Haifa's Former Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen Dies at 89

Active in interfaith dialogue and the first Jew to address a Vatican synod, Cohen was a decorated war hero who objected to withdrawing from occupied territory.

Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen.
Tomer Applebaum

Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, the former chief rabbi of Haifa, died on Monday at the age of 89 and was buried on Tuesday at Jerusalem's Mount of Olives.

A former fighter in pre-state Jewish underground movements, Cohen was active in interfaith dialogue and became the first Jew to address a Vatican synod in 2008. He was a vegetarian for ideological reasons.

The former Jerusalemite served in the Etzel and Haganah pre-state military organizations from the British mandatory era. He was decorated after his capture by Jordan after being wounded in fighting in Jerusalem's old city during the 1948 Independence War. Later he served as a Jerusalem city councilor.

Cohen was named as Haifa's chief rabbi in 1975. He was forced to resign in 2011 over suspicions of involvement in a scandal involving forgery of rabbinical credentials of civil servants to get them higher salaries.

He was a vehement opponent of withdrawing from occupied land, though also involved for years in interfaith dialogue with Christians and Muslims.

In his final years in the rabbinate Cohen headed a panel of in charge of dialogue with the Vatican. In 2008,he addressed a Vatican synod, telling a Reuters reporter there at the time he might have stayed away had he known that the Church was plannig to honor Pope Pius on the 50th anniversary of his death. Many Jews have accused Pius, the pope during World War II, of doing too little to try and prevent the slaughter of Jews.

""We feel that the late pope (Pius) should have spoken up much more strongly than he did," Cohen, 80, said in an interview hours before he addressed the gathering of Catholic bishops from around the world.

"He may have helped in secrecy many of the victims and many of the refugees but the question is 'could he have raised his voice and would it have helped or not?'" Cohen said.

"We, as the victims, feel yes. I am not empowered by the families of the millions of deceased to say 'we forget, we forgive,'"

President Reuven Rivlin eulogized Cohen as "one of the unique public figures of our generation."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised him as "a pleasant man, and genius and an expert, who used his knowledge for the better and for the sake of furthering peace among us."