Letter by Chief Rabbi R. Avraham Kahana Shapira, Jerusalem 1991 (47945)

כתב מה"ר אברהם כהנה שפירא, רב הראשי לישראל - Manuscript

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Listing Details

Lot Number: 47945
Title (English): Letter by Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, R. Avraham Elkanah Kahana Shapira
Title (Hebrew): כתב מה"ר אברהם כהנה שפירא, רב הראשי לישראל
Note: Manuscript - Zionism
City: Jerusalem
Publication Date: 1991
Estimated Price: $200.00 USD - $500.00 USD


Physical Description

[1] p.. 258:214 mm., light age staining, creased on folds,  typed on stationary, signed in ink, dated


Detail Description

Letter by Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, R. Avraham Elkanah Kahana Shapira,(1913-2007). A champion of the settler movement, a revered adjudicator of Jewish law - and one of Israel's most divisive religious figures. Still active into his 90s he won notoriety - even among fellow Orthodox Jews - when he urged soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate the Gaza Strip in 2005. Shapira believed that the territory Israel had won in 1967 was promised by God and belonged to Jews in perpetuity. "Surrendering" an inch of sacred turf was tantamount to blasphemy, he felt. While such views are commonplace in rightist circles, Shapira's willingness to defy the army signified a huge breach within Israel's "national religious" camp, especially coming from such an establishment figure. His proteges traditionally encourage military service as a patriotic duty. Given that most NCOs now come from Israel's observant minority, the rabbi's stance seemed all the more corrosive.

Shapira invariably warned against violence, and in 1995 he had condemned Yitzhak Rabin's ostensibly religious assassin as a man "without conscience or Jewish morality". Even so, his 2005 edict sparked fears of civil war. One Labour party legislator wanted him tried for incitement to rebellion. In the event only 40 soldiers obeyed his call. The disengagement passed with considerable ideological pantomime and sad tales of personal upheaval, but no serious casualties. None the less, opposition leader Yossi Beilin felt Shapira had misled an entire generation by hinting that divine intervention may stop the process. When the pullout did happen, it left behind the "biggest spiritual crisis in years".

Gaza was not Shapira's first foray into politics. Soon after leaving the chief rabbinate he co-founded the Rabbis' Union for the Complete Land of Israel. Its 500 clerics attacked the Oslo Accords for transferring land to Palestinians - forbidden under Jewish law, they claimed. In 2003 Shapira asked the Knesset to boycott a ceremony honouring the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. American evangelicals, he claimed, were deceiving Jews and Christians into imagining a "common faith shared by both".

Shapira inspired thousands as dean of the Mercaz Ha-Rav Kook Yeshiva, one of Israel's largest talmudic academies and the flagship of religious Zionism. He probably wielded more influence in that post than as chief rabbi, as most settlement rabbis are Mercaz graduates. Many national religious Jews, who make up two-thirds of Israel's 12% observant minority, considered Shapira the gadol ha-dor - greatest authority of his generation on Jewish law. Shapira's tenure at Mercaz was not without incident. Rabbi Tzvi Tau, seen as an obvious spiritual heir, resented being bypassed as rosh yeshiva. Eventually Tau left Mercaz in 1997 to form the more philosophically engaged and Bible-focused Yeshivat Har ha-Mor. Shapira preferred students to study Talmud and halakha (Jewish law). The final straw came when Shapira accepted a state-backed diploma programme at Mercaz.

He was born in Ottoman-ruled Jerusalem. His parents were of European origin and were Jews with deep roots in the holy city. He studied at Jerusalem's Etz Haim (Tree of Life) and Hebron Yeshivas. As his scholarly reputation grew he associated with leading Talmud sages, Yitzhak Ze'ev Soloveichik, Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.

Palestine's pre-Zionist Old Yishuv were mostly orthodox Jews who regarded human efforts to rebuild Jewish sovereignty as premature, even heretical. Shapira, however, warmed to the contrary ideas of Palestine's first chief rabbi, Abraham Isaac Kook, and his son, Tzvi Yehuda Kook. Both characterised secular Zionists as unwitting pioneers in an act of divine providence. Where the father stressed the bonds linking all Jews, Tzvi Yehuda, Shapira's predecessor at Mercaz Ha-Rav, helped turn "national religious" politicians from moderates into assertive messianists after the 1967 six-day war with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Shapira moved to Mercaz Ha-Rav as a teacher after marrying Penina Ra'anan. In 1956 he was appointed to the Jerusalem supreme rabbinical court and became its head in 1971. As chief rabbi from 1983-93, Shapira pressed a nationalist agenda together with his equally fervent Sephardi (oriental Jewish) opposite number, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu. Though criticised by some for partisanship, he did rule in favour of recognising Ethiopian Beta Yisrael ("falashas") as authentic Jews. And in 1986, despite conservative opposition, he judged that organ transplants were acceptable in halakha.

Rabbi Shapira also inspired the hardal trend within Zionism - an acronym that appropriately spells "mustard" in Hebrew and Arabic. Hardal represents formerly "modern orthodox" Jews who have adopted the theological rigour and outward paraphernalia of black-gaberdined ultra-orthodox haredim. Yet where traditional haredim generally shunned the secular state, hardalim championed its promotion - until the Gaza pullback, that is.

His publications include collected Talmud essays (1989), three further volumes of essays called Shi'uvei Maran from 1990-2003, and a final book, Morashah (2005).


Reference Description