The Chief Rabbi, Harav Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, zadik of blessed memory who passed away as a result of a COVID-19 infection, was one of the last of our courageous religious leaders. His demise is a very great loss for the people of Israel as well as for the religious leaders of the world.
Anyone who met the Rabbi who would always welcome everyone warmly would not have known that he is in the presence of a Talmid Chacham - of the worlds' greatest. The Rabbi was an unpretentious, humble Jew, who helped in every area to anyone in need.
Many,some better than I, have already written about the depth of his studies and judgments. I would just like to emphasize his many rulings on significant issues such as releasing an Agunah and conversion. The first issue is always important and the second is particularly important, because during his time as Chief Rabbi (1993 - 2003) the focus was on the major issue of the conversion of the immigrants from the FSU, along with the increase of approaches that wanted to close the door to converts. The Rabbi in his great wisdom led a line that, on the one hand, bypassed the Rabbinate and, on the other, enabled a state halachic conversion tool, which was accepted by the Chief Rabbinate.
The Rabbi's position on civil marriage - a topic that we talked about a lot, was brave and incisive, as his Rabbi's from Yeshivat Hadarom, Rabbi Amital zaddik of blessed memory. He deemed that civil marriage should be allowed in the State of Israel. Even the Rabbi's reasoning is very noteworthy. He wrote that religious coercion on those who do not want it is actually contempt of the Torah. It is a pity that the eulogizers did not emphasize this - even if they did not agree with the Rabbi.
There was another very significant issue for the Rabbi. The Rabbi was utterly a student of Aharon. He loved peace, pursued peace, loved people and brought them closer to the Torah. His love of peace was not limited to the peace within us, but the Rabbi also believed in peace with our neighbors and the entire world. The essence of my account of the Rabbi was in this area. In 1996, I came to the Rabbi with an initiative I had begun together with the Foreign Ministry and Church of Norway for talks of religious leadership on religious peace. The Rabbi immediately agreed and added two reputable senior Rabbis, on his behalf who participated in all the talks along with the Muslim Plestinian representatives and the representatives of the churches in East Jerusalem. The talks were not very successful. There was more bickering than trying to pave a way for peace. But the connection and trust with the Rabbi and other Rabbis tightened and as we continued direct conversations with senior Muslim religious leadership - without mediation, there were far more significant results.
In 1997, there was an episode where drawings of Muhammed depicted as pig, were put up all over Hebron, and the Muslim street, some 200,000 people were furious and ready to go up in arms over this disgrace. The Prime Minister and President tried to calm down the situation and apologize, but they had no credibility with the street. I went to Rav Bakshi, and said to him that the only person who would have true credibility is himself. We are talking about avoiding major riots and bloodshed, which everybody was expecting. The Rabbi immediately asked what he needed to do and I suggested that we pay a visit to the Mufti of Hebron. Instantly, we were on our way. The Mufti received us with respect but with some suspicion, but when Rav Bakshi explained to him that these drawings are against everything Judaism believes in, that in the eyes of the Chief Rabbi and all the believers of Judaism these drawings are a desecration of G-d's name, the Mufti nearly fell off his chair in surprise. He thanked the Rabbi and immediately on the spot called all the leading Imam's of Hebron and said they need to call off all plans, activities and protests, demonstrations and riots because the highest Jewish authority has told him that this is against everything Jewish. And that ended the story.
For me this was proof of how religion can be distorted and also how religion in its most noble voice can create confidence and save human lives.
In January of 2002, at the height of the second intifada, when I was Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, along with a very brave religious partner – the late Sheikh Talal Sider, who was one of the founders of the Hamas in Hebron, and now served as a Minister in the Government of the PA, together we wanted to bring a message to our people – that there is another way. We had the support of Sheikh Al Azhar, the most senior official of the world's largest Muslim institute from Egypt and the Archbishop of Canterbury and we set on our way, amid the impossible circumstances around us, to a religious peace summit which had never before taken place. I had no doubt that Rabbi Bakshi Doron was the person to head the Jewish-Israeli delegation. The Rabbi immediately agreed, and affably won the hearts of all Palestinians and Christians and was very significant in the success of the summit.
This summit has become a symbol everywhere in the world that there can be true partnership between religions to prevent bloodshed and reach peace agreements and even today we strive to implement what the 'Alexandria Declaration' that we signed (in the picture Sheikh Talal is signing and the Rabbi is observing) demanded from us.
Even after the Rabbi's tenure, the Rabbi was always ready to help with any religious peace initiative to demand that the political leadership do whatever it takes to ensure that both nations live together peacefully.
The Rabbi will be missed by many people and for me his demise is a great personal loss.
May his memory be a blessing.