Feinstein, Moshe

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FEINSTEIN, MOSHE (18951986), was an American Orthodox rabbi and Jewish legal authority. Born to a rabbinical family in Uzda, Belorussia, Feinstein prepared for a career in the rabbinate under the tutelage of his father, David Feinstein, and subsequently as a student in the leading Talmudic academies of that region. Upon his arrival in the United States in 1937, Feinstein became dean of the Talmudic academy Metivta Tiferet Jerusalem in New York, a position that he held until his death. He played a prominent role in both the Union of Orthodox Rabbis and Agudat Yisraʾel, the world movement of Orthodox Jewry.

Feinstein enjoyed worldwide recognition by Orthodox rabbis and laity alike as a leading interpreter and decisor of Jewish law. His responsa (legal decisions) have been published in a work entitled Iggerot Mosheh (Letters of Moshe). Students of Jewish law have enthusiastically hailed the appearance of Iggerot Mosheh because it offers a Jewish legal perspective on numerous issues relating to contemporary scientific, technological, and sociological developments. The topics Feinstein covers include heart transplants, autopsies, brain death, experimentation with live human tissue, intrauterine devices, the use of electric blankets and transistor microphones on the Sabbath, adoption, life insurance, labor unions, and sex manuals. Thus, the subject matter of Iggerot Mosheh dramatizes Feinstein's concern to use the technical capability of Jewish law to address ongoing changes in social reality.

Moreover, a number of Feinstein's rulings reflect a creative and bold flexibility, particularly in the realm of Jewish family law. In one controversial decision, Feinstein permitted, with qualification, artificial insemination even from a donor other than the husband. In a series of rulings regarding the status of a marriage solemnized in either a civil or non-Orthodox ceremony, Feinstein permitted the subsequent remarriage of either spouse without the prior granting of a ge, a Jewish writ of divorce.

It would be inaccurate, however, to characterize Feinstein as a liberal interpreter of Jewish law. A staunchly traditionalist work, the Iggerot Mosheh contains numerous rulings of a conservative nature as well. In the final analysis, then, the Jewish legal process as reflected in the Iggerot Mosheh demonstrates both receptivity and resistance to changing sociocultural circumstances. Feinstein's profound and encyclopedic grasp of Jewish law and his legal creativity were coupled with an outstanding reputation for personal piety and selflessness. It is because of these qualities that his halakhic rulings are considered authoritative by a wide cross-section of Orthodox Jewry.

See Also

Agudat Yisraʾel.


Eisenstadt, Benzion. Sefer dorot ha-Aaronim. Brooklyn, N.Y., 1940. See volume 2, pages 191192.

Kirschenbaum, Aaron. "Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's Responsa: A Major Halakhic Event." Judaism 15 (Summer 1966): 364373.

Rackman, Emanuel. "Halakhic Progress: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's Igrot Moshe on Even Ha-Ezer. " Judaism 13 (Summer 1964): 365373.

Rand, Oscar Z., ed. Toledot anshei shem. New York, 1950. See page 98.

New Sources

Rosner, Fred. "Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's Influence on Medical Halacha." Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 20 (1990): 4775.

Rod M. Glogower (1987)

Revised Bibliography