Rabbi Y.S. Elyashiv April 10, 1910 - July 18, 2012 Eminent Decider of Jewish Law

Article excerpt

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, an eminent authority in the Orthodox Jewish world on applying the Torah and Talmudic law to modern times, whose rulings on conversion, divorce and even the legitimacy of wigs made in India had far-reaching impact and sometimes roiled Israeli politics, died Wednesday in Jerusalem. He was 102.

His death was announced by Shaare Zedek Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized for several months.

Rabbi Elyashiv, who was born in Lithuania and moved to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1922, was known as an eminent "posek" -- a decider of Jewish law -- a title earned not by appointment but by scholarship, reputation and communal trust built up over decades. Rabbi Avi Shafran, the public affairs director of Agudath Israel of America, a leading Orthodox organization, called him "the premier posek of the generation." (For decades, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who lived in New York City and died in 1986, was regarded as the world's leading adjudicator of Jewish law.)

Rabbi Elyashiv's decisions were honored, if not always obeyed, beyond his own ultra-Orthodox, non-Hasidic world known as Lithuanian or yeshivish Jews. His word also influenced Hasidim, Orthodox Sephardim from Muslim countries and many modern Orthodox Jews.

Slender, with a wispy white beard and penetrating eyes, Rabbi Elyashiv represented a rigorously conservative approach to Jewish law that seeks to safeguard its traditions against the assaults of modern life. He opposed service in the Israeli military for yeshiva students, which he called a "plot to uproot Torah from Israel." He disapproved of professional studies for women. He insisted that for purposes of organ donation, death occurs when the heartbeat and breathing stop, not when brain activity ceases. …