In loving and revered memory of a Gadol Ha-Dor, a great rabbinic sage, scholar, leader and teacher, the State of Israel’s first
Sephardic Chief Rabbi, a giant in Torah, a pursuer of peace and unity,
who loved every Jew with all of his heart,
Rabbi Ben Zion Meir Hai Uziel, z”l,
whose 60th memorial we mark this Friday (August 30), the 24th of Elul.
60 years ago, late on a Friday afternoon, the 24th of Elul, just as the Shabbat candles were lit, a great light was extinguished in Israel,
as Rabbi Uziel breathed his last breath here on earth,
just a few days before Rosh Hashanah.
Every time I walk into the courtyard building on our Sephardic Educational Center campus in the Old City of Jerusalem, I feel a sense of awe and pride, knowing that in his pre-Chief Rabbi days, Rabbi Uziel was the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Tiferet Yerushalayim, the Old City’s most prominent Sephardic Rabbinical institution. This historic yeshiva was housed in our SEC courtyard building. We are privileged to be carrying on his brilliant teachings and illustrious legacy today.
The Talmud teaches:
“We do not make monuments for the righteous;
their own words and teachings serve as their ultimate memorial.”
In this spirit, in loving memory of Rabbi Uziel, I offer below a selection of his teachings on various topics, which I have translated directly from the beautiful and poetic Hebrew that characterized his literary style.
Rabbi Uziel was the quintessential classic Sephardic Haham of the modern era, and his halakhic rulings and spiritual way of life serve as the greatest model of how Classic Sephardic Judaism can be expressed in today’s world. As we enter a New Year, I pray that the merit of this great sage protect us, and may his teachings continue to guide us and inspire us, illuminating our path in Torah and wisdom.
Rav Uziel, in his own words…
On the State of Israel as a fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy
The first stage to redemption is removing the Jewish people’s subservience to the nations of the world. This messianic stage is taking place before our eyes, as we well know that our past subservience to the nations has caused us great harm, but now, with the return of the Jewish people to their land and the building of our own state, we are no longer subservient to the nations. Despite all of the dangers we are encountering in realizing this messianic stage, we nevertheless see an awakening of God’s will for the Jewish people to settle in their own homeland. This Divine awakening is what inspired us towards the Declaration of Independence of our own Jewish state. We live in an era where we are witness to the fulfillment and realization of the vision of our prophets.
On Halakha (From the introduction to his Mishpetei Uziel responsa)
In every generation, conditions of life, changes in values, and technical and scientific discoveries create new questions and problems that require practical solutions. We are not permitted to avert our eyes from these issues and say Torah prohibits anything new, i.e., anything not expressly mentioned by earlier sages is automatically forbidden. We may not simply declare such matters permissible, nor can we let them remain vague and unclear, with each person acting with regard to them as he wishes. Rather, it is our duty to search all halakhic sources, and, based on what they explicate, to derive responses that address current-day issues. In all my halakhic responsa, I never inclined towards leniency or strictness according to my own personal opinions; rather, my intentions were always to search and discover the truth. Gathering all of my intellectual strength, I walked in the light of earlier halakhic masters, whose waters we drink and whose light enlightens us; with this holy light, which issues from the concealed Light of God, I illuminated my eyes...
On Torah and the Modern World
Our holiness will not be complete if we separate ourselves from human life, from human phenomena, pleasures and charms, but only if we are nourished by all the new developments in the world, by all the wondrous discoveries, by all the philosophical and scientific ideas which flourish and multiply in our world. We are enriched and nourished by sharing in the knowledge of the world. At the same time, though, this knowledge does not change our essence, which is composed of holiness and appreciation of God’s exaltedness.
His goals and aspirations as a rabbi
To spread Torah among students, to love the Torah and its mitzvot, to love the Land of Israel and its holiness, to love absolutely every Jewish man and woman and the people of Israel in its entirety; to love God, the Lord of Israel; to bring peace among all Jews physically and spiritually, in their words and actions, in their thoughts and in the ruminations of their hearts, in all their steps and deeds, at home and in the street, in the village and in the city; to bring true peace in the house of Israel, to the entire congregation of Israel in all its subdivisions and groupings; and between Israel and their Father in heaven.
His peaceful overture to Muslim leaders
To the Heads of the Islamic Religion in the Land of Israel and throughout the Arab lands near and far, Shalom U’Vracha. Brothers, at this hour, as the Jewish people have returned to its land and state, per the word of God and the prophets in the Holy Scriptures, and in accordance with the decision of the United Nations, we approach you in peace and brotherhood, in the name of God’s Torah and the Holy Scriptures, and we say to you: Please remember the peaceful and friendly relations that existed between us when we lived together in Arab lands and under Islamic Rulers during the Golden Age, when together we developed brilliant intellectual insights of wisdom and science for all of humanity’s benefit. Please remember the sacred words of the prophet Malachi, who said: “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?”
On Rabbis Working Together for the Common Good of Am Yisrael
We must remove this divisiveness that plagues us, and instead make our work as a community a reflection of peace and love. But who will stand and lead this change amongst us? This specific task belongs to the “Faithful in Israel,” our rabbinic and spiritual leaders. This belongs to them, because the Torah is not an alienating force; rather it is a force that brings people closer together. The true announcement of the redemption and the coming of the Messiah will only happen when the hearts of parents are drawn closer to their children, and the hearts of children are drawn closer to their parents. It is about time that the “Faithful in Israel”(rabbis and spiritual leaders) unite forces in their sacred work, and unite the entire Nation of Israel around them. Such unity, of spiritual leaders working together, unifying our people as one, will serve as our greatest source of comfort and strength.
On Jewish Unity (from his Ethical Will)
Preserve with absolute care the peace of our nation and of our state -- “And you shall love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19) -- because disputes and divisiveness are our most dangerous enemies…they are like moths on Beit Ya’akov, causing our bones to rot. By contrast, peace and unity are the eternal foundations for the national sustenance of Beit Yisrael. Therefore remove all causes of divisiveness and disputes from our camp and our state, and place in their stead all factors that will lead to peace and unity amongst us.
His Inspirational Message for Rosh Hashanah
Awaken, all sleepers, from your deep sleep. Let us come together as one family and gather around the grand ideas and ideals of our Jewish tradition. Let us, with our bodies and souls, be the Shofar that awakens us, and awakens the whole world. Our unified voice – as one Shofar – will help bring about the ultimate sound of the Shofar that we all await: the Shofar of the Messiah. This Shofar will enlighten the world with the knowledge of God, filling the world with truth, righteousness, justice and peace.