Sivitz, Moshe

views updated


SIVITZ, MOSHE (1855–1936), U.S. rabbi. Born in Zhitovian in the Kovno District of Lithuania, he went to study at Rabbi Isaac Horowitz's Yeshiva before returning to Zhitovian and studying with Rabbi Solomon Horowitz, after which he studied in Telz. He was ordained by Rabbi Eliezer Gordon of Telz and by Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Spektor. He continued his studies in Kovno and became a rabbi at about the age of 30, in Pikelen, Lithuania. He immigrated to the United States a year later and then accepted an offer to become rabbi of the Russian Shul in Baltimore. Within two years he moved to Pittsburgh to serve as rabbi of Bnai Israel and later of Kahal Yereim. He became a major figure in Pittsburgh Jewry, working with the larger community to build a community Jewish hospital, Montefiore. He opened the Crawford Street Talmud Torah, a school that was available to all members of the community.

His attitude toward America was negative. He was a staunch opponent of Reform Judaism, which had but recently proclaimed its Pittsburgh Platform. He regarded the focus on money and success prevalent in the United States as compromising the integrity of Judaism, as he felt that spirituality could flourish amidst poverty and found material success threatening. He was against preaching in English and continued to sermonize in Yiddish.

One of the speakers at the funeral of Rabbi Jacob Joseph, he admonished the crowd for their mistreatment of the chief rabbi. He struggled for a living, as did many Orthodox rabbis of his generation, when rabbis were paid less than cantors, and sought to maintain economic independence in order to limit the power of his congregants, whom he did not regard as being of the stature in learning and piety of the European laymen he had left behind. He felt that the economic condition of the American rabbi – essentially a hired employee of his congregants – compromised his authority.

Kimmy Kaplan, who wrote on his preaching, stressed that Sivitz regarded leaving Eastern Europe as exchanging spiritual values for corporeality. The goldene medina was a land of spiritual dryness; a land of ignorance and impiety. In the United States the values of the country were the main problem for Judaism. Thus, he was firmly in the camp of the rejectionist Orthodox, who refused to embrace the American vision. He helped form and was a vice president of *Agudat Harabbonim.

He wrote a number of books: Ḥikrei Da'at (2 volumes, 1898 and 1902), sermons based on the weekly Torah portion; Sefer Beit Paga (1904); Peri Yehezkel (1908); and Matteh Aharon (1914), material for sermons. He also authored a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud entitled Masbiah al Yerushalmi (2 volumes, 1913, 1918) as well as Ẓemaḥ ha-Sadeh (1935). He also contributed to Judah Eisenstein's Oẓar Yisrael (1907–1913).


K. Caplan, "The Concerns of an Immigrant Rabbi: The Life and Sermons of Rabbi Moshe Shimon Sivitz," in: Polin (1998); M.D. Sherman, Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1996).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]