Lau, Israel Meir

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LAU, ISRAEL MEIR (1937– ), formerly Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, since 2005 Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv. Born in Piotrkow, Poland, Lau is a member of a rabbinic family, descendants of Meir ben Isaac *Katzenellenbogen, the Maharam of Padua. His father, Rabbi Moshe Ḥayyim Lau, who perished in Treblinka, was the last rabbi of Piotrkow. Lau is a 37th generation rabbi in his family.

As a young child Israel Lau experienced the Holocaust in the Piotrkow ghetto, the Czestochowa work camp, and the Buchenwald concentration camp from which he was liberated at the end of the war, in 1945, with his brother Naftali. In the summer of 1945, he was brought to Palestine by Youth Aliyah on a ship of child Holocaust survivors.

He lived with his uncle, Mordechai Fogelman, the rabbi of Kiryat Motzkin, near Haifa, until the age of 13 and then spent many years studying in yeshivot in Jerusalem, Bene Berak, and elsewhere in Israel. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1960 and served as a congregational rabbi in Tel Aviv for 11 years, after which he was appointed regional Tel Aviv rabbi. In 1979 he became chief rabbi of Netanyah where, among other communal and educational activities, he founded the Ohel Mosheh yeshivah in his father's memory.

From 1983 he served on the council of the Chief Rabbinate, and in 1988 he was chosen chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. In March 1993 he was elected chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel. He served until April 2003. In 2005, he was again appointed chief rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Throughout his rabbinic career Lau has been active in communal affairs and has been a spokesman for the observant community, commenting on a wide variety of subjects. When Pope John Paul ii made his unprecedented apology for the sins of the Roman Catholic Church against the Jews in 2000, Lau expressed his disappointment that the pope did not mention the slaughter of millions of Jews by the Nazis during World War ii. Nevertheless, in that same year, Lau attended a United Nations "Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders." In 2001, when then Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, offered Yasser Arafat sovereignty over the Temple Mount, Lau stated that "there is no mandate for concessions on the Temple Mount, not for the government, not for the rabbinate, not for anyone. Conceding the Temple Mount is like denying our historic and biblical right to all of the Land of Israel" (Jerusalem Report, January 15, 2001). In 2004, Lau proclaimed that the end was near for European Jewry, given the dwindling European Jewish population and the rise in antisemitism. In September 2005, Lau was one of those who officiated at the reburial of those interred in the *Gush Katif cemetery. Accompanied by tens of thousands of people, Lau led the reburial ceremony on the Mount of Olives, the result of the disengagement from Gaza (the removal of Jewish settlers from their homes there in August 2005).

In 1978 he published Yahadut Halakhah le-Ma'aseh (German edition, 1988; English edition, 1997). In 1993, he published Ḥag Matan Torah, insights into the holiday of Shavuot. In 1994, Lau issued a two-volume set of responsa, Sefer Yaḥel Yisra'el. He published his commentary on the Passover Haggadah in 2002 and his autobiography, Al Tishlaḥ Yadkha elha-Na'ar, in 2005.


Y. Alfasi, Toledot Kehilat Tel Aviv-Yaffo ve-Rabbaneha ha-Rashiim (1988).

[David Derovan (2nd ed.)]