HaRav Refoel Yaakov Yisrael zt"l, a prominent rov and
a founder of the Torah world in France, passed away in
Sarcelle at the age of 68 following an illness.
Refoel Yaakov Yisrael was born in 5697 (1937) in Fez,
Morocco, and at the age of 15 he traveled to Sunderland,
England to study Torah at Yeshivas Netzach Yisrael under
HaRav Shamai Zahn, HaRav Chaim Shmuel Lopian and
ylc"ta HaRav Binyomin Zeev Kaufman. For several years
he remained at their sides, intent on his Torah studies day
In an approbation for HaRav Yisrael's book, his rebbe,
HaRav Lopian, referred to him as one of the top
talmidim and said he excelled in all of the 48 ways
through which Torah is acquired. In an approbation for his
book on maseches Shabbos, HaRav Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss,
who granted him semichoh, wrote that he had been among
the outstanding avreichim at the kollel in
Sunderland and, "through toil in Torah, had the merit to
acquire extensive knowledge in Shas and
After marrying he was appointed rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas
Mesillas Yeshorim in Guggenheim, France, where he illuminated
sugyos for his talmidim with exceptional
clarity and served as a role model that left a strong imprint
on them for the rest of their lives.
In 5735 he was asked to go to Sarcelle to breathe life into
the local Jewish community, which was relatively large but
where only a small number of families kept Torah and mitzvas.
Cholov Yisrael was unavailable. He arrived in Sarcelle with a
kollel and gradually the community began to develop
into a mokom Torah.
Today the city has 2,000 observant families that followed his
horo'oh in all matters of halochoh and
hashkofoh. He became a magnet, drawing hundreds of
people who formed bonds of love and respect and looked to him
in times of joy and sorrow alike. Today the town boasts four
Jewish schools with hundreds of students enrolled.
In recent years he published Menuchas Aharon, a 17-
volume work on the entire Shas with approbations by
HaRav Shach, HaRav Y.Y. Weiss and roshei yeshivos. All of the
roshei yeshivos who visited the town during fundraising trips
stayed at his home. When HaRav Simchah Wassermann zt'l
was their guest, HaRav Yisrael gave him a copy of his book on
maseches Shabbos. The next morning Rebbetzin
Wassermann told Rebbetzin Yisrael her husband had not slept a
wink all night. "Why didn't you tell us? We would have called
a doctor," said her hostess.
"Chas vesholom! He felt fine, but he was studying from
your husband's book and couldn't put it down."
Fifteen years ago he became very ill and his health declined.
Later he could no longer eat. He never complained about his
suffering except to express his sorrow over being unable to
keep the mitzvas of matzoh and morror.
Numerous people streamed to his home seeking advice and using
his eloquence he managed to bring baalei batim closer
to Torah and ahavas Torah, even on his final day in
HaRav Yisrael's conduct sanctified the Name of Heaven. French
leaders respected him as well. They would seek his advice in
various matters, noting his sagacity and the siyata
deShmaya he merited.
A levaya was held last Thursday 2 Adar in Sarcelle and
a plane was chartered to bring the mittoh and hundreds
of kehilloh members to Eretz Yisrael, where he
was buried Friday morning on the Mount of Olives in
HaRav Refoel Yaakov Yisrael zt"l is survived by his
wife, who stood devotedly at his side for decades, sons and
daughters, grandchildren and hundreds of talmidim
carrying on his spiritual tradition and mourning the loss of
their esteemed rebbe and teacher.