Thursday, March 22, 2012
Telegraph UK: Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg
Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, who has died in Jerusalem aged 101, was one of the most important ultra-Orthodox leaders of the post-war era – and one of the few remaining Torah scholars to have received an education in the greatest religious seminaries of pre-Holocaust eastern Europe.
He was born on October 1 1910 in Ostrov, Poland, but moved in 1919 to New York’s Lower East Side, where he was educated at the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School. Subsequently, he attended the Beis Medrash Le Rabbonim Yeshiva in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Rabbi Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York.
Scheinberg’s outstanding scholarship soon attracted the attention of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman – the key figure in American Orthodoxy of the early 20th century – who rapidly commended the 16-year-old prodigy to his family as a potential spouse for his 12-year-old daughter Bessie.
The couple married five years later, with Scheinberg simultaneously receiving his first Semichah (rabbinical ordination) under the marital canopy. Their union lasted 81 years, until her death in 2009 .
Scheinberg was dispatched by his father-in-law to learn at the Mir Yeshiva in eastern Poland, the most prestigious of such seminaries, located in an impoverished small town without running water or pavements. He also studied at the Kaminetz Yeshiva, where he took another Semichah.
Scheinberg soon sought out Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, otherwise known as the “Chofetz Chaim” (1838-1933), the leading figure in the Yeshiva world at the time. When the Chofetz Chaim was informed that the young scholar had come from America for a blessing, he replied: “Moses came all the way from Heaven to teach the Yidden [Jews] Torah. What’s the big deal about coming from America to Europe?” The Chofetz Chaim nonetheless duly bestowed the benediction .
Scheinberg returned to America in 1935 to teach in the Yeshivah Chofetz Chaim in New York, latterly founding his own Yeshivah, Torah Or (“Torah Light”). In 1965, long before it became fashionable, he was the first of the American Torah heavyweights to relocate his seminary to Israel, moving to Kiryat Mattersdorf in Jerusalem: when the Six Day War broke out, many Yeshivah students left for home, but all of Scheinberg’s stayed on.
Scheinberg was unique amongst the Gedolei Israel (great Torah sages of Israel) in that English was his native tongue. He thus became the first port of call for many Anglo-Saxon immigrants, who found it easier to raise their concerns over points of complex Jewish religious law with him than with any of the other Torah scholars of comparable seniority (who were either Yiddish or Hebrew speakers).
Although Scheinberg was a man of great spirituality – he wore 150 Tallesim, or prayer shawls, for much of his life, making him appear much bulkier than he actually was – he nevertheless remained very accessible to Jews at any level of learning or holiness. His American heritage also made him particularly sensitive to the needs of Orthodox women: one of his most important works was Heart to Heart Talks: Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg talks to women (2000). Few other Orthodox scholars of similar standing would have been willing to address female concerns so publicly.
Scheinberg visited Britain annually until last year, and was greeted enthusiastically by hundreds of pupils on his trips to Hasmonean High School and Jews’ Free School in London, many of whom became more observant under his inspiration. His blessings proved, however, to be uniquely efficacious for thousands of his co-religionists: 70,000 attended his funeral on the Mount of Olives.
He is survived by four daughters and a son, Rabbi Simcha Scheinberg, himself one of the most distinguished rabbinical educators of his own generation, who succeeds him at the helm of Yeshiva of Torah Or.
Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, born October 1 1910, died March 20 2012