Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv z”l was a world renowned scholar and halachic authority who resided in a small apartment on the edge of the MeahShe’arim section of Jerusalem. Even at the advanced age of 102, Rabbi Elyashiv remained active in the community and was the paramount leader of the Lithuanian community both in Israel and elsewhere. Most Ashkenazi Jews regarded him as the absolute contemporary leading authority on Jewish law.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv is a grandson of the great kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv (1841-1925) from Siauliai (Shavel), Lithuania, known as “the Leshem” after his kabbalistic work LeshemShevoV’Achlama. It is known that the Chofetz Chaim of Radin encouraged people to seek out Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv.
The father of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was Rabbi AvrohomErener, the Chief Rabbi of the city of Gomel (Homel). His mother was ChayaMoussa Elyashiv, a daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv the Leshem.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was an only child, born to his parents after 17 years of marriage. The Elyashiv family with the assistance of Rabbi Abraham Yitzchok Kook, Chief Rabbi of Israel, planned to immigrate to Palestine in 1922 when Yosef Shalom was 12 years old. Rabbi Avrohom, following advice from the Chofetz Chaim, changed his family name to that of his father-in-law, so that the family would have a uniform immigration certificate.
In 1929, upon the suggestion of Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Yosef Shalom met and married SheinaChaya, a daughter of the Tzaddik of Yerushalayim Rabbi Aryeh Levin. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and his wife had five sons and seven daughters.
In an earlier stage in his life, Rabbi Elyashiv served for many years as a Dayan in the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, achieving a position on its Supreme Rabbinical Court.Rabbi Elyashiv resigned from the Rabbinate in 1972. He has since then abstained from assuming a position with the government. However Rabbi Elyashiv holds great sway over rabbinical appointments and other important proceedings in Israel.
In 1989, Rabbi ElazarMenachem Mann Shach, the famed Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh and undisputed leader of Orthodoxy in Israel requested that Rabbi Elyashiv take a more active role in Jewish public life. It did not take very long and Rabbi Shach, who had lost virtually all his vision and hearing, passed the mantle of leadership to Rabbi Elyashiv, who has carried the position.
In 1989 Rabbi Elyashiv became the spiritual leader of the DegelHaTorah party, currently part of the umbrella United Torah Judaism list in the Israelis parliament, the Knesset. He held great influence over the policies of DegelHaTorah, which abided by all his rulings and instructions. Most of the Roshei Yeshiva associated with the Agudath Israel of America movement actively and frequently sought out his opinions and followed his advice and guidelines concerning a wide array of policy and communal issues affecting the welfare of Orthodox Judaism.
For more than eighty years since his wedding, Rabbi Elyashiv’s daily schedule has included anywhere between 16 to 20 hours of intensive Torah study and delivered lectures in Talmud and ShulchanAruch at a synagogue in the MeahShe’arim area in Jerusalem where he lived. He received supplicants from all over the world answering a multitude of complex Halachic inquiries. Despite his exceptional scholarship and influence, Rabbi Elyashiv held no official title, neither as head of a congregation, yeshiva, or particular community.
His students have recorded many of Rabbi Elyashiv’sHalachik rulings and sermons in several books. His multi-volume “KovetzTeshuvos” contains responses resulting from questions asked of him over many years. Some of his ethical comments on the Torah dating back to the 1950s were collected and published as “DivreiAggadah”.
Although stricken with several illnesses throughout his childhood and adult life, Rabbi Elyashiv overcame all his physical obstacles, and continued his rigid schedule of study, prayer, and involvement in all aspects of concern to World Jewry.
It was a terrible loss for the Jewish Nation when Rabbi Elyashiv passed away on July 18, 2012. May his memory be a blessing to all.