Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron

Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron
Position Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel
Began 1993
Ended 2003
Predecessor Mordechai Eliyahu
Successor Shlomo Amar
Other Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Haifa
Personal details
Born 1941
Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine
Nationality Israeli
Denomination Sephardi Orthodox Judaism

Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron (born 1941), is an Israeli rabbi. He was the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1993 to 2003.

Early life

Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron was born in Jerusalem, to Ben Zion Bakshi-Doron and Tova, in an Iranian Jewish family. He had an older brother, and a younger brother and sister. As a young man, he studied in several prominent Religious Zionist yeshivas.[1] He continued his education at Yeshivat HaDarom, Chevron Yeshiva, and Kol Ya'akov.

The Rabbinate

In 1970, Bakshi-Doron started his rabbinic career in the neighborhoods of Ramat Nasi and Ramat Yosef in the coastal city of Bat Yam. He would be appointed to Sephardi Chief Rabbi of the city in 1972, and in 1975, the larger city of Haifa, where Bakshi-Doron remained for 18 years.

In 1993, Bakshi-Doron became the first non-Iraqi Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel since Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel in 1954. He served his term concurrently with his Ashkenazi counterpart, Yisrael Meir Lau.

Bakshi-Doron came under fire by the Israeli Reform Movement in 1996 after a sermon in which he compared the movement to the biblical Zimri, who was killed by Pinchas for cohabitating with a Midianite woman. Bakshi-Doron dismissed the uproar as a publicity stunt, saying it was "unthinkable" that anyone would consider his speech an incitement to murder. He was attacked again by Reform leaders in 1999 after some comments he made about assimilation in the Reform community being comparable to the Holocaust.[2]

In 1998, Bakshi-Doron met with Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen in Istanbul.[3] And in 2000, Bakshi-Doron and Lau made headlines when they met with Pope John Paul II.[4] They were denounced by some in the haredi community for these actions, which came across to them as blasphemous, but most Israelis supported the ecumenical spirit of the meetings. It was later seen as an historical precedent which led the way to the 2005 meeting between Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger with the new Pope, Benedict XVI.

Although a Religious Zionist, Bakshi-Doron was not afraid to buck the party line. In 2000, while visiting the Jewish community in Singapore, Bakshi-Doron declared that he was in favor of giving away parts of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians as a way towards ending the Arab-Israeli Conflict. He stipulated that any agreement would have to allow for the Temple Mount to remain in Israeli hands.

Shmita controversy

In the sabbatical year of 2000, Bakshi-Doron became involved in a disagreement with some of the leading rabbis in Israel. In order to get around the Halakhic prohibitions of shmita, in which farmland must lie fallow once every seven years, some Sephardi and Zionist rabbis had allowed the use of land-sale contracts (heter mechira), through the use of which farmers could symbolically sell their land to non-Jews for the sabbatical year, thereby permitting them to continue farming. The permits immediately came under fire by Haredi rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv. Bakshi-Doron and Lau, with the support of former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ruled that the permits were valid. When Bakshi-Doron publicly told the farmers that they could rely on the sales, the haredi newspaper Yated Ne'eman began to leak word that Eliashiv would deligitimize him and put him and his family in herem (excommunication) if he refused to back down. Distraught, Bakshi-Doron went to meet with Israeli President Moshe Katsav, reportedly bursting into tears. Despite the open support of Katsav and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Bakshi-Doron ultimately succombed to the pressure from Eliashiv. This was widely seen by the National Religious camp as surrender to the Haredim.[5]

Reaching out

On January 21, 2002, Bakshi-Doron received attention when he took part in an interfaith conference in Alexandria, Egypt. Among those present at the conference were the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. George Carey, Rabbi Michael Melchior, the muftis of Bethlehem, and the PA police forces. The attendees issued a joint agreement called the First Declaration of Alexandria of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land, in which they denounced the ongoing violence in the Middle East. Although the accord received the support of both Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, it had little perceivable effect.[6] Bakshi-Doron continues to participate in interfaith activities and currently sits on the Board of World Religious Leaders for The Elijah Interfaith Institute.[7]

Later in 2002, he accused Yasser Arafat of attempting to commit "a Holocaust against the State of Israel."[8]

In 2004, Bakshi-Doron spoke out in favor of introducing civil marriage in Israel, saying that the law subjecting members of the different Millets to respective religious authorities had become irrelevant, and was now a source of division and hatred.[9]

"When I see all of the imams and rabbis coming together, this is a message to the Creator that we are here to do your will, that is to bring peace."

- Bakshi-Doron at the conclusion of the First World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace.

Bakshi-Doron received attention in January 2005 for attending the First World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace in Brussels, Belgium. The Congress was made up of some 180 notable Jewish and Muslim religious representatives, authorities, and scholars from all over the world. They released a statement calling for the promotion of peace and understanding between Jews and Muslims.

In August 2005, Bakshi-Doron, along with Modern Orthodox rabbis Norman Lamm and Aharon Lichtenstein, condemned calls by other prominent rabbis for IDF soldiers to disobey their orders to dismantle Jewish settlements as part of the Gaza Disengagement.

Bakshi-Doron's 1993 halakhic ruling that "Women can be of the Gedolim (great leaders) of the generation and serve as halakhic decisors" has attracted attention in light of the recent controversy over the appointments of women to clerical positions in Orthodox congregations.[10][11] But in a letter to the Rabbinical Council of America dated June 23, 2015, the rabbi clarified his opinion that women could not take up official positions.[12]

Marriage and family

Bakshi-Doron married his wife Esther, daughter of the former Chief Rabbi of Akko Shalom Lopes, with whom he had ten children. She died in 2005.[1]

Published works

See also


Media related to Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron at Wikimedia Commons

Jewish titles
Preceded by
Mordechai Eliyahu
Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel
Succeeded by
Shlomo Amar
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