Tens of thousands of Jews converged on the Lower East Side Monday to pay their last respects to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the world’s outstanding authorities on Jewish law and author of multi-volume texts of responsa and Talmudic commentary, who died Sunday at the age of 91.
At least 50,000 mourners packed the streets outside Tifereth Jerusalem, the yeshiva where Feinstein served as dean since he came to the United States in 1937. Afterwards, a long cortege followed his casket to JFK Airport. His body was flown to Israel Monday for burial at Har Menuchot cemetery in Jerusalem Tuesday night.
Leading rabbis spoke of Feinstein’s prodigious scholarship, and stressed as well his piety, humility and sense of mission. He made himself accessible to all people with problems seeking his counsel and blessings; to young scholars who needed clarification of difficult Talmudic passages; and to seasoned rabbis who sought his advice and opinion on complicated halachic issues.
STRUCTURED EACH DAY FOR SCHOLARLY PURSUIT
Associates recalled Feinstein’s “hasmada” (diligence). He structured every minute of the day for some scholarly pursuit, such as a review of two chapters of Mishnayos while folding his tefillin straps. He reviewed the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law, more than 300 times during his life.
Feinstein served as president of Agudas Israel of America from 1966 – 1980 and had headed its presidium since the early 1950’s. He also headed the organization’s Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages), which he chaired since 1962; and was president of the Agudas Harabbonim (Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada) from 1968 to 1980.
He was a member of the rabbinical board of Torah Umesorah, the National Society of Hebrew Day Schools, of which he served as vice president and was a member of the Board of Governors of Chinch Atzmai/Torah Schools for Israel.
Feinstein’s prolific responsa to halachic queries from all over the Jewish world from 1950-75 were published in the seven-volume “Igroth Moshe” (Letters of Moshe). He also published, between1948-79, 13 volumes of Talmudic commentary, “Dibroth Moshe” (Moshe’s Statements).
Feinstein was born in 1895 in Uzda, near Pinsk, Russia, and was reared in an atmosphere of rabbinic scholarship and responsibility. His father, Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, served as rabbi of Uzda for 25 years and then assumed the rabbinate in Starobin, where he served another 22 years. As a young man, Moshe Feinstein studied at the famed yeshiva of Slutsk under Rabbi Issur Zalman Meltzer, and later in Schklov under Rabbi Pesach Pruskin.
Following his ordination in 1921, Feinstein assumed the rabbinate in Luban, Russia, a position he held until 1936. But for more than 10 years he was under house arrest in Luban for religious activities. Nevertheless, he continued to gain international renown as an outstanding Talmudic scholar. Through diplomatic intervention, he succeeded in obtaining an exit visa to the U.S. in 1936.
On his arrival here the following year, Feinstein was invited to head the yeshiva Tifereth Jerusalem on East Broadway on the Lower East Side, then still a flourishing center of Jewish life, learning and culture. Tifereth Jerusalem was a small school. Under Feinstein’s leadership it grew, reaching its peak enrollment of 800 students during the 1950’s.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.