Porath, Israel

views updated


PORATH, ISRAEL (1886–1974), rabbi. Israel Porath (son of Aryeh Lieb and Sara Sharashevsky) was born in Jerusalem, the second of seven children. His grandfather Yosef and his grandmother Malka came to Palestine from Lithuania in 1837. Malka came from 15 generations of rabbis. His grandfather and father were among the best-known painters and decorators in Jerusalem, who, according to family tradition, had decorated both the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron and Jerusalem's Hurvah Synagogue. Moses Montefiore had presented a citation to them for being self-employed, rather than living off of the ḥalukkah, the funds of the community. As a young boy he studied at the Eẓ Ḥayyim Yeshivah and at Yeshivat Ohel Moshe. When Rabbi Abraham Isaac *Kook arrived in Jaffa in 1904, he traveled to meet him and became one of his preferred students. Rabbi Kook said of him that from all of his students he received the most pleasure from Rabbi Porath and Rabbi Jacob Ḥarlap. In 1905 he married Peshe Miriam Tiktin, the sister of Rabbi David Tiktin, who was the mashgi'aḥ (spiritual advisor) at Eẓ Ḥayyim Yeshivah. He received ordination from Rabbi Kook as well as from Rabbi Chaim Berlin and Rabbi Jacob David Willowsky (the Slutzker Rav).

In 1906 he founded a spiritual center for young Torah scholars called Beit Va'ad le-Ḥakhamim and served as the principal and director of Doresh Ẓiyyon, a school system for Sephardi students. He became increasingly involved in religious and political issues of the yishuv and in 1911 was the Ashkenazi candidate for the position of ḥakham bashi (chief rabbi); however, time-honored tradition won out and only Sephardi chief rabbis were selected (Rabbi Ouziel was chosen). At the behest of the leadership of the yishuv he was encouraged to learn foreign languages and was sent to Constantinople to secure draft deferments for yeshivah students from the Turkish army.

During World War i he was responsible for emergency welfare, food, and clothing in Jerusalem, in conjunction with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He participated in founding many new neighborhoods on the western side of Jerusalem, including Bayit ve-Gan.

In light of postwar economic difficulties as well as internal political strife between the pro- and anti-Zionist factions in the yishuv, he left Palestine in 1922, first for Liverpool, England and then for the United States, to head an office for the Eẓ Ḥayyim Yeshivah, where he was joined by his family (in September 1923). He served as a rabbi at Congregation B'nai Israel in Plainfield, New Jersey, and in 1925 moved to Cleveland to become the rabbi of Congregation Oheb Zedek, where he served for 14 years. He then moved to Congregation Neve Zedek, and in 1945 went to New York to head the Rabbi Israel Salanter Yeshivah. He returned to Cleveland within the year where he was rabbi at the Cleveland Heights Jewish Center until his death in 1974.

He was regarded as one of the outstanding leaders of Orthodox Jewish life in Cleveland. In addition to his serving as one of the founders and chairman of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of Cleveland (Merkaz Harabanim) he was active in the general Jewish community, including the Board of the Jewish Welfare Federation, the Board of Jewish Education, and B'nai B'rith. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland. He was an ardent Zionist and a member of the Mizrachi (Religious Zionists of America); he was honored by numerous Zionist organizations for his work on behalf of the State of Israel, including Bar-Ilan University and the Jewish National Fund. He served as the dean of the Cleveland rabbinate for more than 50 years.

He wrote numerous scholarly articles on rabbinic literature. His major contribution was the Mavo ha-Talmud (seven volumes), which he composed at the inspiration of his great teacher and mentor, Rabbi Kook, who had encouraged him many years previously (already in 1913) to dedicate himself to writing a new introduction to the Talmud, based on careful research and presentation of the classical sources.

Rabbi Israel Porath died in Cleveland and was buried in Jerusalem. His beloved wife of 68 years, Peshe Miriam, had passed away four months previously. They had six sons and a daughter (Samuel, Josef, Tzvi Haim, Benjamin, Benzion, David, and Shoshana Haas). Many of his descendants returned to Israel including three of his children, nine of his grandchildren, and dozens of great grandchildren. A street is named for him in Jerusalem's Ramot neighborhood (Rehov Harav Yisrael Porath). Three of his sons became rabbis: Samuel Porrath, who became a rabbi in Niagara Falls; Benjamin Porath; and Tzvi Porath, who was rabbi for nearly half a century in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Two of his grandsons also became rabbis, Gerald Porath and Jonathan Porath, who directs the jdc programs in West Russia.

[Jonathan D. Porath (2nd ed.)]