Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Gedolim Who Matter Part 4 - Rav Moshe Feinstein

From his Wikipedia page:

Rav Moshe was born, according to the Hebrew calendar, on the 7th day of Adar, 5655 (traditionally the date of birth of the Biblical Moshe) in Uzda, near Minsk, Belarus, then part of the Russian empire to his father Rabbi David Feinstein, rabbi of Uzdan. His father was a descendant of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman, Rabbi of Kapolye, whose glosses on the Talmud have been published in the back of the Gemarah; and also the author of other Talmudic works.
He studied with his father and also in yeshivas located in Slutsk, Shklov and Amstislav, before being appointed rabbi of Lubań where he served for sixteen years. Under increasing pressure from the Soviet regime, he moved with his family to New York City in 1936 where he lived for the rest of his life.
Settling on the Lower East Side, he became the rosh yeshiva of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem. He later established a branch of the yeshiva in Staten Island, New York, now headed by his son Rabbi Reuven Feinstein. His son Rabbi Dovid Feinstein heads the Manhattan branch.
He was president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada and chaired the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America from the 1960s until his death. Rabbi Feinstein also took an active leadership role in Israel’s Chinuch Atzmai.
Rabbi Feinstein was revered by many as the Gadol Hador (greatest Torah sage of the generation), including by Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, Rabbi Yonasan Steif, Rabbi Elyah Lopian, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, even though several of them were far older than he. He was universally recognized as the preeminent Torah sage and Posek of his generation, and people from around the world called upon him to answer their most complicated Halachic questions.
Rabbi Feinstein participated in the Rabbis' march on Washington on October 6, 1943.[citation needed]

Notable decisions
Owing to his prominence as an adjudicator of Jewish law, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was asked the most difficult questions, in which he issued a number of innovative or controversial decisions. Soon after arriving in the United States, he established a reputation for handling business and labor disputes. For instance, he wrote about strikes, seniority, and fair competition. Later, he served as the chief Halakhic authority for the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, which suited his growing involvement with Jewish medical ethics cases. In the medical arena, he fiercely opposed the early, unsuccessful heart transplants and, over time, it is unclear if he shifted toward acceptance of brain death criteria. The last 'responsa', printed after he had died, suggested it. On such matters, he consulted with various scientific experts, including his son-in-law Rabbi Dr. Moshe Dovid Tendler who is a professor of biology and serves as a rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University.
As a leader of American Orthodoxy, moreover, Feinstein issued opinions that clearly distanced his community from Conservative and Reform Judaism.[1] Nevertheless, he faced intense opposition within Orthodoxy on several controversial decisions, such as rulings on artificial insemination and eruv. Indeed, on the former, Rabbi Feinstein may be read as having reversed or seriously qualified his position. In the case of his position not to prohibit cigarette smoking, Orthodox rabbinic authorities overruled, in effect, his decision after his death. He made noteworthy decisions on the following topics:
Artificial insemination from a non-Jewish donor (EH I:10,71, II:11, IV:32.5) [2]
Cosmetic surgery (HM II:66)[3]
Bat Mitzvah for girls (OH I:104 (1956), OH II:97 (1959), OH IV:36)[4]
Brain death as an indication of death under Jewish law (YD IV:54)[5]
Cheating for the N.Y. Regents exams (HM II:30)
Classical music in religious settings (YD II:111)
Commemorating the Holocaust, Yom ha-Shoah (YD IV:57.11)
Conservative Judaism, including its clergy and schools (e.g., YD II:106-107)[6]
Donating blood for pay (HM I:103)
Education of girls (e.g., YD II:109, YD II:113 YD III:87.2)[7]
End-of-life medical care[5]
Eruv projects in New York City
Financial ethics (HM II:29)) [8]
Hazardous medical operations[5]
Heart transplantation (YD 2:174.3)[5]
Labor union and related employment privileges (e.g., HM I:59)
Mehitza (esp. OH I:39) [9]
Psychiatric care (YD II:57)
Separation of Siamese twins [10]
Shaking hands between men and women (OH I:113; EH I:56; EH IV:32)[11]
Smoking marijuana (YD III:35)
Tay-Sachs fetus abortion, esp. in debate with Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg [12]
Smoking cigarettes [13]
Veal raised in factory conditions (HM I:103)
Note: Responsa in Igrot Moshe are cited in parentheses

