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Our Great Loss: Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv Zt’l

Nafla Ateres Rosheinu – the crown of our heads has fallen.  The leading scholar and sage of the generation, Maran Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, has passed away at the age of 102.

Rav Elyashiv had been hospitalized at the Jesselson heart Center in Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Yerushalayim for a number of months and succumbed to congestive heart failure.

Rav Elyashiv’s profound grasp of Torah was recognized throughout the world and the recognition of his authority in matters of Halacha was almost universal.

Rav Elyashiv’s responsa have been published in three volumes of Kovetz Teshuvos,  while his halachic positions have been published in three volumes under the title, “Ashrei HaIsh.”

Aside from his profound scholarship, Rav Elyashiv exemplified the highest ideals of mentchlichkeit and concern for others.  His grandson, Rav Lipa Isaacson recently related that when Rav Elyashiv recited the stanzas of Aishes Chayil before Kiddush on Friday nights he would point to his wife as he recited them.  When he said the words, “A woman of valour who shall find?” his fingers pointed to her.

Indeed, his treatment of her, in general, was with profound respect.  Rav Elyashiv made her the center of attention in conversation.  “He would ask her how shul was, how she liked the Chazaan, the Tefilos, etc,” Rav Isaacson explained.

A number of years ago when they had lost a grandson, r”l in Petach Tikvah on an Erev Shabbos, Rav Elyashiv did not want her to experience further emotional distress on account of her fragility.  He was able to suppress the information until after the Shiva was over.  No doubt, when Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s wife (Rav Elyashiv’s daughter) passed on recently, the information was suppressed from Rav Elyashiv using the same rationale that he did with his Rebbitzen.

While his wife was alive, Rav Elyashiv would remark how many visitors she would receive.  They would come to her to ask for blessings and advice.  He remarked that they only came to him afterward, so as not to embarrass him that they only came to visit her.

Before Rebbitzen Elyashiv passed away, it was Rav Elyashiv’s custom to study in an adjacent shul – Ohel Sarah.  After his wife had passed away, he held his learning seder in his home.  When Rav Isaacson queried as to why he had changed, Rav Elyashiv responded, “Safta had a very soft heart and when people came to the house using words of Pikuach Nefesh and such, she could not resist their entreaties and let them in to see me.  I therefore learned in Ohel Sarah.  I could not, of course, tell her not to let them in.  Now, those that stand guard are not as soft-hearted, so I can learn here.”

The Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, expressed his feelings of sorrow at Rav Elyashiv’s passing and said, “nation of Israel has lost a great rabbi, an unmatched and sharp authority.”  His own father had passed away in recent months as well.

Rav Elyashiv was born in Shavel, Lithuania on Rosh Chodesh Nissan (April 10th) in 1910.  Although the Lithuanian birth certificate unearthed recently indicates that the date was March 28th.  Shavel is also known as Siauliai. His father, Reb Avrohom Orener had changed his last name to Elyashiv a few years later. Rav came to Eretz Yisroel five years after it came under the British Mandate in 1922.  He was twelve, not yet Bar Mitzvahed.

The Shidduch between him and Rav Aryeh Levin’s daughter was suggested by Rav Kook himself who was later Mesader Kiddushin.

Rav Elyashiv had five sons and seven daughters. Two of his very prominent sons-in-laws are Rav Chaim Kanievsky ilc”t and Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein ilc”t.

Rav Elyashiv dealt with many issues in the fast-paced changing world of today – Can a shul put a cell phone tower above it to help pay for their mounting expenses?  His answer was “No, they may not.”  When the majority of people stopped smoking on account of health issues, Rav Elyashiv issued a stern warning in the early 1990’s that the heter or leniency to smoke on Yom Tov was very questionable if not altogether forbidden. He ruled that people should stop smoking on Yom Tov.  The majority of Bnei Torah stopped.

When faced with numerous abuses of software licensing, Microsoft had actually approached Rav Elyashiv for a ruling on the matter and Rav Elyashiv ruled stringently regarding software.

The dramatic difference in software piracy within our own community seriously declined, When asked whether Bnei Torah should remain silent during the moment of silence held on Israel’s Veteran’s Day, Rav Elyashiv responded that they definitely should. This ruling set a new tone in the relationship between the Hareidi world and the secular world in Israel.

