Feinstein, Moses

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FEINSTEIN, MOSES (1895–1986), rabbi and leader of American Orthodoxy. Feinstein was born in Uzda, near Minsk, Belorussia, where his father, from whom he received his early education, was rabbi. In 1921 he became rabbi of Luban, near Minsk, where he served until he immigrated to the United States in 1937. There Feinstein was appointed rosh yeshivah of New York's Metivta Tiferet Jerusalem. Under his guidance, it became one of the leading American yeshivot. Feinstein arrived in America with three children: Faye Gittel, who married a distinguished rabbi, Moses Shisgal; Shifra, who married Rabbi Dr. Moses Tendler, long-time rabbi in Monsey, New York, as well as teacher of Talmud and professor of biology at Yeshiva University; and David, who succeeded his father as the head of Metivta Tiferet Jerusalem. A son, Reuven, was born in America. He became the head of the Metivta Tiferet Jerusalem branch in Staten Island, New York City.

After World War ii, Feinstein became one of the leading figures in Orthodox Jewry in America. After the death of therosh yeshivah of the Lakewood Yeshiva, Rabbi Aaron *Kotler, Feinstein became the acknowledged leader of Orthodoxy. While he did address broader, communal issues throughout his lifetime, his major impact was in the realm of Halakhah. His reputation grew rapidly to the point that his rulings were accepted as authoritative by Orthodox Jews throughout the world. Feinstein's responsa are entitled Iggerot Moshe, the first four volumes follow the Shulḥan Arukh: Oraḥ Ḥayyim (1959), Yoreh De'ah (1959), Even ha-Ezer (1961), and Ḥoshen Mishpat (1963), while subsequent volumes (1973, 2 vols. in 1981, 1996) contain responsa from different sections of the Shulḥan Arukh. A detailed index to Iggerot Moshe, entitled Yad Moshe was published in 1987. He also published his talmudic novellae entitled Dibrot Moshe to Bava Kamma in two volumes (1946, 1953), to Bava Meẓia (1966), to Shabbat in two volumes (1971, 1976), to Kiddushin and Yevamot (1979), to Gittin (1982), to Ḥulin and Nedarim (1983), and to Ketubbot and Pesaḥim (1984). Darash Moshe, his sermons on the weekly Torah reading and the holidays, were published posthumously in 1988.

Feinstein's world view encompassed the world of Torah. "My entire world view," he wrote (Iggerot Moshe 2:11), "stems only from knowledge of Torah without any mixture of outside ideas, whose judgment is truth whether it is strict or lenient. Arguments derived from foreign outlooks or false opinions of the heart are nothing." Nevertheless, Feinstein was keenly aware of the world around him, constantly applying the principles of Torah law to new situations and circumstances. Indeed, when he dealt with medical problems, he always consulted with leading physicians, often asking for a second opinion. He demanded to understand the medical issues in depth. Feinstein served as the posek (halakhic decisor) for many medical students and doctors as well as for the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists.

Feinstein's responsa deal with a very broad range of issues and topics. He devoted a great deal of time to grappling with problems in Jewish education. He had little tolerance for the teaching of secular studies; however, he permitted it because of government regulations (ibid. 3:83). He demanded that science textbooks agree with the idea that God created the world (ibid. 3:73). He was unyielding in his opposition to coed classes, but he did allow women to teach boys, acknowledging the reality of the educational world in America. He required fathers to pay for the tuition for their daughters' education.

The Modern Orthodox community in America also looked to Rabbi Feinstein for halakhic guidance. At times, his answers to their questions exhibited a flexibility he did not show to the ultra-Orthodox community. For instance, Feinstein permitted fathers to be present at school performances where girls under the age of 11 sang, even though he frowned upon the practice (ibid. 1:26).

Other topics that received his attention include the height of the meḥiẓah (partition) in the synagogue, the use of glass in constructing a meḥiẓah, renting a hotel ballroom for High Holy Day services, allowing an American owner of an Israeli factory to keep his factory open on the second day of Yom Tov, the status of children conceived through artificial insemination, and allowing shoḥatim (ritual slaughterers) to form their own union.

Feinstein, highly regarded for his dedication and selflessness, was elected to positions of importance in the Orthodox Jewish world. He was president of the *Union of Orthodox Rabbis and chairman of the American branch of the Mo'eẓet Gedolei ha-Torah of Agudat Israel. He was also active in guiding and obtaining support for Orthodox Israeli educational institutions, particularly the Ḥinnukh Aẓma'i school system of Agudat Israel. Despite his public, communal involvement and his role as the leading posek of the second half of the 20thcentury, Feinstein was renowned for his simple lifestyle, his piety, and his humility.

Feinstein passed away during the night before the Fast of Esther, March 23, 1986. Over 150,000 people attended the funeral services in New York. Eulogies were given by rabbis from the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy, from a representative of the Satmar ḥasidic community to two speakers from Ye-shiva University. He was buried three days later in Jerusalem. An obituary notice appeared in the "Milestones" section of Time magazine (April 7, 1986, p. 42). Perhaps the most telling indication of his impact on Orthodox Jewry in the 20th century is the saying that every rabbi receiving Orthodox ordination in America needed two things upon graduation: A lu'aḥ, a calendar that lists all the changes in the prayer services, and Rabbi Moses Feinstein's telephone number.


O. Rand (ed.), Toledot Anshei Shem (1950), 98. A. Rakefet (Rothkoff), in: Niv ha-Midrashia (Spring-Summer 1971), 58–71; I. Robinson, in: Judaism, 35 (1986), 35–46; M.D. Angel, in: Tradition, 23:3 (1988), 41–52; N. Baumel Joseph, in: American Jewish History, 83:2 (1995), 205–22; W. Kelman, in: Survey of Jewish Affairs 1987 (1988), 173–87; M.D. Tendler, in: Pioneers in Jewish Medical Ethics (1997), 55–68; F. Rosner, in: Pioneers in Jewish Medical Ethics (1997), 47–75; N. Sherman, in: Jewish Observer, 19:7 (1986), 8–30; S. Finkelman, Reb Moshe: The Life and Ideals of HaGaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1986); D. Hartman, "Setiyah u-Gevulot ba-Halakhah ha-Ortodoxit be-Et ha-Ḥadashah," dissertation (2003).

[David Derovan (2nd ed.)]