On motzei Shabbos Parshas VaYeitze, 8 Kislev 5764, the
chief rabbi and ravad of Be'er Sheva, HaRav Eliyohu
Katz zt"l one of the senior rabbonim of Eretz Yisroel,
passed away at the age of 88.
Eliyohu Katz was born in Nitra, Czechoslovakia (in what is
now Slovakia) to HaRav Avrohom Aharon Katz, the grandson of
HaRav Moshe Katz, who was an av beis din and
ram in the city, and the great-grandson of HaRav
Menachem Prussnitz, a talmid muvhok of the Chasam
Sofer zt"l. His mother Freidel Hy"d was
renowned for her modesty and love of Torah.
Eliyohu studied at the local talmud Torah, which was
under the supervision of his father the rov, who would test
the boys every Shabbos in their parents' presence. Eliyohu
Katz lost his father just before his bar mitzvah. A short
time earlier he had asked his father for help in preparing a
bar mitzvah droshoh, but his father refused, saying,
"You will be preparing many droshos on your own during
He went to study at yeshivas in Czechoslovakia, mostly under
HaRav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky at the yeshiva in the city of
Following the Nazi invasion he fled to Hungary and went into
hiding. There he gathered together a group of bochurim
who together studied Gemora and Chumash with
Rashi. His elderly mother and many other relatives, including
several rabbonei kehillos, were killed by the Nazis.
One brother and one nephew were spared and moved to Eretz
Yisroel, but were killed during the Egyptian bombing of Tel
Aviv in 5708 (1948).
After the war, he gathered together a group of young
Holocaust survivors and started a yeshiva which he headed in
the town of Domenkosh, Hungary. As a member of the beis
din he worked on refugee problems and on releasing
agunos, and signed the rulings on the fate of those
missing in the Holocaust and sacred articles that remained
ownerless. Afterwards, he served for two decades as Chief
Rabbi of Slovakia and Av Beis Din in Bratislava (Pressburg),
where the Chasam Sofer and his successors had once been.
In this post, he buttressed the walls of religion, performed
miloh on many Jewish boys, with mesirus nefesh,
and organized Jewish communal life throughout Eastern Europe
under the communist regimes. As a result of his dedicated
work he was persecuted by government authorities and even
arrested. He built mikvo'os, baked matzoh, supervised
the preparation of kosher wine for Pesach for all of Eastern
Europe and printed a Jewish calendar distributed to Jewish
communities behind the Iron Curtain to provide them with the
halachic times so important to every Jew. He also worked to
secure the release of Jewish prisoners, despite the danger
and threats these endeavors exposed him to, and wrote
numerous articles in European languages to disseminate Torah
in the Diaspora.
He sent his children, born behind the Iron Curtain, to Eretz
Yisroel, in order to allow them to attend Torah-based
institutions, sending them letters of encouragement to help
them overcome the challenge of adjusting to their home away
from home. Yet he remained in the Diaspora to help preserve
Yiddishkeit among the Jews remaining in Eastern
After the Czechoslovakia Revolution in 5729 (1969) many Jews
immigrated to Eretz Yisroel. Because of his status, HaRav
Katz did not receive permission to emigrate, but he was
allowed to leave for a short vacation. Realizing this easing
of restrictions would not last for long and might be followed
by more difficult times, he decided to defect. As a result he
was wanted by the authorities, who confiscated his home and
property, including a library containing 2,500 volumes as
well as rare manuscripts and chiddushim.
Upon moving to Eretz Yisroel he settled in Be'er Sheva, where
he served as chief rabbi and rov av beis din, with his
wife constantly, faithfully at his side. HaRav Katz was loved
by all. He would walk to different parts of the city,
delivering a droshoh at different botei knesses
every Shabbos, that was carefully suited to his listeners'
level of adherence to Torah and mitzvos.
He worked extensively to strengthen kashrus and stood his
ground against forces seeking to harm mitzvah observance. He
refused to grant kashrus certificates to bakeries that
desecrated Shabbos, even in secret, or that began to bake
chometz before the last day of Pesach ended, along
with hotels that kept the pool or souvenir store open on
Shabbos. He was also known for his opposition to the opening
of malls, whose operations involve chilul Shabbos.
He waged stalwart battles against idolatrous groups and
missionaries. On one occasion, he fought openly against an
event held in a public place where idolatrous symbols were on
display, though the patrons of the city stood behind the
event. He also stripped the kashrus certificate from any
restaurant or hotel that held parties on non-Jewish
He worked in tandem with his colleague, HaRav Michel Dehan
zt"l to elevate the Be'er Sheva Rabbinate, signing
joint statements to strengthen religion in the city. The
peace, unity and mutual respect between the two rabbonim was
widely known and together they headed a Kimcho DePischo
project to assist the needy with Pesach expenses, a
collaborative effort that continued when HaRav Yehuda Deri
was appointed Chief Rabbi.
The Be'er Sheva Marriage Registry was very dear to him. On
one occasion he gained renown for his resolute stance against
a famous figure he disqualified as a witness at a wedding
because the individual in question did not keep Torah and
mitzvos, and HaRav Katz held his ground when the media rained
criticism down on him.
He would spend the early morning hours engaged in Torah and
produced his best chiddushim during this time of day.
He was always delighted upon finding a good chiddush
or answering a difficult question, ascribing these successes
to zechus ovos. Even when he suffered from a heart
condition 25 years ago, Torah continued to issue forth from
him. When he fell and broke his hip and collarbone five years
ago, he overcame his suffering and kept mentioning additional
points in a responsum he had begun to write before the
At the beis medrash he opened above his home,
minyanim were held for Shacharis and
Minchah, and he would give a Gemora shiur there
for baalei batim. It also housed the Beis Medrash
Gevo'oh LeTorah that he started where local avreichim
would study to become dayonim and members of the
rabbinate. Based on what his rabbonim had passed on to him,
he placed special emphasis on Chumash with Rashi and
even published a book called Emor Ve'omarto containing
his own commentary on Rashi.
A few years ago, when he became too weak to live alone, he
moved in with his son Menachem, and from there he kept in
touch with Be'er Sheva affairs by phone and in writing,
always inquiring about religious developments in the city.
Despite his weakness he continued to fulfill his post as best
he could and even went into the city to sign a marriage
certificate just days before his petiroh.
HaRav Eliyohu Katz, zt"l, passed away on Motzei
Shabbos Parshas VaYeitze after reciting Krias Shema Al