Rav Dovid Feinstein ZT”L
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article that mostly focused on the political situation at the time, and felt that I was not up to the task of writing any words of hesped on Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l who had passed earlier that week. Sergey Kadinsky and Nachum Segal wrote a beautiful article about Rav Dovid, while I had not known him personally that well.
The Queens Jewish Link carried a Letter to the Editor questioning why I did not write anything on Rav Dovid, and I responded with my reason as stated.
Last week, I wrote an article about my father zt”l, in which I mentioned numerous g’dolei Yisrael who passed in recent times, yet I inadvertently omitted the mention of Rav Dovid Feinstein. I received a number of messages asking why I omitted his name, and I let them know that it was entirely unintentional. I told them I would try to make it up this week by referring to him.
I decided to do more than just a passing reference. It is true that I did not have an ongoing personal contact with Rav Dovid, but the limited experience I did have is quite telling.
To understand the personality, the humility, of Rav Dovid, it is important to understand the nature of his sainted father, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. Stories abound and books have been written about Rav Moshe and his unparalleled anivus, or self-effacing modesty. But I would like to convey a personal story that my father used to relate of his first encounter with Rav Moshe.
When my father received s’michah from Rav Soloveitchik zt”l in the early 1950s, his rabbinic friends advised him that if he has a halachic sh’eilah that required the attention of a renowned poseik, he should seek Rav Moshe Feinstein of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem.
Naturally, it did not take long to be presented with such a sh’eilah. Although he never met Rav Moshe, my father decided to travel to the Lower East Side and discuss the sh’eilah with Rav Moshe directly. When he arrived at the yeshivah, it was apparently during the afternoon break for lunch, with no one in the beis midrash. There was, however, one small bearded Jew standing on a stool and placing the s’farim that were left on the tables back into the shelves.
My father had no idea how to locate Rav Moshe, so he went over to the man and asked him if he could tell him where to find Rav Moshe Feinstein. The man asked him why he needed him, to which my father replied that he had a sh’eilah to ask.
“Es iz a shverer sh’eilah? (Is it a difficult sh’eilah?),” asked the man. “Yes, it is,” responded my father. “Nu, ich bin Feinstein (Okay, I’m Feinstein),” he responded.
Rav Dovid was similar. I remember at Rav Moshe’s l’vayah, Rav Dovid did not speak. I asked an MTJ talmid standing next to me why Rav Dovid is not speaking. He answered somewhat jokingly that he’s probably in the yeshivah hallway refilling the soda machine, as he was often seen doing.
The s’farim that Rav Dovid authored included a very comprehensive work on the Jewish calendar, something most people do not feel qualified to discuss. He also wrote a wonderful commentary on the haftaros, another topic not often addressed in writing.
The interaction I did have with Rav Dovid was very revealing. I have included for this article a copy of the correspondence I had with Rav Dovid on the topic of copepods, those little critters claimed to have infested New York City water, presenting a serious kashrus issue. I wrote to Rav Dovid a list of questions on the topic. I did not expect to hear from him; but sure enough, he responded on the back of the paper I sent him. I was so moved by his consideration. Today, most busy people do not find time to write.
The other matter I called upon Rav Dovid concerned a young married woman who had a very serious health matter, which made it impossible at the time to have a normal marriage. Without consulting me, she asked another very competent poseik, who gave her a ruling that could have saved her situation but was too traumatic to put into practice. I told her that since I did not advise her to call that poseik, I will instead call Rav Dovid Feinstein. Obviously, the matter is too delicate to discuss, but suffice it to say, Rav Dovid had a different approach, which in a way was equally stunning but was absolutely manageable.
His dedicated attendant, Rabbi Yissachar Ginzberg, told me that whenever I needed to reach Rav Dovid, I should call him and he will put me through. I regret that I did not take him up on the offer out of concern that I would be adding to Rav Dovid’s overburdened schedule. It was a big mistake on my part.
Rav Dovid leaves a void in American Jewry that cannot be replaced.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.