Chief Rabbi of Kfar Chabad, Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Ashkenazi, 71

Chief Rabbi of Kfar Chabad, Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Ashkenazi, 71

Lubavitch Archives

Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi

by Dovid Zaklikowski - Kfar Chabad, Israel

January 14, 2015

Long-time Chief Rabbi of Kfar Chabad and the Emek Lod vicinity, Rabbi Modechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, suffered a fatal heart-attack this afternoon. He was 71. A scion of rabbinical figures, the rabbi will be remembered for his scholarship and his work to bridge differences between conflicting parties.

“He had a powerful persona. When he wanted something to get done, he would get it done,” said Rabbi Moshe Havlin, the chief rabbi of Kiryat Gat. “He placed special emphasis on bringing a peaceful outcome between people in dispute.”

Rabbi Ashkenazi was born in Tel Aviv in 1943 to Rabbi Moshe and Devorah. He studied at the Lubavitch schools in Tel Aviv and then in New York. He became especially close with his grandfather Rabbi Meir Ashkenazi, the chief rabbi of Shanghai, China.

He was instructed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson to pursue a study schedule after school hours.

Rabbi Ashkenazi became chief rabbi of Kfar Chabad in 1973, succeeding the village’s chief rabbi Rabbi Zalman Garelik, who was killed in a car crash. In his role, he made himself available to the community. He dedicated his time studying in Kfar Chabad’s central synagogue, humming to himself as he parsed difficult Torah texts, pausing to respond as people approached him with questions.

Back home, at the end of the day, he continue to answer the questions of locals in person or on the phone. He took great interest in training younger rabbis. This week he marked four decades in his rabbinical position.

“He knew how to approach people on their level, no matter who they were. He always said what he felt was just without fear,” said Dovid Yifrach, director of the Emek Lod Regional Council. “He had this unique insight to see what the outcome will be.”

When the Iron Curtain fell in the Soviet Union, he became heavily involved in many rabbinic issues, traveling to cities to supervise the new mikvahs being built there, and presiding over an ad-hoc rabbinical court that dealt with complicated matters of Jewish identity. His son would later become the Chabad representative in Siberia, Russia.

Over the past two decades he wrote his own scholarly works, delegating some of his responsibilities to others. His first five volumes on Jewish law were published after ten years of work. He later began publishing a weekly column on Jewish law and custom in the Kfar Chabad Magazine.

“Anyone who studies his volumes could see his breadth of Jewish scholarship,” said Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem. “He had a gifted understanding of the texts and was uniquely qualified to derive halakhic decisions based on Jewish law.”

His children and grandchildren serve in rabbinical posts and as Jewish leaders, as Chabad representatives, in Israel and around the globe.

He is survived by his wife Rebbetzin Sima Ashkenazi, his children Rabbi Meir Ashkenazi, Safed, Israel; Rivka Kaplan, Sitriya, Israel; Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Ashkenazi, Montreal, Canada; Rabbi Ezriel Zelig Ashkenazi, Ekaterinburg, Russia; Gita Brod Ashkenazi, Kfar Chabad, Israel; Chaya Feigel Wilhelm, Oak Park, Michigan; Rabbi Mendel, Kfar Chabad, Israel; Rabbi Shalom Dovber, Netanya, Israel; Rabbi Yosef Ashkenazi, Kiryat Malachi, Israel; Rabbi Yisroel Ashkenazi, Chulon, Israel.

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