Haim-Moshe Shapira

Haim-Moshe Shapira

Haim-Moshe Shapira (חיים משה שפירא, 26 March 190216 July 1970) was a key Israeli politician in the early days of the state's existence. A signatory of Israel's declaration of independence, he served continuously as a minister from the country's foundation in 1948 until his death in 1970 apart from a brief spell in the late 1950s.


Born in the Russian Empire in Grodno in what is today Belarus, Shapira was educated in a Heder and a Yeshiva, where he organised a youth group called Bnei Zion (lit. Sons of Zion). He worked in the Education and Culture department of the National Jewish Council in Kaunas (now in Lithuania), and in 1919 set up the Young Mizrachi, which became a leading player in the religious zionist youth movement in Lithuania. In 1922 he started work as a teacher at an ultra-orthodox school in Vilnius, and also served on the board of the Mizrahi group in the city. Between 1923 and 1924 he was active in the Young Mizrahi group in Warsaw, before attending a Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin between 1924 and 1925.

In 1925 he was a delegate at the Zionist Congress, where he was elected onto the executive committee. In the same year he immigrated to Mandate Palestine. In 1928 he was elected onto the Central Committee of the Hapoel HaMizrachi movement, and also served as a member of the World Mizrachi committee.

In 1936 he was elected as a member of the Zionist Directorate and a Director of the Aliyah department of the Jewish Agency, a role he filled until 1948. In 1938 he was sent on a special mission to try and save Jews in Austria following the takeover by Nazi Germany.

Political career

Shapira was one of the people to sign Israel's declaration of independence, and was immediately appointed Minister of Health and Minister of Immigration in David Ben-Gurion's provisional government.

In Israel's first elections in 1949, Shapira won a seat as a member of the United Religious Front bloc, an alliance of Agudat Israel, Agudat Israel Workers, Mizrachi and his Hapoel HaMizrachi party. He was reappointed to his previous ministerial posts, and also became Minister of Internal Affairs.

After the 1951 elections in which Hapoel HaMizrachi ran as an independent party, Shapira was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs and Minister of Religions. Following a cabinet reshuffle in 1952, he lost the Internal Affairs portfolio, but was appointed Minister of Welfare instead. Another reshuffle in 1955 saw him regain the Internal Affairs portfolio.

The 1955 elections saw Mizrachi and Hapoel HaMizrachi run as a combined bloc, the National Religious Front, which later became the National Religious Party (NRP). Shapira was reappointed Minister of Religions and Minister of Welfare. In 1957 he was seriously injured by a hand grenade thrown into the Knesset by Moshe Dwek, but survived. He and all other NRP ministers resigned from the cabinet in July 1958, marking the only spell he spent out of office during his time in Israel.

Following the 1959 elections, Shapira returned to the cabinet as Minister of Internal Affairs. After the early elections in 1961, he re-added the health portfolio to his roles.

After elections in 1965 Shapira became just Internal Affairs Minister, a role he retained again after the 1969 elections. He died in office on 16 July 1970.

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