Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu first became a dayan (an official rabbinical court judge) in Be’er Sheva, in 1957 – at age 28, the youngest ever in modern state of Israel history. At that time, his was the only rabbinical court in the entire south, between Eilat and Be’er Sheva. On his first day on the job, he saw a woman standing outside the court building, praying from a small Book of Psalms. She remained outside all day. The next day, the rabbi saw the same thing, and the next day again, and so on. Finally, he asked the court secretary to ask her to come in. When he asked her why she stood outside and prayed all day, she related in all innocence: ‘I came on aliyah [immigration to Israel] from Morocco by myself, and they sent me to Be’er Sheva. I asked where the closest rabbinical court was, I was told it was here, and so here I am.’

He promptly responded, "What are you praying for?" and the woman said, "My husband in Morocco was a taxi driver, and a week after we were married, at the end of the Sheva Brachot [the seven days of wedding festivities], he crashed - and his body was never found.. After a while, I went to the rabbis to be declared a widow so that I could remarry, but they said that without a body, it was not 100% established that he was dead. Thus I became an aguna [a ‘chained woman’ of unclear status, unable to marry]. But when I came to Israel, I had faith that what the rabbinical courts in Morocco could not accomplish [in permitting me to remarry], the courts in Israel would be able to do."

Of course Rabbi Eliyahu immediately asked, "So why did you remain outside the court? Why didn’t you come in to the dayanim [the rabbinical judges]?"

"Who are you? I pray to G‑d, not to you!"

The woman said, "Who are you? I pray to G‑d, not to you!"

Rabbi Eliyahu immediately took up her case. He took all her papers and went to consult with the Baba Sali, the leader of all Moroccan Jewry, at his home. The latter told him that his brother, the Baba Haki, a prominent rabbi who lived the Israeli city of Ramle (near Tel Aviv), was familiar with all those engaged in Jewish burials in Morocco.

Rabbi Eliyahu traveled to Ramle, where the Baba Haki told him, "There were only two Jewish kavranim [people engaged in supervising burials] in all of Morocco, and both have since come to Israel. One lives in Dimona and one lives in Kiryat Ata [near Haifa]."

Rabbi Eliyahu mused, "I live in the south, so I might as well try Dimona first." He went to the exact address supplied to him by the Baba Haki – only to find that the man’s family was sitting in mourning for him; he had died just a few days earlier.

Quite disappointed, Rabbi Eliyahu went in anyway, shared some words of Torah and solace with the bereaved family and the other visitors, and explained why he was there. Immediately, a man jumped up and said, "I am the other kavran, and I know that story! I was the one who buried the taxi driver!"

Rabbi Eliyahu asked the man to come with him to tell the story to other rabbis. Each one questioned him and determined that his testimony was acceptable. Rabbi Eliyahu then convened the rabbinical court in Be’er Sheva, and the woman was declared "unchained" and permitted to remarry.

"This is the power of prayer," Rabbi Eliyahu later said. "Both hers and mine!"


Connection: the yahrzeit of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu was on 25 Sivan.

As told by Rabbi Shmuel Zaafrani, Rabbi Eliyahu’s longtime assistant, to Hillel Fendel, for INN/Arutz Sheva. Adapted and supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles for ascentofsafed.com and kabbalaonline.org

Biographical note:
Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu (1929-25 Sivan 2010), the former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, was born in Iraq. A noted sage in all areas of Torah study, as well as a significant kabbalist, he was considered to be one of the leading authorities on Jewish law in Israel. His son, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, is currently the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Zefat.

Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzira (1890-4 Shvat 1984), or "Baba Sali," as he was affectionately known throughout the Jewish world, was born in Tafillalt Morocco into one of Jewry’s most illustrious families. From a young age he was renowned as a scholar, leader, miracle maker and master kabbalist. In 1964 he moved to Israel, eventually settling in 1970 in the Southern development town he made famous, Netivot, as tens of thousands of Jews made the trek there for his blessing.

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