Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the Leader of Radical Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox Sect, Dies at 86

The rabbi lead the fight against the draft of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students. The sect he headed is considered one of the most zealous among Israeli Haredim

Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach
Gil Eliahu

Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the head of an extremist ultra-Orthodox community known as the Jerusalem Faction, died on Saturday at the age of 86. He had suffered a heart attack at his home in Jerusalem and was taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in the capital, where he was pronounced dead.

Auerbach, who was the son of leading ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Zalman Auerbach, is not survived by any children. He devoted his life to his yeshiva, Yeshivat Ma’alot Hatorah in Jerusalem.

His Jerusalem Faction is considered among the most zealous of the ultra-Orthodox Haredim. 

A split in the non-Hasidic (or Lithuanian) ultra-Orthodox community followed the death of its leader, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, in 2012. A rivalry developed between Auerbach and Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman over who would head it. Shteinman who died late last year.

In recent years Auerbach has ordered his students to demonstrate against the draft of ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli army, contrary to Shteinman’s position. In several protests, students have blocked traffic and gotten into confrontations with the police.

While most Haredi yeshiva students are willing to appear at the Israel Defense Forces’ recruitment offices to ask for and receive repeated deferments for their military service, Auerbach instructed his followers not to appear at the recruitment offices – even if only to receive a deferment – and in doing so officially became deserters.  Occasionally these yeshiva students were caught, usually when stopped for traffic or other minor offenses, and when identified as deserters they were arrested and jailed. In response Auerbach sent his followers out to demonstrate against their arrest.

The Jerusalem Faction was unprepared for Auerbach’s death and has not yet designated a clear successor. Disagreements exist within the faction over Auerbach’s actions to fight the draft and government. Auerbach was surrounded by a more militant group that helped lead him to the decision to cut off almost all contacts with the government authorities – and refuse government funding.

Another group within the Jerusalem Faction thought Auerbach’s actions were too extreme, but accepted his authority and leadership. Now, after his death, the struggle between the two groups may lead to a split in the Jerusalem Faction.

Auerbach will be buried at the Har Hamenuhot cemetery in the Givat Shaul neighborhood, next to his wife. His funeral procession is scheduled to leave from his yeshiva in the She’arei Hesed neighborhood at 11 A.M. on Sunday.