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Yehuda Amital

(1924 - 2010)

Rabbi Yehuda Amital was an Orthodox Rabbi, head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva and a member of the Israeli Cabinet.

Amital (born October 31, 1924; died July 9, 2010) was born in Transylvania, modern-day Romania. As a boy he studied in heder and yeshiva, and had virtually no formal secular education. In 1943, the Nazis deported him to a labor camp; the rest of his family perished in Auschwitz. Upon his liberation in December 1944, he emigrated to pre-State Israel.

Amital resumed his yeshiva studies in Jerusalem, where he received rabbinical ordination and also joined the Haganah, fighting in the battles of Latrun and the Western Galilee in Israel's 1948 War of Independence.

Rabbi Amital foresaw that the exemption from army service granted to yeshiva students would increase the friction between the religious and secular communities, and make it almost impossible for the yeshiva world to maintain an appreciation for the religious signifcance of the accomplishments of the new State. He took an active role in developing Yeshivat HaDarom, and it was there that he formulated the idea of the "yeshivat hesder", combining yeshiva study and military service. It was at Yeshivat HaDarom that the first hesder group was organized.

After the liberation of Gush Etzion in the Six Day War of 1967, Rabbi Amital was asked to open a "yeshivat hesder" in the area. In 1968 Yeshivat Har Etzion first opened its doors to thirty students in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, not far from the site of today's yeshiva in Alon Shvut. Together with Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Rabbi Amital still serves as head of the Har Etzion yeshiva.

With the rank of captain (res.) in the Armored Corps, Rabbi Amital continues to represent the "yeshivot hesder" in the Israeli defense network.

In 1993 he founded "Meimad, the Movement for Religious Zionist Renewal", a public policy movement aimed at rejuvenating the traditional religious Zionist principles of openness, breadth of vision, and concern for the welfare of all segments of the State of Israel.

He served as Minister without Portfolio from November 1995 until July 1996.

In October 2008, Amital officially retired from his position leading the Har Etzion yeshiva and was succeeded by Moshe Liechtenstein.

Rabbi Amital died on July 9, 2010. Thousands attended his funeral in Jerusalem. He is survived by his wife and five children.

Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Wikipedia