Thousands Gather to Mourn Meimad Founder Yehuda Amital

Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger

Rabbi Yehuda Amital, 86, who was known for his erudition in the study of Torah and his moderate religious and political views, died early Friday and was laid to rest the same day.

The thousands at his funeral included students and graduates of Yeshivat Har Etzion, which he set up and headed, rabbis, MKs and men and women who viewed themselves as his students and followers of his political path in the Meimad movement. President Shimon Peres (Amital served in his cabinet ) sent a letter of condolence, noting the Jewish people had lost "a great teacher."

Mourners for Rabbi Yehuda AmitalCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

The leader of the moderate camp of religious Zionism died at his Jerusalem home following a long illness. His son Yoel eulogized Amital as "an astounding combination of conservatism and openness" and said he was "an anchor for a very broad public."

Though the mourners included chief rabbis and MKs from the Habayit Hayehudi party, rabbis from the centrist stream of religious Zionism and from the settlements were conspicuous by their absence.

Amital was born Yehuda Klein in 1924 in Transylvania. Unlike the rest of his family, he survived the Holocaust and being sent to concentration camps and labor camps.

Amital arrived in Palestine in 1945. He studied at an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in Hebron but maintained his ties to religious Zionism and served in the army in the 1948 War of Independence.

He became a rabbi at a Rehovot yeshiva, but in 1968, after the Six-Day War, he assumed the leadership of a new yeshiva in the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements and then invited Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein to head the yeshiva with him, forging a long-lasting partnership between the two.

Amital initially embraced the messianic views of the Gush Emunim movement, but later became more dovish. In 1988, he and Rabbi Lichtenstein established Meimad, a movement based on left-wing religious Zionist ideology.

After the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Amital joined the cabinet of then prime minister Shimon Peres as Diaspora affairs minister for a matter of months, until the subsequent Likud electoral victory.