Obituary: Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, 79, Former Chief Rabbi of Israel

by Menachem Posner –

Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, who served as Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi (Rishon Letzion) between the years of 1993 and 2003, passed away on April 12, in the middle of Passover, as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). He was 79 years old.

Bakshi-Doron was born in Jerusalem in 1941. His father, Rabbi Benzion, was a native of the Holy City, and his mother, Tovah, was originally from Aleppo, Syria, then home to a thriving Jewish community.

From a young age, Eliyahu displayed a keen devotion to Torah study and developed a connection to many of the leading Torah sages in Israel, in both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities.

In 1970, shortly after marrying Esther Lopes, daughter of Akko Chief Rabbi Shalom Lopes, he was appointed as a neighborhood rabbi in Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv. Four years later, he was chosen to serve as the city’s Sephardic chief rabbi. In 1975, he was selected to serve as Sephardic rabbi of Haifa, a position he would hold for the next 18 years.

In that position, he worked closely with Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries to the city and participated in many Chabad events. When they completed the first “Unity Torah Scroll” during the Lag BaOmer parade in 1982, he took a leading role in the celebration.

“On one hand, Rabbi Bakshi-Doron was a great scholar,” says Rabbi Leibel Schildkraut, longtime director of Chabad of Haifa. “At the same time, he was an approachable and unassuming leader who connected with people on an individual level.”

Schildkraut recalls serving as a go-between between the Bakshi-Dorons and the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. The exchanges ranged from the communal to the personal, as when the rabbi went through great lengths to ensure that the Rebbe received a copy of Binyan Av, his compendium of responsa in Jewish law, to when his wife sought the Rebbe’s blessing for marriage proposals for their children, as well as other personal issues.

From 1993 to 2003, Bakshi-Doron served as Chief Rabbi of Israel, alongside his Ashkenazi counterpart, Rabbi Israel Lau.

A hands-on leader, he worked tirelessly to elevate the spiritual lives of his constituents, giving countless Torah classes and lectures. His care, however, extended to many other areas as well. He served on the boards of a number of institutions, including Rambam Hospital in Haifa and Keren Lavi, a civilian charity that supports soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces.

Over the decades, he visited Chabad institutions and events all over the world, and would often speak of his admiration of the emissaries’ devotion and dedication to fostering Jewish life and community.

During his long and fruitful retirement, he founded and led the Jerusalem-based Binyan Av institute, a yeshivah that attracts young men from Sephardic communities worldwide.

Predeceased by his wife in 2005, he is survived by their 10 children, in addition to many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Rabbi Bakshi-Doron with Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Hertz, rosh yeshivah of the Yeshiva Gedola Lubavitch in London, England. (Photo: Yeshivah Gedolah Lubavitch)
Rabbi Bakshi-Doron at the Chabad-Lubavitch yeshivah in Sydney, Australia.

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