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Former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who opposed Israeli pullout from Gaza, dies at 81

JERUSALEM (AP) — A former chief rabbi who encouraged Israelis to oppose removal of settlements and blamed Reform Jewry for the Holocaust died Monday, a Jerusalem hospital said. He was 81.

Mordechai Eliyahu served as chief rabbi for Israel's Jews of Mideast origin from 1983-1993.

He was born in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1929, the son of a famed Jewish sage and mystic of Iraqi descent.

After his term as chief rabbi, he became a lightning rod for extreme nationalist Israeli elements, especially religiously motivated settlers in the West Bank and Gaza.

He led prayers at a mass rally in Jerusalem in 2004 against Israel's intention to pull out of Gaza and some settlements in the West Bank. The plan was implemented despite settler resistance in 2005.

Eliyahu outraged many with his declarations, some linking current events with historical occurrences.

In 2004, he stated that the tsunami that killed 230,000 people in Asia and Africa was divine retribution for their governments' support for concessions to the Palestinians.

In 2006, a group of Reform Jews in Israel, among them some Holocaust survivors, filed a complaint with police after Eliyahu said in a radio interview that the Nazi murder of 6 million European Jews was punishment for changes to Jewish ritual initiated by the Reform movement, which first gained prominence in Germany.

Eliyahu suffered from failing health over the past year.

He is survived by his wife and four children, one of whom, Shmuel, is chief rabbi of the northern Israeli town of Safed. He was to be buried late Monday in Jerusalem.