Mordechai Eliyahu

Mordechai Eliyahu
Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu

Mordechai Tzemach Eliyahu Hebrew: מרדכי צמח אליהו‎) (March 3, 1929 – June 7, 2010) was a prominent rabbi, posek and spiritual leader. He served as the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1983 to 1993.



Eliyahu was born in the Old City of Jerusalem, to Rabbi Salman Eliyahu, a Jerusalem Kabbalist from an Iraqi Jewish family and his wife Mazal. Salman died when Eliyahu was a child.

In 1950–1951 Mordechay was among the leaders of Brit HaKanaim (Hebrew: בְּרִית הַקַנַאִים‎‎, lit. Covenant of the Zealots), a radical religious Jewish underground organisation which operated against the widespread trend of secularisation in the country. The underground burnt cars whose drivers drove on Shabbat, and butcher shops whose owners sold non-kosher meat. They plotted to throw a smoke bomb in the Knesset during a debate on drafting religious women to the IDF, and a member of the group was in the audience during the debate with a smoke bomb in his pocket, but did not have the opportunity to activate the bomb. On 14 May 1951 the group's members were arrested by the Shabak. Mordechay was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment for his part in the group's deeds.[1]

In 1960, Eliyahu became the youngest person ever elected as a religious judge (dayan) in Israel. He served as the Chief Rabbi of Beersheba for four years, and was then elected to the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem, a position he continued to hold during his term as Chief Rabbi of Israel and afterwards. He was the father of four children, one of whom, Shmuel Eliyahu, is the Chief Rabbi of Safed.

He worked for the preservation of the Iraqi Jewish rite and the opinions of the Ben Ish Chai, and opposed the attempts of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to impose a uniform "Israeli Sephardi" rite based on the Shulchan Aruch and his own halachic opinions. He published a prayer book called Qol Eliyahu based on this stance.

Eliyahu was one of the spiritual leaders of the Religious Zionist movement and was an outspoken opponent of the Gaza Disengagement of 2005. He was considered somewhat controversial for his decades-long support of what some characterize as the radical right of the Religious Zionist movement. Eliyahu was a friend of Rabbi Meir Kahane and his family. He officiated at the marriage of Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane and delivered the eulogy at Meir Kahane's funeral. He was a longtime supporter of Jonathan Pollard and became his spiritual mentor while Pollard was in prison.

Eliyahu suffered from a heart condition. On August 24, 2009 he collapsed in his home and was rushed to the hospital while unconscious.[2] He died on June 7, 2010 at Shaare Zedek Medical Center from complications related to his heart condition. An estimated 100,000 people attended his funeral in Jerusalem, which began at 10:00 PM on Monday, 7 June 2010.[3]

Chief Rabbi

During Rabbi Eliyahu's term as Chief Rabbi between 1983 to 1993, one of his focuses was on attempting to reach out to secular Israeli Jews, giving them a better understanding of Jewish customs and their importance. He traveled extensively throughout Israel and the world, emphasizing the importance of Jewish education, Shabbat observance, family purity, fighting assimilation, and making aliyah. Eliyahu showed a willingness to go to secular environments in order to connect with other Jews, occasionally lecturing in secular moshavim and kibbutzim.


During the Gaza expulsion, Eliyahu made statements interpreted as forbidding Orthodox Jews from participating in or facilitating the expulsion of the Jews from Gaza. Eliyahu later said he did not mean for soldiers to engage in "active refusal." [4] Eliyahu's son, Shmuel Eliyahu, who is chief rabbi of Safed, said his father opposed a ground troop incursion into Gaza that would endanger IDF soldiers.[5]

In January 2005, Eliyahu stated that the 2004 Tsunami was (pre-emptive) "divine punishment" for Asian governments supporting Israel's unilateral disengagement plan plan.[6]

In March 2006, three days before the 2006 Israeli legislative election, Eliyahu stated that it was forbidden to vote for any Israeli political party that had backed the disengagement, and stressed that anyone who voted for Kadima was "assisting sinners". Eliyahu stressed the importance of voting for a party committed to religious education and yeshivas, but urged against voting for religious parties that had supported the disengagement, and called for members of the religious Shas party to repent for supporting the Oslo Accords.[7]

In May 2007, he wrote a letter to Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert which suggested 'that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings'.[8] Also in 2007, in a radio interview given to haredi radio station "Kol Haemet" on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, when asked what was the sin of the six million who perished in the Holocaust, he replied: "Those people were innocent, but Reform started in Germany. Those reformers of religion started in Germany, and because it is said that the wrath of God does not distinguish between the righteous and the evil ones – this was done." [9] In 2008, at a service to remember the death of 8 Israeli students killed in an attack on their seminary, he said "Even when we seek revenge, it is important to make one thing clear – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs. The Talmud states that if gentiles rob Israel of silver they will pay it back in gold, and all that is taken will be paid back in folds, but in cases like these there is nothing to pay back, since as I said – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs".[10]


External links

Religious titles
Preceded by
Ovadia Yosef
Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel
Mordechai Eliyahu

Succeeded by
Eliyahu Bakshi Doron

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