Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Ultimate Religious Zionist

By HaRav Yisrael Rosen 
Dean of the Zomet Institute

Question: What do the following diverse subjects have in common?

* Validity of a civil marriage in terms of halacha

* Annulling the marriage of an “Agunah”

* Coercing a “get” in modern times

* A “get” for a couple who were not married in a Jewish ceremony

* The priestly blessings in modern times in Haifa and the north

* Can soldiers who fought in Israeli wars recite the priestly blessings?

* Morality and war

* Chopping down trees in times of war and peace

* The mitzva of counting for Shemitta and Yovel

* Citric acid, glucose, and gluten for Pesach

* The time to celebrate Purim in Safsufa

Answer: All of these subjects appeared in articles in Techumin, initiated and written by Rabbi Sha’ar Yeshuv Cohen, Of Blessed Memory, who passed away on the third of Elul, the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook. And for those who are not aware of this, we note that Rabbi Sha’ar Yeshuv (in short: Rash”i) was the son of the remarkable Yerushalmi Nazir, Rabbi David Cohen, the disciple and the editor of books written by Rav Kook. And there is another family fact that should be noted: Rash”i was the brother-in-law of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the mythological Chief Rabbi of the IDF (who was married to the daughter of the Nazir). As the brother-in-law of the Chief Rabbi, Rash”i was deeply linked to the meaning of the wars of Israel and their relationship to redemption. See the above list of topics that appeared in Techumin. Rash”i fought in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1948 and was taken captive by the Arab Legion when the Jewish Quarter fell. After his release, he advanced in his military career and reached the position of the rabbi of the Air Force. He then moved on to become the Chief Rabbi of the “Red City,” Haifa.

Many outstanding eulogies were written on the occasion of his passing, and any attempt to expand on these would merely detract from them. In the rest of this article I will outline his deep links with Zomet Institute. The subject of the “Jewish State,” which is the banner of the activities of Zomet, was engraved deep into his soul. In the framework of the “Ariel” Institute which he headed and together with Yad Harav Herzog, he established an institute that studied halachic-technological problems, an enterprise which was a precursor of Zomet. When his institute took on a Chareidi outlook, he encouraged the founding of Zomet Institute, and in 5736 (1976), he became a founding member of the organization. He agreed to act as a member of the advisory board of Techumin from the beginning (Volume 1, 5741), offering his opinions about “problematic” articles.

A Stunted Public Shabbat

Rash”i very much appreciated the intense activity in the questions of the public aspects of Shabbat in Israel, in the spirit of religious Zionism which coursed through his veins. Eventually, while he served as the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, he supported the “Shabbat Law” which was proposed by Zevulun Orlev – to hermetically close all business and labor activities on Shabbat in return for “showing a blind eye” from cultural and entertainment activities. Many important rabbis from the religious Zionist movement joined in this effort, based on the “halachic umbrella” of a responsa written by Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli with the title, “Halachot of the Coalition” (Chapter 11 of his book, “Amud Hayemini”). In this responsa, Rabbi Yisraeli permitted religious representatives to pass a “stunted Shabbat law” which exempted Haifa from the general prohibition in Israel of public transportation on Shabbat, in recognition of the fact that this was the status of the city from the days of the British Mandate. The law was not passed in Rabbi Yisraeli’s lifetime because of opposition by Chareidim and a mistaken position taken by Mafdal, the religious Zionist party (“either all or nothing”). For the same reasons it was not passed in the time of Rabbi Sha’ar Yeshuv.

Rash”i gave his wholehearted support to the “friendly” conversion authority which we established in 5756 (1996) under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate. “Empathetic” conversion was well suited to his personality. Court rulings which he wrote in his capacity of the Chief Rabbinical Judge of Haifa show an approach including compassion and deep involvement in Israeli life. This is also clear from his many articles on these subjects which appeared in Techumin.

In my eyes, Rabbi Sha’ar Yeshuv Cohen was the perfect symbol of a rabbi who was also a public figure involved in practical matters, with an attitude that remained statist and redemption-oriented. His figure will be sorely missed among the religious Zionist rabbis in Israel. May his memory live on forever.

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