JERUSALEM — Rabbi Yehuda Meir Getz, the first and only Israeli rabbi to preside over the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, has died of a heart attack. He was 71.
Getz, who died Sunday, was to be buried on Jerusalem's Mt. of Olives, said Ofer Amar, a spokesman for the Religious Affairs Ministry.
Born in Tunis, Tunisia, Getz immigrated to Israel as a child and pursued an army career. He was an artillery major during the 1967 Mideast War when Israel captured east Jerusalem, which contains sites that are holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
The war cost Getz dearly--his son was killed fighting in east Jerusalem--and also changed his life. He was appointed overseer of prayers at the Western Wall, the last remnant of the ancient Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans 2,000 years ago.
Getz made his home in the Jewish quarter of disputed east Jerusalem.
Considered a relative moderate in Israel's Orthodox Jewish establishment, Getz avoided conflict at the wall, sensitive because of its proximity to one of Islam's holiest sites, the al-Aqsa mosque.
He was noted for his decision to ban an army ceremony at the Western Wall two years ago because men and women were to stand together, in violation of strict Orthodox Jewish custom.
Getz is survived by his wife and six children.