Rav Elyashiv’s ruling that when there is evidence that a religious instructor is molesting a child, Heaven forbid, rabbis should rule that the violator should call in the authorities has been hailed by child advocates as a game-changing ruling.  It was the basis for Agudath Israel’s statement last year concerning the issue.

About two years ago, this author had posed a question as to the parameters of what can be done to try to elicit a recalcitrant husband in issuing a Get.  Is it wrong for someone  to cause negative repercussions to the husband’s family members if they are supporting him?  He responded, “I don’t see a heter to cause this other party this type of tzaar..”

Rav Elyashiv became the leaders of the Degel HaTorah party after Rav Eliezer Menachem Schach zt”l had appointed and urged him to take the position. Many years prior to this Rav Elyashiv was a dayan in the Rabanut and ruled on many thousands of cases, now found in the Piskei HaRabbanut (available on the Bar Ilan software).

Rav Elyashiv’s hasmada in learning was unparalleled even after he had reached one hundred years of age.  One of my sons last saw him on Simchas Torah two years ago.  The Beis Midrash was packed, with about 300 people in attendance.   Numerous Americans were there.  On account of the large number of people there, the hat hooks that surround the Beis Midrash became a source of possible injury for any child that might hang onto them.  Rav Elyashiv’s grandson announced a number of times of the danger involved in this and made sure that throughout the Hakafos – the safety announcement was carefully followed.

Rav Elyashiv zt”l was bedecked in the Yerushalmi Levush of a Shtreimel and his kapota. He walked around with a Sefer Torah for the first Hakafah.  However, for the rest of the Hakafos, he sat down while holding his small sefer Torah and began to delve in a Gemorah for the rest of the evening.  He sat in his regular chair at the Mizrach vant.

It is generally a halachic question as to whether or not one is permitted to sit during the hakafos, since Sifrei Torah are present.  The one heter is if one is holding a Sefer Torah.  Since Rav Elyashiv’s advanced age made it difficult for him to participate fully in the hakafos – he opted to hold a Torah and sit down.  While doing so, he maximized his time by learning the Talmud.

Rav Elyashiv was quick to recognize the scholarship and erudition of others. On a number of occasions he informed people from America of the greatness of Rav Feivel Cohen Shlita, author of the Badei HaShulchan.  He said that he was one of the most outstanding Poskim in America. He also informed a friend of mine that Rav Dovid Morgenstern Shlita was proficient and knowledgeable in Kol HaTorah Kulah, the entirety of Torah.

Some rulings that this author had posed to Rav Elyashiv throughout the years were: When using a solid item, a midi d’menaki, to clean one’s hands when water is not available does one have to clean between the fingers as well.  He responded that this was not necessary.

Is there an obligation of Chinuch for the Laws of Shnayim Mikreh Echad Targum? (He answered that there was not.) When the leining of the Torah is missed at Shacharis, when is the Torah leined at Minchah? (He answered before Shmoneh Esreh just like on Shabbos Mincha.) Is “time is of the essence” ever to be reckoned with when dealing with a possible molestor (He answered that it was definitely dependent upon time is of the essence as well.)

Rav Elyashiv’s halachic positions have been collated in a three volume work called “Ashrei HaIsh.” Three volumes of his responsum have been published and a series of books on mesechtos has been published called “Haaros.”

His request was that no eulogy be given at the funeral.  His kever is next to his wife who passed away in 1994.

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman  for 5TJT – The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

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Posted by on July 18, 2012. Filed under Jewish News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to Our Great Loss: Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv Zt’l

  1. Kvod Hatorah

    July 18, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Baruch Dayan Emes

  2. Klal Yisorel In Pain

    July 18, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Klal Yisroel lost a giant today and it happened in the three weeks.

    He is probably the biggest Torah giant the world has seen in the past 5o years and it is a sad day in Jewish history forever!

  3. Kohen Gudol

    July 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    This great man lived in a plain old house with an old bed and did nothing but learn torah 24/7.

    i don’t think we truly understand yet what we had and what we lost today.

    this is a loss beyond words and it will be felt for decades to come. Fortunately for us, he left us with thousands of chiddushim and teshuvous