Photo Credit: Miriam Alster / Flash 90
Minister for Religious Services MK David Azoulay

Religious Affairs Minister Rabbi David Azoulay passed away Tuesday at the age of 64 after a months-long battle with cancer.

The minister stepped down from his position as a member of the Knesset this past March as the cancer advanced, and the need to focus on treatment took priority.

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Earlier this month, doctors were called to his home, however, as it became clear that his health was deteriorating.

“For a lengthy period we prayed for David’s recovery as he battled a difficult disease. To our sorrow, his fight for life ended a few hours ago,” wrote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of tweets.

“For over two decades, David served as an MK and initiated many laws the purpose of which was to benefit the citizens. He was an outstanding and industrious minister who brightened everyone’s face; he loved peace and pursued peace. I and the entire government will miss him,” he wrote.

“We send deep condolences to his wonderful family, including his son Yinon who is following his path as an MK. We will all miss David very much. May his memory be blessed.”

President Reuven Rivlin also wrote of his sorrow in hearing the news of his friend, “one of the politicians most connected to all the tribes of Israel,” as he put it. “He faithfully dealt with the needs of the public his whole life, along with his endless devotion to his wonderful family,” Rivlin wrote. “His memory is in our hearts.”

“I weep for my dear friend, my beloved, my partner for decades, who has now passed away after enduring agony at the age of 64,” said Interior Minister Arye Deri, chairman of the Orthodox Sephardic Shas party.

“Rabbi David, the honest, humble, kind man of action – a true tzaddik – has died and left his family, the Shas family and the people of Israel, hurt and lacking. May his memory be a blessing, Deri said.

Azoulay, born in 1954 in the city of Meknes, Morocco, immigrated with his family to Israel when he was nine years old. He enlisted in the IDF after graduating from yeshiva high school, and served as a combat medic. After discharge he studied to become a teacher, working in the field until 1993; but he also served on the Acre city council from 1978 until 1993 as well, overseeing social services in the city. He later became deputy head of the Nahal Iron Regional Council on behalf of the Interior Ministry, and eventually became regional council head.

In 1996, Azoulay was elected to the Knesset for the first time, and served from then on in a variety of positions, from which he filed a total of 780 legislative bills. He served as Deputy Interior Minister under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; and in May 2015, was chosen to serve as Minister of Religious Affairs under Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The funeral for Rabbi David Azoulay was set to begin Tuesday evening at 11:00 pm at the Sanhedria cemetery in Jerusalem with the prime minister and other top officials in attendance.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.