Rabbi Eliezer gets excommunicated, and what happened next

What happened after Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol got excommunicated - and how is this connected to Rav Eliezer Berland?


A couple of years’ ago, the great kabbalist in Tiberius, Rav Dov Kook, shlita, gave one of Rav Eliezer Berland’s students a signed note where he stated that Rav Eliezer Berland is a soul spark of the great Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol.

Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol was the undisputed Gadol HaDor, and had a grasp of the revealed and hidden aspects of the Torah that was unparalleled by any of the other Sages of his generation – including his students Rabban Gamliel, and Rabbi Akiva.

Despite the fact that Rav Eliezer Hagadol was the Tzaddik of the generation and on the highest spiritual level, the Sages of that time couldn’t understand him and actually excommunicated him.

The Gemara in Bava Metzia 59b brings an account of the whole story, which began as a debate between Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol and the other Sages, about whether an oven which had come into contact with tumah, spiritual impurity, could ever be declared tahor, or ritually pure, again.

Rabbi Eliezer said ‘yes’, the other Sages said ‘no!’ – and thus the scene was set for the terrible humiliation and excommunication of Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol.


Before we continue, we should understand that the Sages weren’t really arguing about the status of an oven, but about the status of the Jewish people itself, in this terrible period just after the second Beis HaMikdash had been destroyed by the Romans.

Another passage from a different Gemara, this time about Rebbi Meir, sheds some light on this subject. The Maharsha expounds on this passage, and explains that Rebbe Meir was the Gadol HaDor. They used to bring him an impure thing and he used to say it was tahor, pure! And show them the inside of it.

The Maharsha explains that the real, deep intention here is that they would bring him a ‘tamei’ thing – i.e. a person who seemed to be spiritually impure, and very far away from Hashem and very far away from having good middot (character traits) – and Rebbe Meir would pronounce on him: “Tahor! Spiritually pure!”

He would show them that deep down, this person was still spiritually pure, and could still do teshuva and return to Hashem.


The same deep considerations were occurring in relation to Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol’s argument with the other Sages. Let’s return to the Gemara, to see what happened next:

“On that day, R’ Eliezer advanced all the arguments in the world to defend his lenient rulings, but the Sages didn’t accept his arguments.”

R’ Eliezer even caused a number of miracles to happen, to prove that the halacha really accorded with his loftier view of things, including getting a stream of water to flow backwards, and having a heavenly voice (bat kol) weigh in on his side of the argument. But the Sages, led by Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel, were not to be persuaded.

The Gemara continues with a description of what happened next, after this argument:

“On that day, [the Sages] collected all the things that Rabbi Eliezer had declared tahor and burned them in fire in his presence. And they voted on him and excommunicated him…[after Rabbi Eliezer was informed of this…] At that time the world was smitten. A third of the world’s olives, a third of its wheat and a third of its barley became ruined…

“A great blow occurred on that day, for every place on which R’ Eliezer set his eyes went up in flames.”


On Tuesday, November 22, 2016, Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita, was forced to go through an appalling ‘show trial’ where he had to publicly confess to sins he’d never committed. Time and again, the Israeli courts had barred any appeal to release the Rav to house arrest, until the conclusion of his trial.

Behind the scenes, the Rav’s health was suffering tremendously, yet the Israel Prison Service refused permission for the Rav to have the urgent medical attention he required, in order to deal with what was fast becoming a life-threatening situation.

The situation was clear to the Rav’s legal team: If the Rav publicly ‘confessed’ to what he’d been falsely accused of, then the courts and Prison Service would let him see the doctors required to treat his advanced cancer. If not – he’d be forced to sit in prison without adequate medical care for another two years.

Given the stark facts on the ground, there was really no other choice, other than to agree to a plea bargain.

The day that Rav Eliezer Berland was forced to debase himself in court was November 22, 2016. On that day, to quote the Gemara:

“The world was smitten… for every place on which R’ Eliezer set his eyes went up in flames.”

At exactly the same time that the Rav was publicly shamed and sentenced in an Israeli courtroom, the first fires were reported around Zichron Yaakov and in a few other places.

These fires began as Rav Berland left the court in Jerusalem to be taken back to Tzalmon prison, located near Zichron Yaakov. Shortly after the fire in Zichron Yaakov became national news (and before any other major fires had occurred in Israel), the kabbalist Rav Dov Kook from Teveria made the following statement:

“All the terrible forest fires that are happening now around Zichron Yaakov are because of the persecution and suffering of the holy tzaddik, Rav Eliezer Berland. The measure of justice is being weighed out primarily against us in the north, and we need to know that the terrible fires that are burning there in a few different places are because Rav Berland is being held in the north, close to Teveria.

“The Midrash says that when people persecute and shame tzaddikim, then Hakadosh Baruch Hu brings fires to the world! All the slanderers and people who are speaking libels and falsehoods about this awesome, holy  tzaddik should be aware that soon, judgment will occur, and that there is a Judge mamash, who will reveal his [Rav Berland’s] honor and innocence to every eye.”

It was only after Rav Kook’s statement that the north was really hit particularly hard by raging fires. Fires were reported in and around a number of northern cities, including Hadera, Zichron Yaakov and the northern metropolis of Haifa, where more than 75,000 residents had to be evacuated.


More than 250 separate fires continued to rage for more than five days across every part of Israel. While the Israeli government was quick to blame the fires on Arab terrorists, Israel’s Home Front Command stated that no more than 5 percent of the fires appeared to be deliberate acts of arson[1]. The rest had occurred spontaneously, with no obvious cause.


Amazingly, the Daf Yomi being learned on the day that Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita, was being sentenced and shamed in court, November 22, 2016, was…Bava Metzia 59b.


[1] Two weeks after the fires, the Israeli government admitted that they’d only been able to press charges against three Arab arsonists. All the other fires were “unexplained.”


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