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Zerach Warhaftig

Zerach Warhaftig Israeli rabbi and politician

Israeli rabbi and politician
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Israeli rabbi and politician
Was Politician Rabbi Lawyer
From Israel
Type Law Politics Religion
Gender male
Birth 2 February 1906, Vawkavysk
Death 26 September 2002, Jerusalem (aged 96 years)
Star sign AquariusAquarius
The details

Zerach Warhaftig (Hebrew: זרח ורהפטיג‎‎, Yiddish: זרח ווארהאפטיק‎, also Zorah Wahrhaftig; 2 February 1906 - 26 September 2002) was an Israeli lawyer and politician. He was a signatory of Israel's Declaration of Independence.


Zerach Warhaftig was born in Volkovysk in the Russian Empire (today Vawkavysk, Belarus) in 1906. His parents were Yerucham Warhaftig and Rivka Fainstein.

In 1941 Warhaftig and his family travelled east from Lithuania to Japan. On 5 June 1941 the Warhaftigs left Yokohama on the Japanese ocean liner Hikawa Maru and on 17 June they landed at Vancouver, Canada. He described the trip as "a summer vacation and with the war seeming to be so far away" although, he said "I didn't have a peaceful mind because of the strong responsibility I had to help the Jewish refugees with the troubles they faced."

In World War II Rabbi Warhaftig convinced the Japanese Vice-Consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, to issue visas for the entire Mir Yeshiva. By so doing, Chiune Sugihara saved thousands of lives and families from the Nazis who had occupied first Poland and then Lithuania.

In 1947 Warhaftig immigrated to Mandatory Palestine. Initially he joined the Hapoel HaMizrachi party, a religious-zionist party, and in 1949 he was elected to the first Knesset as part of the United Religious Front, an alliance between Mizrachi, Hapoel HaMizrachi, Agudat Yisrael and Poalei Agudat Yisrael. In 1948-1963 he taught Jewish Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The party contended in the 1951 elections alone. Although it won only two seats, it was included in David Ben-Gurion's coalition, and Warhaftig was appointed Deputy Minister of Religions in the fourth government. In 1956, Hapoel HaMizrachi and Mizrachi merged to form the National Religious Party. Warhaftig led the party and retained his ministerial role until the end of the third Knesset.

After the 1961 elections (the fifth Knesset) he was appointed Minister of Religions, a position he held until 1974. In 1981 he retired from the Knesset.

Warhaftig was among the founders of Bar-Ilan University.

Awards and recognition

  • In 1983 Warhaftig was awarded the Israel Prize, for his special contribution to society and the State of Israel in the advancement of Hebrew law.
  • In 1989 he received the Yakir Yerushalayim (Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem) award from the city of Jerusalem.

The Dr. Zerah Warhaftig Institute for Research on Religious Zionism at Bar Ilan University is named for him.

Published works

  • “A Constitution for Israel” an article in Yavne Compilation: Political Problems in Israel pgs 17-21, (Hebrew, April 1949)
  • “On Rabbinical Judgments in Israel” (collected speeches) (Hebrew, 1956)
  • “Legal Issues in the Talmud” (from lectures) (Hebrew, 1957)
  • Editor with Shlomo Zeven: “Remembrance: a Torah Collection in Memory of Rabbi Yizhak HaLevi Herzog” (Hebrew, 1962)
  • “Chattel in Jewish Law” (Hebrew, 1964)
  • “Problems of State and Religion” (articles and speeches) (Hebrew, 1973)
  • Edited: “Religion and State in Legislation: A Collection of Laws and Rulings” (Hebrew, 1973)
  • “The Declaration of Independence and Orders for the Order of Government and the Judiciary (1948 and Problems of Religion and State)” in The Book of Shragai (Hebrew, 1982)
  • “Refugee and Remnant during the Holocaust” (Hebrew, 1984)
  • “Researches in Jewish Law” (Hebrew, 1985)
  • “A Constitution for Israel – Religion and State” (Hebrew, 1988)
  • Refugee and Survivor: Rescue Attempts during the Holocaust. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem. 1988. 

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