|Denomination||Sephardi Orthodox Judaism|
|Position||Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel|
|Other||Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Haifa|
While known for his promotion of interfaith dialogue and nonviolence, Bakshi-Doron has been criticised by Haredi leaders for his halakhic (Jewish law) decisions, and by the Reform Movement for his position on assimilation.
Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron was born in Jerusalem to Ben Zion Bakshi-Doron and Tova, who were Iranian Jewish immigrants. He has an older brother, younger brother and a sister. As a young man, Eliyahu studied in several prominent yeshivas of the Religious Zionist movement. He continued his education at Yeshivat HaDarom, Chevron Yeshiva, and Kol Ya'akov.
In 1970, Bakshi-Doron started his rabbinic career in the neighborhoods of Ramat Nasi and Ramat Yosef in the coastal city of Bat Yam. He would be appointed to Sephardi Chief Rabbi of the city in 1972, and in 1975, the larger city of Haifa, where Bakshi-Doron remained for 18 years.
In 1993, Bakshi-Doron became the first Rishon LeZion (Chief Rabbi of Israel) of non-Iraqi extraction since Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel in 1954. He served his term concurrently with his Ashkenazi counterpart, Yisrael Meir Lau.
In a 1996 sermon, Bakshi-Doron compared Reform Judaism to the biblical Zimri, who was killed by Pinchas for cohabitating with a Midianite woman. Bakshi-Doron dismissed the resulting uproar as a publicity stunt, saying it was "unthinkable" that anyone would consider his speech an incitement to murder. In January 1999, Bakshi-Doron stated publicly that the Reform movement had harmed Jews more than the Holocaust. According to Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer, in other countries it might be considered criminal incitement and antisemitism.
In 1998, Bakshi-Doron met with Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen in Istanbul. And in 2000, Bakshi-Doron and Lau made headlines when they met with Pope John Paul II. They were denounced by some in the haredi community for these actions, which came across to them as blasphemous, but most Israelis supported the ecumenical spirit of the meetings. It was later seen as a historical precedent which led the way to the 2005 meeting between Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger with the new Pope, Benedict XVI.
Although a Religious Zionist, Bakshi-Doron was not afraid to buck the party line. In 2000, while visiting the Jewish community in Singapore, Bakshi-Doron declared that he was in favor of giving away parts of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians as a way towards ending the Arab-Israeli Conflict. He stipulated that any agreement would have to allow for the Temple Mount to remain in Israeli hands.
In the sabbatical year of 2000, Bakshi-Doron became involved in a disagreement with some of the leading rabbis in Israel. In order to get around the halakhic prohibitions of shmita, in which farmland must lie fallow once every seven years, some Sephardi and Zionist rabbis had allowed the use of the Heter Mechira (land-sale contract), through the use of which farmers could symbolically sell their land to non-Jews for the sabbatical year, thereby permitting them to continue farming. The permits immediately came under fire by Haredi rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv. Bakshi-Doron and Lau, with the support of former Rishon LeZion Ovadia Yosef, ruled that the permits were valid. When Bakshi-Doron publicly told the farmers that they could rely on the sales, the Haredi newspaper Yated Ne'eman began to leak word that Eliashiv would deligitimize him and put him and his family in herem (excommunication) if he refused to back down. Distraught, Bakshi-Doron went to meet with Israeli President Moshe Katsav, reportedly bursting into tears. Despite the open support of Katsav and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Bakshi-Doron ultimately succumbed to the pressure from Eliashiv. This was widely seen by the National Religious camp as surrender to the Haredim.
On January 21, 2002, Bakshi-Doron received attention when he took part in an interfaith conference in Alexandria, Egypt. Among those present at the conference were the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. George Carey, Rabbi Michael Melchior, the muftis of Bethlehem, and the PA police forces. The attendees issued a joint agreement called the First Declaration of Alexandria of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land, in which they denounced the ongoing violence in the Middle East. Although the accord received the support of both Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, it had little perceivable effect. Bakshi-Doron continues to participate in interfaith activities and currently sits on the Board of World Religious Leaders for The Elijah Interfaith Institute.
In 2004, Bakshi-Doron spoke out in favor of introducing civil marriage in Israel, saying that the law subjecting members of the different Millets to respective religious authorities had become irrelevant, and was now a source of division and hatred.
- Bakshi-Doron at the conclusion of the First World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace.
Bakshi-Doron received attention in January 2005 for attending the First World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace in Brussels, Belgium. The Congress was made up of some 180 notable Jewish and Muslim religious representatives, authorities, and scholars from all over the world. They released a statement calling for the promotion of peace and understanding between Jews and Muslims.
In August 2005, Bakshi-Doron, along with Modern Orthodox rabbis Norman Lamm and Aharon Lichtenstein, condemned calls by other prominent rabbis for Israeli Defense Forces soldiers to disobey their orders to dismantle Jewish settlements as part of the Gaza Disengagement.
Bakshi-Doron's 1993 halakhic ruling that "Women can be of the Gedolim (great leaders) of the generation and serve as halakhic decisors" has attracted attention in light of the recent controversy over the appointments of women to clerical positions in Orthodox congregations. But in a letter to the Rabbinical Council of America dated June 23, 2015, the rabbi clarified his opinion that women could not take up official positions.
Indictment and conviction
Bakshi-Doron was indicted in 2012 over his involvement in "the rabbis’ case," in which he was accused of issuing false rabbinic ordinations and yeshiva education certificates to 1,500 police and security services employees during his tenure as chief rabbi. The ordinations, equivalent to a higher education on Israel's public employees' salary scale, entitled them to bonuses of 2,000-4,000 extra shekels (then valued at $530-$1060) a month. As a result the government paid out hundreds of millions of additional shekels to them without justification. He was convicted of fraud on May 15, 2017 by the Jerusalem District Court for his part in the scam.
- Binyan Av, responsa
- Jewish Virtual Library
- Bauer, Yehuda (2002). Rethinking the Holocaust. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 307. ISBN 978-0300093001.
- Myre, Greg (2016-07-16) "Why Is A Cleric In The Poconos Accused Of Fomenting Turkeys Coup Attempt", NPR
- Myre, Greg (2014-05-24) "Popes In The Holy Land After 2000 Years A New Tradition", NPR
- admin. "Biblical farming law creates modern controversy".
- The Alexandria Declaration 2002
- The Elijah Interfaith Institute
- Israel Middle East Survey Finds Support For Civil Marriage Among Observant Israeli Jews, JTA
- Responsa Binyan Av, 65:5.
- "Pioneer Rabba Sara Hurwitz: Orthodox Women Rabbis Are Here to Stay". Haaretz.com.
- Gordimer, Avraham (2015-11-11) Woman Rabbis And The Bakshi Doron Letter: Time For A Fact Check, Israel National News
- Nachshoni, Kobi (May 15, 2017). "Former chief rabbi of Israel convicted of corruption". Yedioth Ahronoth. Retrieved May 16, 2017.
- Winer, Stuart (May 15, 2017). "Former chief rabbi convicted of fraud, breach of trust". The Times of Israel. Retrieved May 16, 2007.
- Chief Rabbis- Greetings to Pope John Paul II
- Interview with Bakshi-Doron
- Jewish Agency Bio
- Imams and Rabbis for Peace
Media related to Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron at Wikimedia Commons
| Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel