Jerusalem - Noted “Bnei Menashe” Rabbi Dies In Israel
Jerusalem - Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, best known for his global work seeking out the missing ten tribes of Israel, passed away on Thursday at the age of 83.
Born in Jerusalem to European parents in 1932, Rabbi Avichail was drafted by the Israeli Defense Forces to fight in the war for Israel’s independence while he was still a yeshiva student. He served for three years in the army, as reported by Israeli news site Kipa, earning the rank of sergeant at Kibutz Yavneh’s Nahal brigade.
After completing his military service, Rabbi Avichail resumed his education at Kibbutz Saad for five years, before moving on first to Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh and then to Merkaz Harav Kook, where he learned for four years and earned his semicha.
Rabbi Avichail held both a teaching certificate in Biblical Studies and Mishnaas and a doctorate in Jewish Professions.
During his lifetime, Rabbi Avichail ran a kollel for rabbonim in Even Shmuel and trained teachers in Tanach for approximately 20 years at Michlelet Lifshitz and Michlelet Yerushalayim. He also served as the rosh mesivta at several yeshivos including Yeshivat Nechalim and was the student rabbi at Hebrew University during the 1970’s.
But it was his quest to locate the descendants of the lost ten tribes that Rabbi Avichail saw as his true calling, a role he undertook with fervor in 1961. His journey took him first to Peru, where he discovered a community of assimilated Jews, converting 150 people who then moved to Israel. Rabbi Avichail also traveled to Mexico where he located a group who davened regularly and learned Torah and facilitated their immigration to Israel as well.
In 1975, at the urging of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Rabbi Avichail founded Amishav, a non-profit organization dedicated to locating dispersed Jews and restoring them both to Judaism and the land of Israel.
Rabbi Avichail’s work took him to numerous countries including Thailand, Myanmar, China, Spain, Portugal, Japan and South America and he made several trips to northeast India in the 1980’s to research the claims of a group of people who believed that they were descendants of the lost tribes.
During that time Rabbi Avichail collected historic documentation and observed a number of customs that appeared to have Jewish roots, including the observance of three major holidays each year, birth, marriage and funeral customs that were similar to those of Judaism and historical claims of an ancestor known as Manmasi, whose description seemed similar to that of Menashe ben Yosef, prompting Rabbi Avichail to dub the group “Bnei Menashe.” Approximately 1,000 people from the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram have since made the journey back to Judaism and to Israel with Rabbi Avichail’s assistance.
In his lifetime, Rabbi Avichail authored several books which have been translated into multiple languages. He had his wife Rivka, who opened their home to anyone interested in furthering their own yiddishkeit, were honored with Jerusalem’s annual citizenship prize, Yakir Yerushalayim in 2012.
The funeral for Rabbi Avichail was held yesterday at the Ohel Avshalom synagogue in Jerusalem. He leaves behind his wife, six children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
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