After reading his “
” on American Jewry, I wondered,of which rabbis does he speak? Who is responsible for the situation? Is his prognosis really accurate? Rabbi Herzberg concludes that today’s rabbi must be an“entertainer” for his congregants if he hopes to succeed. I wish to add to the list some of what I think a rabbi must be. He must be a
. He must believe that the Torahcomes from Heaven. He must believe in the thirteen principlesof faith. I wonder which rabbis Herzberg refers to when he says that they are no longer? He certainly doesn’t mean the Orthodox
rabbinate, since the rabbis in Orthodox shuls are doing a ne
job of maintaining tradition. Might he just be referring to theConservative and Reform rabbis?
(1966)In a painfully satirical piece, he introduces his readership to a
new, purely American, enterprise: “The Kaddish Industry.”
The industry leaders appear to be rabbis, and they takethe liberty of rendering halachic decisions for newly orphaned children. They succeed in convincing them that there is no need to“get up early and hurry to shul each day”in order to say Kaddish. For just a few dollars, they promise, you can sleep in peace and the Kaddish-sayer will worry about everything for you ... But as a sharp Jew pointed out; the Kaddish-sayers will proveto be their own undoing. Since, eventually, there will be no moreminyan at shul, for without the mourners observing their year of Kaddish, there will be no more business! In truth, though, this isnot a joking matter.
(1959)The week after the article appeared, the letters came from allover; the subject had clearly struck a chord in the hearts of elderly parents, justifying their worst fears.
In a piece on the American xation on secular names, Rabbi
Shurin points out the non-Jews seem to have an appreciation for Biblical names.
And thus, a wise
observed that we will be able todistinguish between Jews and Gentiles quite easily. The Patriciasand Kenneths are ours, while the Benjamins and Daniels aretheirs ... And if you will ask, why the opposition to Jews that choosenames that represent the culture of exile, I will ask you: Why is such an integral part of our
the necessity of maintaining Jewish names?
The Insider’s View
When Rabbi Shurin joined the
,the Torah world found itself at a critical juncture. Long regarded asa sickly weed that would soon fade away from the American scene,the religious community shocked everyone and reorganized itself into a force. That transformation was not limited to America. InIsrael, where Ben-Gurion predicted that he was seeing the last of theEuropean yeshivah world, and patronizingly allowed them to havetheir way as a farewell gift to the demographic that would soon be nomore, the chareidi public exploded, astounding the establishment.It was perhaps only natural that the
’s readers turnedto Rabbi Shurin, asking him to clarify, explain, and put things in
perspective. As the editor asked him, “Who is the Chazon Ish that
Ben-Gurion came to visit him?”So the writer penned a piece introducing the humble man fromBnei Brak, Rav Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, to the readership of the
.In fact, Rabbi Shurin knew and appreciated the Chazon Ishwell before the rest of the nation. After his marriage the Chazon Ishlived in Khvaidan, Lithuania, where despite his efforts to concealhimself he caught the attention of Rav Moshe Rosen, author of
. Rav Rosen took the young man as his
,and when he traveled, he referred all
to the edgling Torah
“As such, the Chazon Ish would often accompany Rav Rosen
from Khvaidan to Ritova, which were near each other, like Boro
Park and Flatbush,” recounts Rabbi Shurin, a Ritova native. “So we
locals knew Reb Avraham Yeshaya.
“Later, in the thirties, he was relatively unknown in Eretz Yisrael,
but when my family moved there, my brothers and I would comefrom Petach Tikvah to speak with him in learning, knowing full well just how unique he was.”In his
article, Rabbi Shurin explains Ben-Gurion’smotivation for visiting the Chazon Ish in his characteristically
succinct way: “Ben-Gurion saw that the Mizrachi was ‘scared’ of Agudah, and Agudah was ‘scared’ of the Chazon Ish, so he gured,
‘Why negotiate will all the others? I’ll go straight to the top!’”
In the Presence of Greatness
The Chazon Ish was notthe only Torah giant who came to life through Rabbi Shurin’s pen. Acommon thread that runs through many of the articles are vignettesand personal anecdotes about the great men of Israel, many of themexperienced by Rabbi Shurin himself.
