Special to the CJR
A Canadian-born rabbi who headed a Toronto synagogue and became a world-renowned authority on Jewish law, died in Israel on May 6.
Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch was 92.
He was dean of the Birkat Moshe hesder yeshiva in Maale Adumim on the West Bank and a highly respected posek (Jewish legal scholar and decisor) on issues of Halachah.
Yeshivas in the hesder movement combine service in the Israel Defense Forces with Torah study.
Born in Montreal in 1932, he studied at Yeshivas Ner Israel in Baltimore, where he received smichah (ordination). He went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics from Johns Hopkins University, and later completed a PhD in the philosophy of science from the University of Toronto. His doctorate examined statistics as they apply to probability in the Talmud.
From 1952 to 1963, he was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Charleston, South Carolina. He served as spiritual leader of Toronto’s Clanton Park Synagogue from 1963 to 1971.
Rabbi Rabinovitch established himself as a leading expert on the Jewish sage Rambam, Clanton Park’s Rabbi Yehoshua Weber, told The CJR.
“I was always mesmerized by his range of knowledge. He was famous for his magnum opus in the Rambam, he was the consummate rosh yeshiva, a leading halachic authority, and he had an unusual way of addressing contemporary issues in an exceptionally open-minded, sensitive way,” Rabbi Weber said.
After Toronto, Rabbi Rabinovitch moved to London, England, where he served as dean of the London School of Jewish Studies and became a close spiritual advisor to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who went on to become the United Kingdom’s chief rabbi.
Rabbi Sacks eulogized Rabbi Rabinovitch as “one of the intellectual, moral, and spiritual giants of our time…a bold and formidable posek.
“He was above all a teacher, raising up many generations of Torah scholars and fighters for the State of Israel,” Rabbi Sacks wrote on Twitter. “He was my Rav, I was his disciple, and I count that one of the greatest blessings of my life,” he added.
Rabbi Rabinovitch assumed duties at the Birkat Moshe Yeshiva after making aliyah in 1983.
In 2015, he co-founded the Giyur K’Halacha rabbinical courts, which provided conversions to Judaism outside the state-run Chief Rabbinate, and he was remembered as a champion of easing the process, the Times of Israel reported. He served as the court’s senior rabbinical judge.
The decision to set up an independent conversion court was opposed by some senior rabbinical figures in the religious-Zionist community for undermining the Chief Rabbinate, The Jerusalem Post reported. But Rabbi Rabinovitch persisted.
Rabbi Rabinovitch’s death was also mourned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Rabbi Rabinovitch was a polymath — a tremendous scholar, a prominent legal decisor and an educated scientist,” said Netanyahu in a statement. “Maimonides was his model of the educated Jew merging Torah and wisdom. His love of the land of Israel brought Rabbi Rabinovitch to the hesder yeshiva in Ma’ale Adumim, in which he groomed Torah scholars serving in the IDF. His spiritual leadership was characterized by merging devotion to Halachah and social sensitivity. The issue of conversion was dear to his heart and he sought to bring people closer.”
The head of the Association of Hesder Yeshivot, Uri Pinsky, mourned “the loss of a great luminary and teacher to thousands” and as “one of the most important arbiters and disseminators of Torah in our generation, who established generations of students who sanctify the name of Heaven in everything they, and in whose footsteps they go.”
The Orthodox Union eulogized “one of the greatest poskim in the religious Zionist world in Israel.”
Rabbi Rabinovitch was the father of six children. His daughter, Dina Rabinovitch, a columnist for The Guardian, died in 2007 of breast cancer at the age of 45.