I got an email from a shul saying: "The funeral will be in [Israel]."
Rabbi Prof. Emanuel Rackman, who passed away on Monday in New York at age 98, will be remembered as one of the most profound and daring figures in Jewish life and thought of the 20th century.
His 70-year-long career in the rabbinate was marked by fearlessness; he stood out, bravely, ahead of the Orthodox mainstream. He was concurrently beloved and controversial.
Rackman began to make his mark as rabbi of the prestigious Shaaray Tefila (Far Rockaway, Queens) and Fifth Avenue (Manhattan) synagogues, and as a professor of political philosophy and jurisprudence at New York University, City University of New York and Yeshiva University. His eloquence, erudition in both Jewish and secular law, prolific publication schedule, and his compassion for his congregants, made him a rabbi’s rabbi.
His congregations grew rapidly, serving as an inspiration to the generation that made American Orthodoxy a viable alternative to the Conservative movement, which was still capturing Orthodox synagogues into the 1950s.
As president of the New York Board of Rabbis and the Rabbinical Council of America, he was a religious humanist. His heart embraced all the diversities and contrasts from which Judaism and the Jewish people suffer, and he constantly sought to harmonize and build bridges.
His commitment to Jewish unity explains, as well, his belief in Bar-Ilan University, whose presidency he assumed in 1977, and whose chancellor he remained until his passing. He opened Bar-Ilan’s doors to students of all stripes, turning it into one of the major Israeli campuses, while insisting that everybody could and would study basic Jewish studies – together.
Yet Rackman was no muddled, cuddly or homogenizing liberal. His modern Orthodoxy was deeply and firmly rooted in a rigorously developed philosophy of Halacha which emphasized creativity and justice.