He shares some of them with me as well, and it’s clear that, from
among the many
he knew, he has a particular afnity for
Rav Elya Meir Bloch, the
of Telshe.During our conversation, he recalls an incident from pre-war Telshe that, according to him, is a perfect illustration of who RebElya Meir was.
“In Eretz Yisrael, the Arabs attacked the Jews of the
,causing great damage and harm. Reb Elya Meir, a master orator,was asked to travel to the Lithuanian town of Ponovezh and appeal
to the locals there for funds. He acquiesced, leaving Telshe on the
early train, and thus missing minyan in yeshivah. It was his mother’s
, and he missed saying Kaddish for her, a fact that manyfound curious.”They asked him about it.time, they didn’t know. They knew one thing: ‘I came seven days before Pesach. I came seven days after Pesach.’ They didn’t knowthe English date, they didn’t know the
date, and they didn’teven know the boat. But they knew one thing: the
“After the Second World War, a lot of people used to come tond out what happened to their relatives. So the
used to print full pages. With names. This man is looking for this, and thisman, for his father, his mother, his cousin. And it gave his address. Ithad a column called ‘relatives
’ — searching for relatives.”Why would such a successful, strongly secular paper beinterested in the writings of an avowed traditionalist? It seemed alost cause from the very start. Still, despite his initial misgivings,
Rabbi Shurin decided to pursue the idea. He went to meet the person
he considers the greatest Orthodox writer of the century, ChaimLieberman. Lieberman was a bibliophile, researcher, and historian,who suggested that young Shurin leave him some writings to peruse.It was Lieberman who told him,
“Zitst in eich a shreiber,
a writer in you,” and recommended him to Harry Lang, a managing
editor at the
“In the early part of the century, the
was bigger thanthe
, with bigger circulation and inuence, and I didn’t think
it possible that they would hire me. Everyone knew that they wereno friends of the religious public, and the newspaper was printed onShabbos, just as on every other day.”But times were changing and the
management perceivedthat they had to provide their Orthodox readership — which wasimmense — with a column geared to their needs, coverage and perspective of the issues that concerned them.
So Aaron Shurin joined the enemy, entering a newsroom lled
with socialists who regarded him with wariness, and not a wee bit of scorn. Who needs a
writer? they wondered.
It was a question that went from HarryLang to editor Hillel Rogov to the publisher himself, AbrahamCahan. “Abe Cahan asked to see a sample of my writing, feeling
uncomfortable with the idea of giving space to a religious writer, butthen he had a stroke,
, and was incapacitated. The decisionwent to Rogov, who hired me.”It didn’t take long before Rabbi Shurin’s contribution madeits mark. The letters from the readers came pouring in. IrreligiousJews have never been indifferent to their religious brothers, and the
reaction was fast and furious. “What are you doing to the
?”cried the readers. But the management saw past the passion and protest: they saw that people were reading young Aaron BenzionShurin.From one column a week, he went to two.
Passion and Poignancy
If Rabbi Shurin faced any
“enemy,” it was his readership’s smug comfort with their own
limited knowledge. In one series of pieces, he demonstrated littletolerance for the evolution of the Jew from shy, frightened greenhorn
to afuent, condent American.
Throughout his sixty-plus years of writing, his heroes are the
, and in an article about the ndings of a study that showeda decline in the numbers of qualied students seeking careers in the
rabbinate, the writer doesn’t mince words.
Why should a bright
— who could indeed be a dynamic
— opt for that career when he can become a professional, where his knowledge and gifts will be appreciated and rewarded?
Why shouldn’t he choose a career where he won’t have to worry, every Monday and Thursday, about his contract not being renewed?
In another essay, he quotes Conservative rabbi Arthur Herzberg,
who bemoaned the fact that the role of the rabbi has been changed,and he is no longer a spiritual leader, but a showman.
“In the early part of the century, the
was bigger than the
bigger circulation and infuence, and I didn’t think it possible that they would
hire me. Everyone knew that they were no friends of the religious public”
Connected to greatness.Rabbi Rivkin with his
inthe bungalow colony