Do You Know Whose Funeral Drew 250,000 People This Week?
07/19/2012 - 15:14
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv

If further evidence is needed that the divide between the Orthodox and the rest of the Jewish community is widening, consider that 250,000 Israelis attended the funeral yesterday of a revered 102-year-old Torah sage in Jerusalem who is virtually unknown to American Jews outside the Orthodox world.

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was not a charismatic figure, lived in small, modest apartment in Mea Shearim, did not meet with Israeli government or other political leaders, is said to have never spent a night outside of Jerusalem, and devoted all of his waking hours to studying the Talmud, usually alone. Yet he was widely acknowledged to be the posek [religious decisor] for Ashkenazi, non-chasidic Orthodox Jews in Israel and throughout the diaspora, on issues from conversion to helping followers choose a marriage partner.

Can you think of another Jew who would attract a quarter of a million followers to pay their respects by attending his or her funeral?

There is much to be said about Rav Elyashiv’s scholarship and religious observance and lifestyle.

My point here is the deep lack of understanding between perhaps millions of Jews devoted to a Torah sage, and the great majority of world Jewry, far removed from not only knowing who such a man was but appreciating the religious commitment he embodied.

A sad reality.


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[Rabbi Elyashive] "is said to have never spent a night outside of Jerusalem."

You may want to qualify that. He was born in Šiauliai, Lithuania. and arrived in mandatory Palestine when he was 12. Even with the expanded Jerusalem boundaries, Lithuania is outside of the City.

More seriously, you write: "he was widely acknowledged to be the posek [religious decisor] for Ashkenazi, non-chasidic Orthodox Jews in Israel." Really! Last I heard, that is not true for modern orthodox Jews. While their poskim pay attention to his thinking that is a far call from being accepted as THE posek. In fact, as a general rule a posek in one city or country does not supersede the power of the local posek in another location. The locution posek hador is a modern contrivance that goes hand in hand with attempts by some ultra orthodox groups to establish their hegemony.

I understand why he was respected widely. I understand why ultra orthodox Jews write this sort of hagiography. But I am disappointed when the Jewish Week cuts and pastes this stuff into their columns as factual.

They say and believe, that he was not only the posek ha-dor, preeminent legal scholar, but also the gadol hador. What does that mean?

Is he who rarely is consulted by politicians outside of Agudath Israel, the greatest leader? Is he defacto the leader of all? Does the Jewish Week have to submit to his authority? Does Gary Rosenblatt have to ask the newly crowned gadol hador for permission to print, where and how to live?

Two communities. One follows groupthink, the other, themselves.

As Golda quipped, we are a nation of prime ministers.

Whoever gets the crowds out to vote is empowered to speak as the gadol hador.

I vote for the editor of the Jewish Week.

You are being too kind. The esteemed Rabbi was a divisive figure. Who knows to what extent he was aware of the extremist "fatwas" his handlers issued in his name in recent decades? Hostile to the state of Israel, cold to his family -- a real model of Torah leadership?