Mordechai Eliyahu (Mordechai Tzemach Eliyahu, Hebrew: מרדכי אליהו, born 12 March 1928, Jerusalem) is 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, the son of Rabbi Salman Eliyahu, a well-known Jerusalem Kabbalist from an Iraqi Jewish family. His mother's name is Mazal Tov. Salman died when Eliyahu was a child, and he proceeded to study with a number of notable personalities in the Orthodox world, including the Chazon Ish, Baba Sali, and Rabbi Ezra Attiya. He travelled overseas several times in order to meet with the Chabad Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and subsequently kept a close relationship with the Chabad movement.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War was among a group of youths who assisted Israeli forces in establishing fortifications. In April 1950, he was among the ideologues and founders of Brit HaKanaim, an underground religious organisation which sought to impose Jewish religious teachings in the State of Israel and establish a Halakhic state. He was tried and sentenced to 10 months imprisonment for activities in which he took part in his capacity as a member of the group.
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 through the present. He has 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 is one of the spiritual leaders of the Religious Zionist movement and was an outspoken opponent of the Gaza Disengagement of 2005. He is 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 is a longtime supporter of Jonathan Pollard and became his spiritual mentor while Pollard was in prison.
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 multiple statements (some issued jointly with former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira,) which were widely interpreted as forbidding Orthodox Jews from participating in or facilitating the expulsion of the Jews from Gaza. Eliyahu later clarified his remarks by saying he did not mean for soldiers to engage in "active refusal"3:
Eliyahu's son, Shmuel, was also involved in anti-"Disengagement" protests before the uprooting. In January 2005, Eliyahu stated that the 2004 Tsunami was (pre-emptive) "divine punishment" for Asian governments supporting Israel's unilateral disengagement plan plan.2 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'.
The Jerusalem Post reports on that Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu has written a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informing him that "all civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty for Kassam attacks on Sderot....Eliyahu ruled 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." 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.
Eliyahu suffers from a heart condition. On 24 August 2009 he collapsed in his home and was rushed to the hospital while unconscious.
|Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel
Eliyahu Bakshi Doron