The Queens Jewish Center honored the memory of Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt with their annual memorial lecture, held on Zoom, on Sunday, December 11.

Rabbi Grunblatt was one of the giants of his generation, and “a rabbi’s rabbi,” said keynote speaker Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander.

Rabbi Grunblatt passed the fire of Torah along to others, said Rabbi Judah Kerbel of the Queens Jewish Center.

Rabbi Grunblatt led the Queens Jewish Center in Forest Hills from 1967 to 2006, and he served as Rabbi Emeritus until his passing in 2013.

Born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1927, non-Jewish neighbors hid his family during Kristallnacht. Moving to London, he learned at Etz Chaim Yeshiva during World War II. After immigrating to New York in 1944, Rabbi Grunblatt received s’michah (ordination) from Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in 1949.

Rabbi Grunblatt earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the City College of New York, Magna Cum Laude. He was a Professor of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University and later at Touro College.

Rabbi Judah Kerbel has been the mara d’asra of the Queens Jewish Center since 2019.

Rabbi Kerbel cited a disagreement between Rav and Shmuel, early Amora’im in the Babylonian Talmud: Can one light a candle from another Jew’s fire? “Some say, it’s dangerous, you may weaken your own light.”

The halachah goes according to Shmuel only three times. This is one of them.

“Rav was a spiritual giant. Some people are good at living a life like this, but Shmuel holds that by lighting the candle of another Jew, you do not diminish your own candle.”

“The job of a rav is to light the candles of other Jews; oftentimes, those Jews are not exactly like you.” Rabbi Grunblatt impacted many Jews of many different persuasions, said Rabbi Kerbel.

Rabbi Grunblatt’s “intellectual curiosity illuminated – not diminished – his candle, who also lit the candles of many rabbanim. In turn, the rabbis “saw that his light was not diminished by theirs.”

Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, the keynote speaker, discussed the differences and the necessity for the Jewish people of the kohen (priest) and the navi (prophet). Rabbi Grunblatt “embodied them both.”

Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone’s academic and advocacy institutions.

Rabbi Dr. Brander was a vice president and a teacher at Yeshiva University until 2018. Before that, he was the senior rabbi at the Boca Raton Synagogue for 14 years.

A kohen makes sure that Jewish tradition and rituals are done correctly and passed down, said Rabbi Dr. Brander.

“That is key to the m’sorah (tradition) in order to guarantee the eternality of Judaism.” A kohen can’t do the avodah in the Holy Temple if he is missing even just one of the priestly garments.

“A navi made sure that ritual is endowed to the people here and now. “The m’sorah (tradition) had to continue from generation to generation without any deviation – but it has to be communicated in a way with charisma.”

Rabbi Grunblatt knew how to communicate and to make Torah relevant to the here and now.

Rabbi Brander discussed the rabbinic holiday of Chanukah being found in the Talmud’s tractate of Shabbos and not found in the tractate of Megillah.

We are the hosts during Shabbos. “G-d comes to us.” For Chanukah, we light the candles in our domains.

The lesson is: “We can only change the outside world when we have a strong internal connection to G-d,” said Rabbi Dr. Brander.

Rabbi Grunblatt “had his own lights, but he also had his own strong connection to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.”

By David Schneier