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Moshe Feinstein (March 3, 1895March 23, 1986) was a Lithuanian Orthodox rabbi, scholar and posek (an authoritative adjudicator of questions related to Jewish law), who was world-renowned for his expertise in Halakha and was regarded by many as the de facto supreme rabbinic authority for Orthodox Jewry of North America. In the Orthodox world, it is universal to refer to him simply as "Rav Moshe" or "Reb Moshe."

Biography

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 Minskmarker, Belarusmarker, then part of the Russian empiremarker 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 Slutskmarker, Shklovmarker and Amstislavmarker, before being appointed rabbi of Lubań where he served for sixteen years. Under increasing pressure from the Soviet regimemarker, he moved with his family to New York Citymarker in 1936 where he lived for the rest of his life.

Settling on the Lower East Sidemarker, he became the rosh yeshiva of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalemmarker. He later established a branch of the yeshiva in Staten Island, New Yorkmarker, now headed by his son Rabbi Reuven Feinstein. His son Rabbi Dovid Feinstein heads the Manhattanmarker 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.

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, suggests so. 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 Universitymarker.

As a leader of American Orthodoxy, moreover, Rabbi Feinstein issued opinions that clearly distanced his community from Conservative and Reform Judaism. 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. It should be noted that all his detractors while disagreeing with specific rulings still considered him to be a leading and venerated sage. He made noteworthy decisions on the following topics:

Note: Responsa in Igrot Moshe are cited in parentheses

Moshe Feinstein's grave
Moshe Feinstein's grave


Death

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 Israelmarker 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 Israelmarker 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, Dovid Lifshitz, Shraga Moshe Kalmanowitz, Nisson Alpert, Moshe David Tendler, Michel Barenbaum and Mordechai Tendler and the Satmar Rebbe. 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 HaMenuchotmarker 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 Belzermarker 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:



Works

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.

References

  1. For example, see Roth, Joel. The Halakhic Process: A Systematic Analysis, JTS: 1986, pp.71ff. Robinson (2001).
  2. Cohen, A. in JHCS
  3. Halperin (2006)
  4. See esp. Joseph (1995)
  5. Feinstein & Tendler (1996)
  6. Roth (1989), op. cit. on YD 139.
  7. Joseph (1995)
  8. Tzedakah and Tzedek: Halachic & Ethical Financial Requirements Pertaining to Charitable Organizations by Daniel Feldman [1]
  9. Baruch Litvin, The Sanctity of the Synagogue, 1962
  10. Tendler excerpt on Jlaw.com
  11. See Negiah, section entitled "Shaking Hands in Halacha," for a discussion regarding Rav Moshe's opinion on this topic, both with regard to initiating a handshake and with regard to returning a handshake (i.e. where the other party extends his/her hand first). For a translation of R' Moshe's three Teshuvos (responsa) on men shaking hands with women, see [2]
  12. E.g., see Sinclair, Daniel. Jewish Biomedical Law 2004
  13. See RCA decision and, earlier, RCA Roundtable. (Statement by progressive Orthodox Rabbis Saul Berman, Reuven Bulka, Daniel Landes and Jeffrey Woolf.) “Proposal on smoking” (unpublished) July 1991.


Bibliography

  • Ellenson, David. "Two Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein." Chronicle of Hebrew Union College, Volume LII, Nos. 1 and 2, Fall 2000-2001.
  • Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, Rabbi Nosson Scherman. Reb Moshe: The Life and Ideals of HaGaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Brooklyn, NY: ArtScroll Mesorah, 1986. ISBN 0-89906-480-9.
  • _________. "Jewish education for women: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's map of America." American Jewish history, 1995
  • Rackman, Emanuel. "Halachic progress: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's Igrot Moshe on Even ha-Ezer" in Judaism 12 (1964), 365-373
  • Robinson, Ira. "Because of our many sins: The contemporary Jewish world as reflected in the responsa of Moses Feinstein" 2001
  • Rosner, Fred. "Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's Influence on Medical Halacha" Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society. No. XX, 1990
  • __________. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on the treatment of the terminally ill." Judaism. Spring 37(2):188-98. 1988
  • Warshofsky, Mark E. "Responsa and the Art of Writing: Three Examples from the Teshuvot of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein," in An American Rabbinate: A Festschrift for Walter Jacob Pittsburgh, Rodef Shalom Press, 2001 ( Download in PDF format)


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