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Rabbi Zelik Epstein, Of Blessed Memory

Yesterday, the Jewish world lost a spiritual giant (good article worth reading). Rabbi Zelik Epstein, Rosh Yeshiva of Shaar Hatorah in Queens passed away. He was 97.

R’ Zelik was a relic of the past. He studied Torah in Europe with some the greatest Torah scholars of recent American Jewry, including Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Yaakov Kamanetsky.

Perhaps even more significantly, he was above the fray. He did not get involved in politics and instead, studied, taught and advised and preached Torah and its values.

Today the Jewish community mourns a man of integrity, scholarship and clarity.

Today, I mourn a man who taught my grandfather, Sidney Greenwald, over 50 years ago in the fledgling Beis Medrash Elyon. My grandfather was very proud to have learned from R’ Zelik.

Today, students of his across the world, in every imaginable profession and walk of life, mourn the loss of their teacher and spiritual guide.

Case in point: Native New Yorkers who listen to Sports Radio are all familiar with “The Fan” 660 WFAN. Anyone who has listened during the daytime has become familiar with “Davening Dov Kramer”, an orthodox Jew. Davening Dov has worked at WFAN for as long as I can remember. He has been a Kiddush Hashem showing the world a wonderful example of an Observant Jew.

Last night Dov sent me a Tweet, to check out a note he wrote on Facebook. Dov wrote a note on his Facebook Profile mourning the loss of his Rebbe. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety Facebook account required (if you don’t have one, send me an email and I will email the note to you directly). I would like to quote one small section that I found most powerful.

I had gotten into radio to be able to reach people through the medium I always loved, and had wanted to learn the business from the “pros” before going into “Jewish” radio. … I didn’t think leaving radio (at least temporarily) would hinder my original goal of positively influencing people via the radio, so wanted to quit my job, move back to Israel (again, I was single and in my late 20s) to learn full-time. I figured I could get free room and board if I did something like being a dorm counselor at a yeshiva for Americans, so would still have no expenses and be able to focus on my learning. Before doing what I thought was clearly the “frum” thing to do (stop working to learn full-time), I went to speak to Rav Zelik.

I told him my plan, but he said it wasn’t a good idea. He was afraid that making such a radical change was unhealthy, and there was a danger that after a while I would regret having done it. Instead, he told me that I should keep working at WFAN … and learn for semicha at night. I had been doing some volunteer work for a kiruv organization (JEP-LI), and they offered me a job that would allow me to work half a day and learn half a day. I asked Rav Zelig if that was an option worth considering, and he told me that if I thought I could get “sipuk hanefesh,” that I would be satisfied doing kiruv professionally, that I could do it, but otherwise, the less of a change in my life I make while studying for semicha, the better.

I had gotten into radio to be able to reach people through the medium I always loved, and had wanted to learn the business from the “pros” before going into “Jewish” radio. I had worked at a dance station (Hot 103), in the news dept. of a country-music station (WHN) and had worked on live talk shows and ball games for a few years. I didn’t think leaving radio (at least temporarily) would hinder my original goal of positively influencing people via the radio, so wanted to quit my job, move back to Israel (again, I was single and in my late 20s) to learn full-time. I figured I could get free room and board if I did something like being a dorm counselor at a yeshiva for Americans, so would still have no expenses and be able to focus on my learning. Before doing what I thought was clearly the “frum” thing to do (stop working to learn full-time), I went to speak to Rav Zelig.

I told him my plan, but he said it wasn’t a good idea. He was afraid that making such a radical change was unhealthy, and there was a danger that after a while I would regret having done it. Instead, he told me that I should keep working at WFAN (I was working Sundays thru Thursdays from 11am-7pm, with “Mike and the Mad Dog” Mon-Thurs, but because of Shabbos worked Sundays instead of Fridays) and learn for semicha at night. I had been doing some volunteer work for a kiruv organization (JEP-LI), and they offered me a job that would allow me to work half a day and learn half a day. I asked Rav Zelig if that was an option worth considering, and he told me that if I thought I could get “sipuk hanefesh,” that I would be satisfied doing kiruv professionally, that I could do it, but otherwise, the less of a change in my life I make while studying for semicha, the better.

This is a glimpse into the insight of a great man. Many people would have just assumed that more studying was an automatically better option. R’ Zelik knew his student and knew what was truly best for his situation.

This kind of indiviualized, custom tailored Judaism is something a bit lacking in our “one-size-fits-all” society. We need more Rabbis who can lead like R’ Zelik did.

It is in this light that we all mourn the loss of a true individual, a true Gadol, R’ Zelik Epstein.


5 Comments
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  • m breiner

    please send me copy of dov krammers letter thanks

  • Sam

    Can I please get a copy of the letter?

  • Yehoshua Dalin

    “Perhaps even more significantly, he was above the fray. He did not get involved in politics and instead, studied, taught and advised and preached Torah and its values.”

    I don’t want to judge R’ Zelik; there is certainly a place for people who just teach, but I don’t think that non involvement in politics, especially Israeli politics (which is the responsibility of every Jew) is praiseworthy. Torah should not be just limited to the Beit Midrash and personal life but also to our national life and the world. We should learn what the Torah says about everything from how to run an economy, how to treat the environment, whether to go to war or not, everything! Rabbis should teach what Torah has to say not just about the individual Jew, but also the Jewish nation, and even the rest of the world.

  • VIVAN SINGER

    I WOULD LIKE TO KNOQW WHEN RABBI ZELIG EPSTEIN OF BLESSED MEMORY HAS HIS UNVEILING. IS IT IN A FEW WEEKS? NEED THE YESHIVAHS EMAIL AND CANNOT FIND IT.

  • http://finkorswim.com rabbifink

    I have no information.

    Maybe another reader knows more…