Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, a giant among the ultra-Orthodox
The loss of Rabbi Elyashiv, who died at 102, will change Israel's ultra-Orthodox community forever.
He didn't live in some luxury high-rise like Israel's political elite. He didn't have his one eye constantly fixed on the next job. No scandal was ever associated with his name. He didn't charge so much as a penny from the people crowding the corridor of his home, waiting for a moment of his time, as some rabbis do.
He didn't make speeches. He didn’t write books. He didn't take part in mass events. He didn't aspire to make headlines. If anything, he shied away from honors.
He was a real leader.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Israel for decades, died Wednesday at the age of 102. Following the demise of
Eliezer Menachem Mann Schach in 2001, Elyashiv was considered the highest leader of the community, an unassailable figure of authority.
He lived his whole life in a small home free of modern accoutrements, situated in an alley in Jerusalem's Haredi neighborhood Mea She'arim.
Until he fell ill, the corridors of his modest home were crowded with the faithful, who came always to consult with the rabbi. Elyashiv would sit in the living room of his small home, an open book at his side. He would rest his head on his hand, look at his protagonist with his penetrating eyes and listen. His answers were always short and sharp, after which his gaze would return to the book.
Elyashiv didn't meet people in the middle. He was imbued with the conservative ultra-Orthodox ideology that took shape in Israel since its establishment, and did not deviate one inch. He fiercely opposed army service for Haredim, and he was also against vocational or academic training for them. He even attacked the commercial Haredi press, which he felt had loose values.
Many in today's Haredi community no longer follow the trail he blazed. Today's Haredim may serve in the army; they may study and now there are efforts to involve them more in the workforce. The changes are small and slow to come, but they're happening. Yet there isn't a man among these "new Haredim," the derogatory term for them among the conservatives, who didn't adulate Elyashiv. Everybody viewed him as practically an angel. Justifiably so – he was one of the last of that generation of spiritual leaders. Ideological to the core, driven by their faith and their faith alone, not by personal interests.
Elyashiv believed in his way with all his heart. No envelope stuffed with cash could have changed a single syllable of his rulings.
In the next era, after Elyashiv, we may see profound changes in the conduct of Haredi society. It may even crumble and fall apart. But the image of Elyashiv will always remain: a leader with values, a leader cut from different cloth, from a species that is fast going extinct.