PM: His essence was intelligence, tolerance, love for people

Former Sephardic chief rabbi Bakshi-Doron succumbs to coronavirus, aged 79

Rabbi dies 5 days after admission to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek and testing positive for COVID-19; Deri mourns loss of ‘giant of a scholar, a guide to many of the people of Israel’

Former Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron at the wedding of his granddaughter in Jerusalem on March 13, 2016.(Yaacov Cohen/Flash90)
Former Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron at the wedding of his granddaughter in Jerusalem on March 13, 2016.(Yaacov Cohen/Flash90)

Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, died due to complications from the coronavirus at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center on Sunday. Israeli leaders mourned his passing, hailing him a great spiritual guide.

Bakshi-Doron, 79, who served as chief rabbi from 1993 to 2003, succumbed to the virus five days after checking into the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms. He was tested shortly upon his arrival and found to be a carrier.

The hospital said his condition deteriorated during the day and efforts to revive him in the evening were unsuccessful.

With his death and that of another woman, Israel’s toll rose to 105 Sunday night.

Born in 1941 in Jerusalem, Bakshi was first chief rabbi in Bat Yam and then Haifa, before rising in 1993 to become the Rishon Lezion, a title given to the chief Sephardic rabbi.

During his time as chief rabbi, he devoted efforts to interfaith dialogue, and together with Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, met with Pope John Paul II during his 2000 visit to Israel.

Pope John Paul II (C) meets Israeli chief rabbis Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau (L) and Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron (R). March 23, 2000 (Flash90)

However, his reputation was tarnished when he was indicted in 2012 over his involvement in a scam, known as “the rabbis’ case,” which included the issuing of false rabbinic credentials to over 1,000 police and security services employees. The extra honorific entitled them to wage bonuses of NIS 2,000-4,000 ($530-$1060) a month.

As a result the government paid out hundreds of million of additional shekels to the civil servants.

In 2017, he was convicted of fraud and breach of trust and sentenced to probation, as well as a fine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mourned his passing, calling him “an important link in the Torah chain of scholars of Spain. His exceptional proficiency in Jewish sources merged with his noble dimensions. He was graced with a pleasant demeanor and greeted every person with warmth.”

Netanyahu hailed his role as a spiritual guide to communities in Israel and around the world. “His essence was intelligence, tolerance and love for the people and the country.”

President Reuven Rivlin said he was “deeply saddened” to hear the news, calling Bakshi-Doron a “giant Torah scholar with a deep sense of responsibility for the entire people of Israel.”

Rivlin said he fondly remembered discussions he had as a Knesset member with Bakshi-Doron while he was chief rabbi, and noted his “sincere care for every person and his efforts to help women who have been refused divorces.”

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Shas party hailed him as a “giant of a scholar, a guide to many of the people of Israel and his passing is great misfortune.”

Former Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, May, 2010. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Former Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, May, 2010. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett eulogized the former chief rabbi in a statement, calling Bakshi-Doron “a man of kindness and giving, who strove to bring together the people of Israel.”

Bakshi-Doron’s wife Esther died in 2005. They had 10 children.

The number of coronavirus infections nationwide on Sunday evening stood at 11,145, with 402 new reported cases in the last 24 hours.

One hundred and eighty-three people were in serious condition, including 131 on ventilators, and 155 were in moderate condition, the Health Ministry said in its evening roundup.

The number of Israelis who have recovered from the COVID-19 disease jumped by 264 on Sunday to a total of 1,627, the ministry said.

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