Zuckerman was mourned by Israel's chief rabbis, politicians, judges and public figures, who were all his students or students of his students.
Rabbi Zuckerman died Saturday evening at the age of 98. He served for many years as head of the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh and later led the introduction of core studies into the Zionist yeshivot. He also founded and headed the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva Network.
Zuckerman, who celebrated his 98th birthday last week, was born in 1915 in the midst of World War I, in Polish Lithuania. He was educated in a local Jewish elementary school, graduating at the early age of 11 and moving on to Torah studies.
Thousands at Rabbi Zuckerman's funeral (Photo: Shira Felbert)
He studied in a yeshiva in the town of Ashmyany, and later in the cities of Krakow, Lida and Pinsk, led by Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky, who later became one of the leaders of the Orthodox Lithuanian public in Israel.
His teachers knew of his ties with the Zionist Movement, but he promised not to spread Zionism among his friends and was allowed to continue his studies. His love for the Land of Israel and his fear of having to enlist with the Polish army, prompted him make efforts to immigrate to Israel, and he gained a certificate as a yeshiva student seeking to study in Israel.
On Lag B'Omer of 1936 he used the permit to immigrate to Israel along with his father. Six years later, his mother and sister were murdered by the Nazis.
Since his immigration, Rabbi Zuckerman did not leave Israel and made sure to celebrate the day of his aliyah every year, refusing to travel abroad for any reason.
Created revolution in high school yeshivot
In Israel he studied at the Beit Yosef-Novardok Yeshiva, again with Rabbi Kanievsky, until he was once exposed to a conversation between Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap, head of Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, and Bnei Akiva members, which won him over.
He later defined it as "a significant experience, a real revolution," saying that "my soul was bound with Rabbi Charlap and his doctrine."
Rabbi who never ceased to connect to youth, its values (Photo: Zviki Aygner)
In a meeting with Rabbi Moshe-Zvi Neria, known as "the father of the knitted skullcaps generation (national-religious Jews)", young Zuckerman was asked to help Bnei Akiva, and he quickly became the movement's coordinator in the Haifa area.
Within a short while he was added to the national management (which he was a member of till the day he died) and was made editor of its journal, Zeraim ("Seeds").
About half a year after Rabbi Moshe-Zvi Neria founded the yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh, in 1940, Rabbi Zuckerman joined him as an educator and Torah teacher, and 10 years later led a move to introduce "secular subjects" into the institution's curriculum. Despite being a student of the Orthodox Lithuanian school, Rabbi Zuckerman saw the secular subjects as highly important.
Additional high school yeshivot followed, sponsored by the religious youth movement, and several years later the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva Network was established and headed by Rabbi Zuckerman until he reached the age of 80.
Rabbi who lived in great modesty
Till the last week of his life, the 98-year-old rabbi insisted on delivering his regular lesson between the afternoon and evening prayer, at the synagogue near his home in Kfar Haroeh, where he had lived for 73 years, and did not miss a single prayer.
For 25 years, Rabbi Zuckerman served as head of the preparatory course of the Bnei Akiva Yeshivot in Givat Shmuel, while continuing his role in Kfar Haroeh. He was also the founder of Yeshivat Hakotel in the Old City of Jerusalem and was a co-founder of other hesder yeshivot. He was also active in the national management of Bnei Akiva, leading the standing committee.
His associates say that the rabbi, who lived a modest life, arrived everywhere by bus. He is survived by his wife, five children and more than 150 great grandchildren – as well as hundreds of thousands of students – members of the "knitted skullcaps generation."
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of Habayit Hayehudi party, said upon learning of his death that "Religious Zionism owes a lot of the oldest of the heads of Zionist yeshivot, Rabbi Avraham Zuckerman."
He added that the rabbi "educated many generations of disciples who advanced the idea of combining Torah and work."
Deputy Minister of Religious Services Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan said that "Rabbi Zuckerman was a great scholar who educated generations of scholars and Religious Zionism followers.
"Only last year we got to see him at a graduation ceremony of the six books of the Mishnah, which were completed by him and three of the following generations: His son, his grandson and his great grandson – a right which is not given to every Jew."
Housing Minister Uri Ariel said that Rabbi Avraham Zuckerman was "a great educator who taught generations of students for more than 60 years. The rabbi believed that still waters run deep, did not try to seek positions, and received his great influence precisely thanks to his great modesty."
Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Leon stressed that "we were all educated according to his methods in all Bnei Akiva institutions." He expressed his hope that "we'll continue to work and live by his doctrine in the Land of Israel."
Tali Farkash contributed to this report