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Avraham Shapira, 94; spiritual leader, former chief rabbi of Israel

September 29, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Rabbi Avraham Shapira, 94, an Israeli spiritual leader most famous for urging soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate the Gaza Strip, died Thursday in Jerusalem after a long illness.

A chief rabbi in Israel for 10 years beginning in 1983, Shapira spent much of his life fighting vigorously against territorial concessions to the Palestinians, making him one of the Jewish state's most divisive religious figures.

Shapira helped lead the religious movement that forms the backbone of Israel's settlement enterprise. In 2005, he called on observant soldiers to disobey orders to dismantle 21 Jewish settlements during Israel's withdrawal from Gaza that year.

Many Orthodox Jews oppose any withdrawal from the West Bank or Gaza, considering them sacred land promised to the Jewish people by God. Shapira's call helped foster fervent opposition to the pullout and fears of clashes between settlers and security forces.

The "disengagement" from Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank was completed with no great violence or casualties in September 2005.

Shapira opposed the first Israeli-Palestinian peace accords in 1993, saying Jewish law forbade the transfer of holy land to the Palestinians.

He was a top adjudicator on the Torah and a leader of his movement's Mercaz Harav religious seminary in Jerusalem.

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