Rabbi Eliezer Schach - 1898-2001

Haaretz
Haaretz

Rabbi Eliezer Menachem Schach, the 103-year-old rabbi believed to be the ultimate authority in the ultra-Orthodox world in Israel for the past quarter of a century, died on Friday November 2, 2001 in Tel Aviv.

The rabbi's health had deteriorated in his final days, and he had been receiving medical treatment at home until his transfer to hospital two days before his death. Such was his standing, that after the decline in his health, the decision was taken to suspend studies at the yeshivas under his tutelage around the country to allow his students to pray for his recovery - an honor bestowed upon only a few.

Schach's involvement in the religious world spilled over into the political realm. He was responsible for the 1988 establishment of the Degel Hatorah party and supported the creation of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party in 1984, after Agudath Yisrael denied a place on its Knesset list to a Sephardi representative.

In 1992, however, Shas broke away from Schach's patronage, when its Sephardi spiritual mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ruled that the party should join Yitzhak Rabin's coalition government along with the stridently secular Meretz party, despite Schach's orders to the contrary.

Schach was also a fierce critic of secular society, once referring to the kibbutzim as "breeders of rabbits and pigs." But much of his harshest criticism was reserved for Habad. Commenting once on the belief that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the messiah, he said: "Total heresy. Those who say so will burn in hell."

Schach's death will leave a vacuum in the Haredi world. It was the espousing of a clear ideological worldview that was always his strongest side. Rabbi Schach was always the man with all the answers. He was always sure of the direction he wanted to take and he was always decisive.

Especially at a time of deep uncertainty, when the ultra-Orthodox community is filled with confusion and with end-of-days predictions, Rabbi Schach's presence, however symbolic, was so vital to the Haredim.

The cliched notion that Rabbi Shach is a father or grandfather figure for the ultra-Orthodox should also not be ignored. This does not sit well with his image as a man of wars and of struggles. But it is consistent with his image also as a warm man, sensitive to the suffering of others.

The feeling among the ultra-Orthodox of having lost a father figure is reminiscent of the non-Haredi community after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

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