It is with great sadness that Matzav.com reports the passing of Rav Eliyahu Yosef She’ar Yoshuv Cohen zt”l, Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Haifa. He was 89.
Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen was an 18th-generation descendant in a family of rabbonim.
The name “She’ar Yoshuv” is based on the eponymous son of the novi Yeshayah (see Yeshayah 7:3).
His father, Rav Dovid, was known as the “Nazir of Yerushalayim.” His mother was Sarah Etkin, among the founders of Omen, a religious women’s organization that became the Emunah movement.
Rav Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen’s parents were cousins.
Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen attended Talmud Torah Geulah and learned at Toras Yerushalayim, Mercaz Harav, and Etz Chaim.
In his youth, he became close to Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook.
While he was growing up, Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen’s hair was not cut, he wore canvas shoes, and he followed the Nazir practices of his father. At the age of 16, a bais din of Yerushalayim rabbonim convened in his house to release him from Nezirus. Even afterwards, out of an idealism for the holiness of life, he did not eat meat including fish, nor did he drink wine.
Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen was married to Dr. Naomi, daughter of Rabbi Dr. Chaim Shimshon Goldstein, long-time president of the OU, and granddaughter of philanthropist Harry Fischel.
His sister, Tzefiya, was married to Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief rabbi of Israel.
Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen is survived by a daughter, Eliraz Kraus, six grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren.
In 1948, while learning at Mercaz Harav, Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen joined the Brit Hahashmona’im underground resistance movement, which fought against the British mandate, and he was an active member of the Haganah. With the support of his father and the Rosh Yeshiva of Mercaz Harav, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, he led a group of youths who fought as part of the Hish in the Israeli War of Independence, and helped to found the first military-religious core group that developed into a Yeshivat Hesder.
During the Israeli War of Independence, Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen defended Yerushalayim and Gush Etzion, where he fought with Etzel for the Old City of Yerushalayim. He accompanied convoys of soldiers to Yerushalayim and Gush Etzion, and also fought to defend the Gush. He was severely injured in the fighting to defend the Old City, and when the Jewish Quarter fell, he was captured by the Arab Legion of the Jordanian Army. Together with the survivors of Gush Etzion and the defenders of the Jewish Quarter, he was taken to Amman and then to the prison camp in Mafraq. In prison, his leg was operated on, but he remained handicapped. He became one of the leaders of the POWs, and earned the respect of both British and Arab commanders in the camp.
Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen served in the IDF for seven years and reached the rank of sgan aluf (lieutenant colonel). He participated in talks with the Jordanians on returning the remains of Jews killed in Gush Etzion during the war. He also participated in an IDF delegation to the United States, and served in senior positions in the army rabbinate, including army chaplain and chief rabbi of the Israeli Air Force.
Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen volunteered to fight in the Yom Kippur War and served as Chaplain of the unit that crossed the Suez Canal.
Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen held an honors degree in law from the law faculty of Hebrew University. He specialized in legal advice on rabbinic rulings. He researched Israeli law and its harmonization with the laws relating to the Land of Israel. Afterwards, he served as the deputy mayor of Yerushalayim in the Mafdal (NRP) party, and continued in this role after the city was unified in the Six-Day War in 1967.
Several years after the passing of Rabbi Yehoshua Kaniel in 1975, Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen replaced him as Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Haifa. He was also president of the Harry Fischel Institute for Talmudic Research and Torah Law. He founded the Midrasha HaGevoha LaTorah (“Advanced Torah Institute”) and the Ariel Institute in Yerushalayim. In 1983 and 1993, he was a candidate for position of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel.
He was a senior rabbinical adviser to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. He was elected twice as President of the Jewish Law Association, and three consecutive times as a member of the Board of Governors of the University of Haifa. In 1999 Bar-Ilan University conferred upon him an honorary doctorate. When Rav She’ar Yoshuv Cohen reached the age of 80, the City Council of Haifa unanimously conferred upon him the title: “Honorary Citizen.”
David Steger – Matzav.com Israel News Bureau