Teitz, (Mordechai) Pinchas

views updated


TEITZ, (MORDECHAI) PINCHAS (1908–1995), U.S. rabbinic leader. Born in Subat, Latvia, where his father was the rabbi, Teitz studied at yeshivot of Slobodka and Telz, being ordained in 1931. He was active in communal work in Latvia, founding the Yavneh Yeshiva in Livani and the Yavneh youth movement in Latvia, and editing a newspaper, Unzer Shtime. He worked with Mordechai Dubin, a member of the Latvian parliament, and for a year with Rabbi Joseph Rosen, the Rogachover, in Dvinsk From his father, whose synagogue had a room for ḥasidim on one side, a room for mitnaggedim on the other, with the rabbi and his family living in rooms between the two, he learned to unite the community. From Dubin he learned how to get Jews and non-Jews to work together for shared benefit. From his father's brother, Rabbi Eliyahu Akiva Rabinowich, editor of Ha-Peles and Ha-Modi'a, with whom his family found refuge during wwi, he learned to analyze problems, to think of solutions and to turn them into reality.

A charismatic speaker, he came to the U.S. in 1933 with Rabbi Elijah M. Bloch to spend a year visiting major Jewish centers in behalf of Telz Yeshiva. Soon after he became rabbi of Elizabeth, n.j. He and his wife built a classic kehillah, starting with a talmud torah, a mikveh, and a day school in 1940, one of the first outside a major city. They united the various entities under the title Jewish Educational Center (jec), which grew to include yeshivah high schools for boys and girls and a kollel for college students. In a unique structure for an American community, one rabbi led five synagogues and the jec, all joined in one kehillah. He helped Princeton students found the Yavneh kosher dining hall at their university. He built two synagogues in Elizabeth, one in 1947, the second in 1955.

In 1953 he founded Daf Hashavua, a weekly radio broadcast of Talmud that continued until 1988. Tapes of the broadcasts were aired in other cities in the U.S. and Canada, and reached the U.S.S.R. on Kol Zion la-Golah. He also pioneered the use of long-playing records to teach Talmud with Bas Kol.

He was active in Va'ad Haẓẓalah, trying to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, spending two months in London and Paris in 1945 helping refugees. Beginning in 1944 he urged the American Jewish community to forge ties with Jews in the U.S.S.R. In 1964 he and his wife made the first of 22 trips to the Soviet Union. He raised money privately to bring physical and religious necessities to Jews behind the Iron Curtain, including special siddurim that would enable a Jew in Russia to learn to read Hebrew and to observe mitzvot. He obtained permission to bring in tefillin as long as one side would be transparent. He taught Rabbi Eliyahu Essas and worked with him and others to preserve cemeteries and restore the graves of great scholars.

He was treasurer of Ezras Torah for over 30 years and co-founder in 1980 of Merkaz Harabbanim, an effort to move young rabbinic couples out of the yeshivah and into the communities that needed them. His son, Rabbi Elazar Mayer Teitz, succeeded him as rabbi of the kehillah in Elizabeth.


R. Blau, Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah: Harav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz, the Quintessential Rabbi (2001).

[Rivka Blau (2nd ed.)]