Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (1910-2012) was a world renowned scholar and halachic authority who resided in a small apartment on the edge of the Meah She'arim section of Jerusalem. Even at the advanced age of 102, Rabbi Elyashiv remaind active in the community and was the paramount leader of the Lithuanian community both in Israel and elsewhere. Most Ashkenazi Jews regarded him as the absolute contemporary leading authority on Jewish law.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv is a grandson of the great kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv (1841-1925) from Siauliai (Shavel), Lithuania, known as "the Leshem" after his kabbalistic work Leshem Shevo V'Achlama. It is known that the Chofetz Chaim of Radin encouraged people to seek out Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv adding that "Although in Olam Hazeh, this world, we can see him and come close to him, in Olam Haba, the next world, who knows if we'll merit such an opportunity?"
The father of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was Rabbi Avrohom Erener, the Chief Rabbi of the city of Gomel (Homel). His mother was Chaya Moussa Elyashiv, a daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv the Leshem.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was an only child, born to his parents after 17 years of marriage. The Elyashiv family with the assistance of Rabbi Abraham Yitzchok Kook, Chief Rabbi of Israel planned to emigrate to Palestine in 1922 when Yosef Shalom was 12 years old. Rabbi Avrohom, following advice from the Chofetz Chaim, changed his family name to that of his father-in-law, so that the family would have a uniform immigration certificate.
In 1929, upon the suggestion of Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Yosef Shalom met and married Sheina Chaya, a daughter of the Tzaddik of Yerushalayim Rabbi Aryeh Levin. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and his wife had five sons and seven daughters.
In an earlier stage in his life, Rabbi Elyashiv served for many years as a Dayan in the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, achieving a position on its Supreme Rabbinical Court. During his tenure in the Chief Rabbinate, he was close to other great Torah scholars on the Beis Din such as Rabbi Betzalel Zolty, Rabbi Yaakov Ades, Rabbi Eliezer Goldsmidt, and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Rabbi Elyashiv resigned from the Rabbinate in 1972. He has since then abstained from assuming a position with the government. However Rabbi Elyashiv holds great sway over rabbinical appointments and other important proceedings in Israel.
In 1989, Rabbi Elazar Menachem Mann Shach, the famed Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh and undisputed leader of Orthodoxy in Israel requested that Rabbi Elyashiv take a more active role in Jewish public life. It did not take very long and Rabbi Shach, who had lost virtually all his vision and hearing, passed the mantle of leadership to Rabbi Elyashiv, who has carried the position to this very day.
In 1989 Rabbi Elyashiv became the spiritual leader of the Degel HaTorah party, currently part of the umbrella United Torah Judaism list in the Israelis parliament, the Knesset. He held great influence over the policies of Degel HaTorah which abided by all his rulings and instructions. Most of the Roshei Yeshiva associated with the Agudath Israel of America movement actively and frequently sought out his opinions and followed his advice and guidelines concerning a wide array of policy and communal issues affecting the welfare of Orthodox Judaism.
Rabbi Elyashiv spent most of his days engaged in study and delivers lectures in Talmud and Shulchan Aruch at a synagogue in the Meah She'arim area in Jerusalem where he lived. He received supplicants from all over the world answering a multitude of complex Halachic inquiries. Despite his exceptional scholarship and influence, Rabbi Elyashiv held no official title, neither as head of a congregation, yeshiva, or particular community.
Many of Rabbi Elyashiv's Halachik rulings and sermons have been recorded in several books by his students. His multi-volume "Kovetz Teshuvos" contains responsa resulting from questions asked of him over many years. Some of his ethical comments on the Torah dating back to the 1950s were collected and published as "Divrei Aggadah".
For more than eighty years since his wedding, Rabbi Elyashiv's daily schedule has included anywhere between 16 to 20 hours of intensive Torah study. Although stricken with several illnesses throughout his childhood and adult life, Rabbi Elyashiv overcame all his physical obstacles, and continued his rigid schedule of study, prayer, and involvement in all aspects of concern to World Jewry.
Rabbi Elyashiv and his wife had twelve children. One son died of an illness at a young age. His daughters all married prominent Rabbinic scholars. The eldest daughter Bat Sheva is married to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, world famous scholar and posek who lives in Bnei Brak. The second Sarah was the wife of the late Rav Yisroel Yosef Yisroelson, head of the "Bar Shaul" Kolel in Rehovot. The third Ettil was the wife of Rabbi Elchonon Berlin, Rabbi of the "Achva" shul. The fourth Shoshana was married to Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Elchanan in Bnei Brak. The fifth, Leah is the wife of Rav Azriel Aurbach, the son of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and right hand man of his father-in-law. The sixth Gittlel is married to Rabbi Binyamin Rimmer, Rosh yeshiva at the Tshebiner Yeshiva in Jerusalem and at the Kiryat Melech Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. A seventh daughter Rivkah was tragically killed by Jordanian shelling in 1948.
In spite of his advanced age and extremely tight schedule, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv had tremendous concern for the poor and neglected families in Israel. He was an ardent supporter of and made time to assist the Rabbi Meir Baal Haneis Salant charity fund in every which way possible.
Even at the extreme advanced age of 102, all of Klal Yisroel fervently prayed for the continued health and welfare of Rabbi Elyashiv that G-d give him strength to carry on with his holy task of study, prayer, and communal work on behalf of the welfare of world Jewry. It was a terrible loss for the Jewish Nation when Rabbi Elyashiv passed away on July 18, 2012. May his memory be a blessing to all.