As his name ‘son of Zion’ or ‘Ben-Zion states’, Rabbi Uziel was born in Jerusalem in 1880, the newest member of a very prestigious Sephardi family. His father, Joseph Raphael, was the Av Beth-Din of the Sephardi community in Jerusalem. Following in his father’s footsteps, by the age of twenty, Ben-Zion Uziel was teaching at the Tiferet Yerushalayim Yeshiva and helped found the Machzikei-Torah Yeshiva for Sephardim.
In 1911, Rabbi Uziel was appointed ‘Hacham’ of the Sephardi community in Jaffa and immediately attempted to improve the community functions, raising the status of the community in the eyes of the rest of the yishuv. Here he became friendly with Rabbi A. I. Kook and together they worked for better inter-communal relations between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. He set up yeshivot, improved the Beth Din and helped build various community centers.
During World War I he worked tirelessly for the protection of the rights of the Jews in Eretz Israel. He was exiled to Damascus along with the rest of the community by the Turkish rulers in 1917, but was allowed to return before the coming of the British army. In 1920 he joined the Mizrachi movement and worked on behalf of Mizrachi and the Sephardi communities in Eretz Yisrael and in the Diaspora until his death.
Rabbi Uziel’s travels took him to many countries where he sought to persuade the Jews of the area to come to Israel. However, at the same time, the realities of the moment were his major concern. While serving as the Rabbi of Salonika, Greece for three years (a post he accepted temporarily and with the permission of the Jaffa community) he was able to set up a system of Talmud Torah and yeshiva institutes. It is said that during his leadership the community was completely devoted to keeping Shabbat and Kashrut. Upon returning to Israel he became the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and in 1939, Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Eretz Israel. In this capacity he represented his community to the British mandatory government.
Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel was responsible for founding the Sh’aar Zion Yeshiva and had a hand in the beginning of the Porat Yosef Yeshivot, which now exist in many cities of Eretz Israel. As a member of the Mizrachi movement he traveled to Iraq and the United States to generate interest in aliya and financial support for the yishuv. He also served as a Mizrachi delegate to the Zionist Congress from 1925-46. He was a prolific writer and two of his most famous works are: ‘Mishpetei Uziel’ – Responsa, and ‘Sha’arei Uziel’ – Writings.
From His Writings:
The State of Israel and the Ingathering of the Exiles
“Listen to me my brethren and sons of my people…for it is a great and wondrous thing that has been revealed in this generation for the mighty hand of God towards His chosen people has been revealed, in that He has gathered our scattered ones and brought them up to the Land of our forefathers so that we may be a nation resting upon its own land.
The ingathering of exiles, which has taken place during the past few years, is the seed from which will flower the complete redemption. The appointed time will then arrive and the Creator of the world who has His chosen people and Holy Land will cause the spirit of wisdom and strength to rest with us. In the hearts of all our brave pioneers may they receive the crown of victory and may He give us this land, which was sworn to our forefathers.
Remember this, know and believe that it is the hand of God that performs this in order to fulfill the words of His holy prophets and for the eternal peace of the Jewish nation and for the peace of the whole world. He has caused peace to be dependent upon Israel and their adherence to the Torah and commandments, for by their hand, the Holy One of Israel will be sanctified and will redeem and teach the nations to know the oneness of God. This belief will bring upon its wings peace and truth within our fold and a just peace between all the nations and man shall neither fear nor destroy his fellow man, neither will government nor nations destroy one another for they will all know Him. The land will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters of the sea.
I end with this blessing:
“May the Lord our God remain with us as He did with our fathers and may He neither abandon nor forsake us, and may our hearts yearn for Him to walk in all His paths, to follow His commandments so that we may be blessed with goodness for all our days.”
The Redemption of Israel
“We all desire that the ingathering of the exiles should take place from all areas where they have been scattered; and that our holy language will be upon our lips and upon the lips of our children, in building the Land and its flowering through the hands and work of Israel; and we will all strive to see the flag of freedom and redemption waving in glory and strength upon the walls of Jerusalem. But we cannot agree with those who view the buying of land as a final objective. Such purchases serve as the first step in clothing of the soul of life and the Torah of the nation and for this we must strive…
Those who say that the laws of our Torah have become useless, antiquated relics and its values have outlived their purpose are gravely mistaken. For we know with clear and true knowledge that the laws of God are truth and each day they are as new as the day they were given at Mount Sinai, and all human enlightenment until our present day has not succeeded in revealing and reaching the level of moral justice in society as well as in the family, nor the same level of righteousness of the Torah of Israel, whose ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.”
The Living Land: Beit Uziel
Beit Uziel, named in memory of Rav Uziel is a religious moshav of 70 families in central Israel. New immigrants from North Africa founded Beit Uziel in 1965. Beit Uziel is located on Route 44 between Ramla and the Nachshon Junction. Beit Uziel sits on 3210 dunams of land, 1,420 of which is use for agricultural purposes. The main produce of Beit uziel is: fruits including grapes, vegetables, cotton and chickens. Beit Uziel houses the Revah halachic research institute that specializes in the commandments that are dependent on the Land of Israel.