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10 Teves 5765 - December 22, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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HaRav Eliyohu Katz, zt"l

by Betzalel Kahn

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 your lifetime."

He went to study at yeshivas in Czechoslovakia, mostly under HaRav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky at the yeshiva in the city of Chust.

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 Europe.

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 holidays.

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 fall.

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 Hamitoh.


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