Yisrael (Israel) Meir Lau (born 1 June 1937 in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland) is an Israeli and the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Israel, and Chairman of Yad Vashem. He previously served as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1993 to 2003.
Lau was born on 1 June 1937, in the Polish town of Piotrków Trybunalski. His father, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau (Polish: Mojzesz Chaim Lau), the last Chief Rabbi of the town, was killed in the Treblinka extermination camp. Yisrael Meir is the 38th generation in an unbroken family chain of rabbis.
As a seven-year-old, after traumatic separation from his mother, Lau was imprisoned in a Nazi slave labor camp and then in Buchenwald extermination camp. He has attributed his unlikely survival to heroic efforts of his older brother Naphtali Lau-Lavie who concealed him, at constant risk, and enlisted other prisoners in this effort. Yisrael Meir was freed from the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. He became a poster child for miraculous survival, and the inhumanity of the Nazi regime, after U.S. Army chaplain Rabbi Herschel Schacter detected him hiding behind a heap of corpses when the camp was liberated. Lau has credited a teen prisoner with protecting him in the camp (later determined by historian Kenneth Waltzer to be Fyodor Michajlitschenko). His entire family was murdered, with the exception of his older brother, Naphtali Lau-Lavie, his half brother, Yehoshua Lau-Hager, and his uncle already living in Mandate Palestine.
Lau immigrated to Mandate Palestine with his brother Naphtali in July 1945, where he was raised by an aunt and uncle, and studied in the famous yeshiva Kol Torah under Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as well as in Ponevezh and Knesses Chizkiyahu. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1961. He married Chaya Ita Frankel, a daughter of Rabbi Yitzchok Yedidya Frankel, the Rabbi of South Tel Aviv. He served as Chief Rabbi in Netanya (1978–1988), and at that time developed his reputation as a popular orator.
Lau is the father of three sons and five daughters. His eldest son, Moshe Chaim, took his place as Rabbi in Netanya in 1989; his son David became the Chief Rabbi of Modi'in, and later Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel; and his youngest, Tzvi Yehuda, is the Rabbi of North Tel Aviv. Lau is the uncle of Rabbi Binyamin (Benny) Lau, an educator and activist in the Religious Zionist movement, and Amichai Lau-Lavie, the founder and artistic director of the Jewish ritual theater company Storahtelling.
In 2008, Lau was appointed Chairman of Yad Vashem, succeeding Tommy Lapid.