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October 07, 1988 - Image 36

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-10-07

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


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wearable arfr

Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi
Speaks Out On U.S. Jewry

3 cce6N)rie,



Jewel rc

Special to The Jewish News

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Four Winds Gallery

and Tutavik


Legacy in Stone,

carvings from

the Canadian Arctic

Now thru

October 16
A major exhibition

of the finest in


Inuit sculpture.

Four Winds Gallery

340 E. Maple, downtown Birmingham
(313) 644-2150

erusalem — One of the
most serious problems
Ilill facing American Jewry
is the growing number of
women who end their mar-
riages without a Jewish writ
of divorce (get), says Israel's
Sephardi chief rabbi, Morde-
chai Eliahu.
In a High Holy Day inter-
view, the 56-year-old chief rab-
bi, or Rishon Le-Zion (first in
Zion) as he is called, also ex-
pressed concern about Jewish
education in the United
States and about anti-
Semitism, of which, he
believes, Americans are not
sufficiently aware.
Rabbi Eliahu, who is fre-
quently consulted by
American rabbis and lay
leaders, says that American
Jews must emphasize to
divorcing couples the need to
obtain a Jewish divorce.
According to Jewish law
(halacha), women who
remarry without a get are
considered adulterers, and
their future offspring are
mamzerim. A mamzer is not
allowed to marry most Jews,
setting the stage for a serious
rift in the next generation.
"lb my great sorrow, the
problem is getting worse by
the day" he says. "It is caus-
ing such heartbreak among
young couples."
Eliahu, who was ordained a
rabbinical court judge at the
age of 30, spends much time
trying to help such couples.
In one recent case, a newly
'observant woman wanted to
marry a yeshiva student but
the rabbi refused to perform
the • ceremony when he
learned that her mother had
received only a civil divorce
and had been remarried by a
Reform rabbi. The yeshivah
student's rabbi turned to
Jerusalem for help. The case
is still pending.
Rabbi Eliahu was elected
chief rabbi in 1983 by an
"electoral" college of 80 rab-
bis and 70 public represen-
tatives (cabinet ministers,
Knesset members and heads
of local authorities). Rabbi
Avraham Shapira, former
head of Yeshivat Mercaz
Harav, was elected Ashkenazi
chief rabbi. Each serves a
single 10-year term.
Through his travels to the
U.S. and his contacts with
American Jewish leaders,
Rabbi Eliahu feels that he

Joel Rebibo is a writer who
lives in Israel.

Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu

has a grasp of the problems
facing U.S. Jewry.
"Jewish education there —
and I mean real Jewish educa-
tion that instills the fear of
God and the love of 'lbrah —
is a serious problem. Living in
a non-Jewish society is dif-
ficult and parents have to be
on their constant guard if
they want to prevent
assimilation," he says.
As a matter of policy, Rab-
bi Eliahu receives any Israeli
seeking halachic or spiritual
guidance, provided they have
first visited their local rabbi.
He feels just as obligated to
be accessible to Diaspora
Jewry, especially in cases
when a community needs ob-
jectivity to resolve a dispute.
In one such case, a large
Jewish community was at
odds with its rabbi over his
edict that they submit to
AIDS testing before mar-
riage. Young couples claimed
that the requirement was an
invasion of their privacy;
moreover, a positive test,
which could result from a
blood transfusion, would un-
justly brand them as
The chief rabbi ruled in
favor of the rabbi because the
tests could save lives, but
stipulated that they be done
by aprivate doctor and that
the results be given to the
rabbi, not the parents.
In general, American Jews
aren't aware enough of anti-
Semitism in the U.S., says
Rabbi Eliahu. "They are too
accepting of outer ap-
pearances. If people say 'hello'
nicely they take it at face
value, but don't see what's
hidden beneath the surface.
Of course, there are righteous
gentiles, but in general anti-
Semitism is a problem."
Still, the chief rabbi praises

America's extraordinary
generosity. "When there is
hunger in the world or
disease, the only country that
consistently comes through
with food and medicine is
America. It doesn't make
political calculations — Is the
needy country friend or foe?
— it gives."
American Jews share that
propensity for giving and
helping one another, he adds.
"They want a strong Jewish
state here, and they do
everything they can to help
make • that happen. I met
some Jews who didn't have a
synagogue in their own com-
munity, but they wanted to
donate money to build one in
a settlement here." _
Rabbi Eliahu was born in
1932 in the Old City of
Jerusalem. His father was
one of the city's great kab-
balists, Rabbi Zalman Shlomo
Eliahu. In the 1948 War of In-
dependence, he served in an
Israel Defense Forces brigade
of yeshivah students.
He was a dayan (rabbinical
court judge) in Beersheba and
Jerusalem before being ap-
pointed in 1971 to the Rab-
binical Supreme Court.
In what seems to be a
Sephardi quality, Rabbi
Eliahu doesn't draw clear-cut
distinctions between Or-
thodox and secular.
"Most people here are Dati
(religious) by my definition,"
he says. "They eat kosher,
they try to observe Shabbat,
they visit the synagogue.
Someone who doesn't believe
in God wouldn't turn up at
synagogue on Rosh
"When I visit so-called non-
religious settlements, the
first thing people ask me for
is synagogues, Torah scrolls,
a rabbi. I'm not surprised.
Whatever their outer ap-
pearance, people want this for
themselves and their

Ban On Israeli
Boxing Reduced

Tel Aviv (JTA) The five-year
ban on Israel Boxing Associa-
tion participation in interna-
tional tournaments has been
reduced to one year, according
to Yitzhak Ofke, chairman of
the Israel Olypmics
The ban was imposed after
Israeli boxers competed in
South Africa, which is boycot-
ted by the International Box-
ing Association because of its
apartheid policies.

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