The late Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim was a prominent, outspoken spiritual leader. He was a thorough adjudicator with practical knowledge and wisdom, whose rulings were direct and to the point. He knew how to listen and draw people in with his radiant demeanor and influential persona.
Rabbi Nissim was born in Baghdad in 1895 and immigrated to Jerusalem in 1925. In 1955, he was chosen to serve as the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel. His work reflected his independent and unique spirit. He set proper standards for the Chief Rabbinate and rabbinical courts as well as for training and appointing rabbis and rabbinical judges who would bring the word of Torah to the entire Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.
The Rabbi strived to break down barriers and encourage dialogue between different parts of the population. He did so through visiting kibbutzim, moshavim (cooperative settlements) and cities in Israel, taking trips to the Diaspora and by holding open house events in his own home. He was a patient and appreciative listener who voiced his opinions clearly and concisely. This was how he built bridges within the Israeli people.
In precedential rulings, Rabbi Nissim laid the Jewish Law foundation for Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Day, encouraged Torah studies for women and Bat Mitzva celebrations for girls, and resolved complex Halachic issues such as allowing marriage with “Bnei Israel” (Indian Jews) and making conversion accessible to immigrants from the Soviet Union.
Rabbi Nissim met with leaders of many religions and called upon them to act together to promote tolerance and peace in the world. The Rabbi made sure that Judaism and the larger religions were equally honored and respected during these encounters.
Even when the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall were under foreign rule, Rabbi Nissim publicly expressed his yearning to unite the city and protested violations of the agreements that promised Jews free access to the holy sites. After the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967, Rabbi Nissim moved the Great Rabbinical Court to a location near the Western Wall and worked to make the Western Wall plaza a worthy place for the multitudes of pilgrims who came there to pray. The Rabbi called on the Jews of the Diaspora to immigrate to Israel, to build and be built in the Jewish homeland.
Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim served as the Sephardic Chief Rabbi for 18 years, until 1973. He passed away on Tisha B’Av, 1981.