Moshe Feinstein's grave

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein died on the 23 March 1986 (13th of Adar II, 5746 on the Hebrew calendar). It has been pointed out that the 5746th verse in the Torah reads, "And it came to pass after Moshe had finished writing down the words of this Torah in a book to the very end." (Deuteronomy 31:24). This is taken by some as a fitting epitaph for him.
At the time he was regarded as Orthodoxy's foremost rabbinic scholar and Posek. His funeral in Israel was delayed by a day due to mechanical problems to the plane carrying his coffin, which had to return to New York. His funeral in Israel was said to be the largest among Jews since the Mishnaic era, with an estimated attendance of 300,000 people. Among the eulogizers in America were Rabbis Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, David Lipschutz, Shraga Moshe Kalmanowitz, Nissan Alpert, Moshe David Tendler, Michel Barenbaum and Mordechai Tendler. The Satmar Rebbe and the son of the deceased, Rabbi Reuven also spoke.
In Israel, Rabbis Elazar Menachem Shach, Dovid Povarsky, Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss, Yehuda Tzadkah, Rabbi Feinstein's son Reuven and Rabbi Feinsteins's nephew Rabbi Michel Feinstein, all tearfully expressed grief over what they termed a massive loss to the generation.
Rabbi Feinstein was held in such great esteem that Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who was himself regarded as a Torah giant, Talmid Chacham and posek, refused to eulogize him, saying "Who am I to eulogize him? I studied his sefarim; I was his talmid (student)."
Rabbi Feinstein was buried on Har HaMenuchot in proximity to his teacher, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer; his friend, Rabbi Aharon Kotler; his son-in-law Rabbi Moshe Shisgal and next to the Belzer Rebbe.

Prominent students
Rabbi Moshe invested much time molding some of his select students to become leaders in Rabbinics and Halacha. Those students, over the years, spent countless hours a day serving as apprentices to their great Rabbi. Most are considered authorities in many areas of practical Halacha and Rabbinic and Talmudic academics. Some of those students are:
Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, (New York), his son
Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, (New York), his son
Rabbi Nissan Alpert, (New York, NY)
Rabbi Moshe David Tendler, (New York, NY), his son-in-law
Rabbi J. David Bleich, (New York, NY)
Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt (Memphis,TN)
Rabbi Avrohom Blumenkrantz, (Far Rockaway, NY)
Rabbi Elimelech Bluth, (Brooklyn, NY)
HaRav Chaim Ozer Chait, (Far Rockaway, NY)

Rabbi Feinstein's greatest renown stemmed from a lifetime of responding to halachic queries posed by Jews in America and worldwide. He wrote about two thousand responsa on a huge range of issues that affect Jewish practice in the modern era. Some responsa may be found in his Talmudic commentary (Dibros Moshe), some circulate informally, and 1,883 responsa were published in Igrot Moshe. Among Rabbi Feinstein's works:
Igros Moshe; (Epistles of Moshe), a classic eight-volume work of Halachic responsa.
Dibros Moshe (Moshe's Words), an eleven-volume work of Talmudic novellae.
Darash Moshe (Moshe Expounds, a reference to Leviticus 10:16), novellae on the Torah (published posthumously).
Some of Rabbi Feinstein's early works, including a commentary on the Talmud Yerushalmi, were destroyed by the Soviet authorities.
Why he matters:
What made Rav Feinstein, zt"l, different was that he was not beholden to a political ideology. Too often nowadays what makes one a Gadol isn't so much immense Torah knowledge but belonding to a particular party or group. Rav X, being Chareidi, is a Gadol. Rav Y, being Modern Orthodox, may be just as knowledgeable but doesn't qualify for Gadol status because he's not Charedi. As a result, many halachic decisions by certain rabbinic figures get ignored by either the Chareidi or the Modern Orthodox communites because the ruling came from someone who "wasn't one of ours".
However, Rav Feinstein was beyond all such nonsense. He clearly paskened for the sake of finding halachic truth, not because he was beholden to a pre-packaged ideology. In addition, unlike today's Gedolim, he was not surrounded by askanim who definitely come to their leaders with their biases unfurled for all to see. One can therefore understand why quoting from the Igros Moshe carries more currency across the Orthodox spectrum than from the latest volume of Rav Eliashiv or Shteiman's teshuvos.
As Rav Feinstein noted in the introduction to his Igros Moshe, God did a wonderful thing leaving the Torah in our hands. Because the Torah is truth, and because it is not in Heaven, poskim have the opportunity (along with the heavy responsiblity it involves) to create truth. It is this purity of attitude that distinguishes him from many who came after and why he continues to hold so much influence in the Torah world today.

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