Eliezer Shah

Eliezer Shah

Spiritual leader of the Lithuanian movement in Judaism in Israel
Country: Israel

Biography of Eliezer Schach

Eliezer Schach was a spiritual leader of the Lithuanian branch of Judaism in Israel. He was born in Vabalninkas, Lithuania, to Azriel Schach and Bat-Sheva Levitan in either 1894 or 1897 (sources vary on his exact birth date). Schach studied in yeshivas in Panevezys, Slobodka in Kovno (Kaunas), and Slutsk, where he became a beloved student of Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer and later married his niece. Together with Rabbi Meltzer, he moved to Kleck and then to Slutsk after World War I. In 1927, he became the head of a yeshiva in Lublin and later served as a rabbi in the yeshiva in Novogrudok. During this period, he developed a close relationship with Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, who recommended him to the Karlin Rebbe. In 1936, Schach was invited to lead the yeshiva of the Karlin Hasidim in Luninets, Brest Region.

During World War II, Schach and his family managed to escape from Lithuania to Mandatory Palestine, where they joined Rabbi Meltzer. He then worked as a teacher in the Ishuv Chadash yeshiva in Tel Aviv, followed by the Darom yeshiva in Rehovot. Eventually, upon the recommendation of Chazon Ish, he became the head of the prestigious Ponovezh yeshiva in Bnei Brak, which is considered one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the Orthodox Jewish world. In the early 1960s, Schach became the head of the Ponovezh yeshiva and a member of the "Council of Torah Sages." After the death of Rabbi Itzhak Ze'ev Soloveitchik, the leader of the Brisker branch, in 1959, Schach gradually assumed the role of the leading Lithuanian rabbi. In the 1980s, he began to actively influence Israeli politics.

Eliezer Schach passed away on November 2, 2001, at the Shiba Hospital in Tel HaShomer. His death was the result of a critical drop in blood pressure. Despite the efforts of doctors for two days to save his life, they were unsuccessful. In his final years, the rabbi suffered from a serious respiratory system disorder, and shortly before his death, he developed pneumonia, which hastened his tragic end. The exact date of Eliezer Schach's birth has not been established. Various sources indicate different ages ranging from 103 to 109 years, but the most authoritative sources agree on 107 years. The rabbi was buried in Bnei Brak, where he spent the second half of his life. Hundreds of thousands of students and like-minded people accompanied him on his final journey, fervently praying for his recovery. During his lifetime, Schach declared two other prominent rabbis, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv and Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, as his successors.

Eliezer Schach focused primarily on the spiritual and scholarly aspects of Judaism. Although his name was not well-known to Jews distant from tradition, his contribution to Jewish theology was significant. His erudition, tact, exceptional organizational abilities, and rare pedagogical talent made him a leader of the Lithuanian branch of Orthodox Judaism. People from all over the country and abroad came to him with questions about Halakha (Jewish law) and sought his advice in making important decisions. Legends of his responsiveness abound.

Despite having profound knowledge of the Hebrew and Aramaic sacred texts, Schach used Yiddish in everyday life. The Deri and other leaders of the Sephardic Orthodox community, who were raised by him, are quite proficient in this language. Before the split in the Agudat Israel party, Rabbi Schach led the Council of Torah Sages within the party. Prior to the 1988 elections, he founded the Degel HaTorah party. He also established the Shas party in 1984 but disavowed it eight years later when its political leader, Aryeh Deri, joined the left-wing coalition of Yitzhak Rabin against Schach's wishes. Eliezer Schach vehemently opposed the Oslo Accords, and therefore, in 1996, he instructed all his supporters to vote for Benjamin Netanyahu. Since then, the rabbi did not participate in political life.