually approached Rav Elyashiv for a ruling on the matter, and the posek ha’dor ruled that it was a violation of the law against stealing to engage in such an act. This decision caused software piracy within the Orthodox community to decrease dramatically. In another “controversial” matter, Rav Elyashiv was queried as to whether yeshiva students should demonstrably stand in silent contemplation during the official moment of silence held on Israel’s Veteran’s Day. The sage responded that they definitely should. This ruling is said to have moderated the sometimes-extreme tension between the chareidi world and the secular population in Israel.

In yet another momentous decision, Rav Elyashiv ruled that when there is reasonable evidence that a religious instructor is molesting a child, rabbis should direct the victim to report the perpetrator to the secular authorities. This p’sak was praised by child advocates as a transformational ruling.

Arutz Sheva News Service contributed to this report.

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