Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, 1884-1966

I’m listening to Professor Marc B. Shapiro‘s lecture on the Srida Aish (Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg) for Torah in Motion (Movers and Shakers of Modern Orthodoxy 2).

Marc says that if World War II ended in 1942, instead of talking about the Holocaust, we’d be talking about the three million Soviet POWs who were murdered by the Nazis.

The Nazis kept many important Jews alive, including the former French prime minister Leon Blum. Rabbi Weinberg was kept at a prison camp along with elite Soviet military leaders who were captured when they were on German soil when Germany invaded the Soviet Union by surprise in 1941.

After he was kept alive by the Nazis in WWII, Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg had to decide where he wanted to live. Although there were a lot of tentative invites from the United States, there were no firm invites from established Orthodox institutions. Why not? Because of ego.

Rav Soloveitchik did not want Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg at Yeshiva University because of ego. Rav Soloveitchik wanted to be the man at YU. That was vitally important to the Rav. He needed to feel like the most important man there and if Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg came, the Rav would be number two.

The Rav sent a letter to Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, saying if you want to come, we’ll find something for you, Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg was able to read between the lines that the Rav did not want him to come to YU.

Saul Lieberman did not want Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg to come to the Jewish Theological Seminary because Saul Lieberman wanted to be the man at JTS.

The same held for other American institutions of Jewish learning.

On the other hand, Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg did not want to come to any institution where he would be number two. It was important to Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg that he be the man.

So Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg went to live in Montreux, Switzerland, a town with about 20 Orthodox families. Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg was the man in Montreux.

"I don’t chase after kavod (honor)," Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg said to a friend, "but if it is put on my plate, I take it."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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