Thursday, October 13, 2016

Rav Avraham Shapira

Rav Yisrael Rosen 

“Ask ... your elders, and they will say to you” [Devarim 32:7].

Nine years have gone by since the passing of our mentor Rabbi Avraham Shapiro, the Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz Harav, during the Succot holiday in the year 5768. Among other things, “Reb Avrum” had the privilege of serving as the Chief Rabbi of Israel for a decade, filling the position established by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, who was the father-in-law of his brother-in-law (Rabbi Natan Raanan). Before this, Reb Avrum served many years as a judge in the rabbinical courts.

His greatness in Torah, both erudition and halachic decisions, is engraved within the pages of his books – “The Lectures of our Mentor GR’A Shapiro” on the tractates of the Talmud and “Minchat Avraham,” a collection of his responsa. His rulings in the rabbinical court are outstanding examples of learned decisions that show intimately involvement in current reality. Some of these rulings have appeared in the volumes of Techumin, published by Zomet, a total of twenty-two articles on the subject of halacha. Some of these were given to us by his son after Reb Avrum’s passing. (Here are two examples from the most recent volumes: “One who brings a case to a secular court and then comes back to a rabbinical court,” and “Is the priority for receiving charity the same as that for an inheritance?”)

Even though he never served in a “classic” rabbinical position, Reb Avrum was the admired teacher and rabbi of hundreds of students. I venture to suggest that this is especially true of those students who were appointed as community rabbis or became teachers in the educational system. Such people could always expect a warm welcome in his home, with constant overflowing of practical advice and a sprinkling of stories of the wisdom of the great men of Yisrael “in the previous generation,” always with amusing anecdotes and a significant lesson. It seems to me that no former student who started on a task of teaching or a new position of a rabbi was ever allowed to leave without being “scolded” by the rabbi: “Where are your felt hat and your rabbinical frock?” In my eyes, this constantly repeated question was meant to give a message of a required link between the chain of Eastern European rabbis with the wise men of Jerusalem “in previous and earlier generations” and the Torah scholars who are part and parcel of religious Zionism. The verse quoted above from this week’s Torah portion, “Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will say to you,” is an appropriate theme for a major segment of his educational legacy.

Indeed, as far as I am concerned Rabbi Shapiro was a perfect symbol of this connection, launching an approach that stands strong, without any twists and no “if, and, or but.” Reb Avrum was a man of religious Zionism with all his soul, of the type of the rabbis who founded “Chovevei Tzion,” which raised the banner of Zionist redemption years before the Zionist Congress was held in Basle. His family relationship to Rav Avraham Kook, the visionary Kohen and greatest religious Zionist of all, drew Reb Avrum into the same realms of activity with love, and led him to fill the same post as his predecessor. This is intimately linked with his outstanding contribution in his calls for settlement in all the regions of Eretz Yisrael. His declarations of “Daat Torah” that opposed surrendering to our enemies even went so far as to allow refusing an order in the IDF.

May his soul be bound above the living.

* * * * * *

The next issue of Shabbat B’Shabbato is scheduled to be published for the Torah portion of Noach. We will take this opportunity to take leave of an author who will no longer be with us next year. Mussa Berlin, who has been with us for only one year, has asked for “respite” from writing his excellent articles based on stories and their connection to music.

Who will replace him? See our bulletin starting next year.

Happy holidays to all!