Menachem Elon dies at age 89

Former Supreme Court judge and Israel Prize winner laid to rest in Jerusalem

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Menachem Elon, 1923-2013 (photo credit: CC-BY Drory11/Wikimedia Commons)
Menachem Elon, 1923-2013 (photo credit: CC-BY Drory11/Wikimedia Commons)

Former Supreme Court judge and presidential candidate Menachem Elon passed away at the age of 89 on Wednesday, and was buried in Jerusalem.

The German-born professor, who was awarded the Israel Prize in 1979, was known for his expertise in combining Hebrew jurisprudence with modern legal theories — in the classroom, the Ministry of Justice and his verdicts.

Former president of the Supreme Court Aharon Barak mourned the loss of his friend, saying Elon was a devoted fighter both for Israel’s democracy and its Jewish identity. Even with our differences, “I called him Rabbi Menachem and he called me Rabbi Aharon,” he said.

Menachem Elon (photo credit: CC-BY Drory11/Wikimedia Commons)
Menachem Elon (photo credit: CC-BY Drory11/Wikimedia Commons)

Elon, whose family immigrated to Palestine in 1935, studied at the prestigious ultra-Orthodox Hebron Yeshiva for eight years, where he was ordained as a rabbi by chief rabbis Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel and Isaac Herzog.

He graduated Tel Aviv University’s law school with honors in 1948, and served as a military prosecutor in the north during that year’s War of Independence.

Starting in 1950 Elon held a number of public positions in the Knesset and Justice Ministry, until he decided to resume his studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he completed an MA in Talmud and philosophy. In 1962 Elon received his doctorate, and was a professor at Hebrew U from 1966 until he was appointed a Supreme Court judge.

During his time teaching at Hebrew University, Elon’s reputation as a world expert in Hebrew jurisprudence grew, and in 1973 he published a monumental, three-volume book on the topic.

He was named to the Supreme Court in 1973, and appointed its deputy president in 1988. Elon was involved in a number of important verdicts, including the acquittal of Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk and a decision to allow Leah Shakdiel to serve as the first woman on a local religious service committee.

Elon was nominated for the presidency in 1993 by Menachem Begin and the coalition, but lost a close race to his childhood friend Chaim Herzog.

After retiring from the Supreme Court in 1993, Elon headed a number of non-profit organizations and sat on the boards of others. He also continued to write and teach at universities around the world.

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