Settler Leader Rabbi Moshe Levinger Dies at 80

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President Rivlin with Rabbi Levinger, seated, in February. Credit: Emil Salman

Settlement leader Rabbi Moshe Levinger, one of the founders of the Gush Emunim movement and the spiritual leader of the Jewish community in Hebron, passed away Saturday at the age of 80.

Levinger was admitted in late April to Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center in critical condition after an epileptic seizure. His son Shlomo Levinger told Arutz Sheva at the time that his father also had pneumonia.

Levinger first became known to the general public when he led a group of Jews that held a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Hebron in 1968.

The group refused to leave the city after the holiday, living for three years in the military administration building in Hebron until Kiryat Arba was established adjacent to the ancient city.

After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he represented the Jews who moved into Israel's first West Bank settlement — Sebastia in Samaria — in opposition to the government of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. A photograph of Levinger and settler leader Hanan Porat dancing as they were carried on the shoulders of rejoicing settlers became a symbol of the struggle in Sebastia.

Rabbi Moshe Levinger and Hanan Porat celebrating the establishment of the first West Bank settlement in 1975.Credit: Moshe Milner

Levinger was also a founder and a former chairman of the Yesha Council of Settlements, which represents the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. In 1992 he founded a political party that competed in the election but did not pass the electoral threshold.

Levinger was born in Jerusalem in 1935 and studied at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. He became the rabbi of Moshav Nehalim. After the 1967 Six-Day War he was one of the first Jews who sought to settle in the occupied territories. In 1968 he organized a group of yeshiva graduates, who rented the Park Hotel for the seder and remained. In the end they were allowed to settle in Kiryat Arba.

In 1979 a group of women, headed by Levinger's wife, Miriam Levinger, holed up for months in Hebron's Beit Hadassah, which had been built in the late 19th century by Jews, and demanded that Jews be permitted to settle within the city itself. About a year later, in the wake of the murder by Arab terrorists of six yeshiva students in an ambush, the government gave in and allowed the establishment of the Jewish settlement of Hebron.

Levinger was involved in numerous confrontations with Palestinians and with Israeli security forces over the years and was arrested many times. During the first intifada, Levinger opened fire from a military position at Palestinians who were throwing rocks, killing one of them. He was convicted of negligent homicide and imprisoned for three months.

Levinger's health deteriorated drastically after a stroke in 2007. He relied on a wheelchair to get around and made only rare public appearances. He fell into a coma about two weeks ago.

"The loss is great and parting is painful, but my father's passing on the eve of Jerusalem Day and Hebron Day symbolizes his spirit and great love for all of the Land of Israel," Levinger's son Malachi Levinger, the head of the Kiryat Arba Local Council, said Saturday night.

In a statement, the Jewish community in Hebron said it was stunned by the death of Levinger, "who will be remembered together with the leaders of Israeli settlement since the beginning of the Zionist movement and the revival of the nation."

The funeral will be held at 11 A.M. Sunday outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, followed by interment in the Jewish cemetery in Hebron.