By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times
He was the dean of the Orthodox American rabbinate. A graduate of Yeshiva Torah VaDaas, and a talmid of Rav Shlomo Heiman z”l. He served as the Rav of the White Shul in Far Rockaway for decades. He lived in the Far Rockaway community for six decades. The Torah community mourns the loss of a remarkable Rav: Rabbi Rephoel Pelcovitz z”l.
Rabbi Pelcovitz loved people. He loved his congregants. He was a great talmid chachom. He was an author. He was a translator. His translation of the Seforno is truly a Torah classic and will remain thus for centuries to come. The footnotes in the translation demonstrate his profound erudition and understanding.
Rabbi Pelcovitz prompted people to think and to re-examine aspects of their lives. He combined his persuasive words with a warm infectious smile which helped in this task.
I was privileged to see his remarkable Shabbos parsha notes. The published sefer of his drashos are only a small part of it. The unpublished notes are a treasure trove for any Rav.
Rabbi Pelcovitz had a tell-it-like-it-is style. I sat with Rabbi Pelcovitz to hear what he had to say on contemporary Jewish society. He felt that we are not emphasizing the role of Eretz Yisroel in our Yiddishkeit and our need to support it even more. He was very saddened that Torah Jews were not taking a greater role in helping combat the BDS movement, for example. Below are more of his thoughts from his notes and my conversations with him.
Bain Adam L’echaveiro
Rabbonim should do more to address mitzvos bain adam l’echaveiro. Who is a frum Jew? How do you define such a thing and how does one reach a point where he is entitled to use the title of “religious frum pious person?” What are the yardsticks? The current yardsticks are skewed, wrong or incomplete. What happens when a secular person asks how could a religious Jew be so unethical, so immoral? Is it not important to teach ourselves that the simplest answer to that question is that it is wrong. He is not entitled to the title of frum Jew. Keeping kashrus, tzitzis and Shabbos does not entitle him to be called a religious Jew if he is dishonest or immoral.
Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs
Are the Yeshiva Gedolos today teaching derech eretz to their students? Can you tell, looking at a young man or woman in public, whether he or she is a talmid of a seminary or a Bais Yaakov or could he or she be a student of any college or secular high school? I have noticed that too many young people, especially the boys, lack simple basic fundamental behavior of derech eretz.
Young people need to show respect to an older person, to a teacher or a rav and to their companions – their chaveirim. Some claim that we live in an affluent society – one of entitlement – where the average youngster has never really been confronted with any kind of challenge when it comes to their lifestyle. They have never gone hungry or been denied a new suit or dress. They enjoy many luxuries but do not consider them luxuries.
Has this spoiled them and affected their personalities and character? Are parents aware of this behavior in their children? If so, might it be that they themselves are insensitive in this area. Is the kavod that a student once had for a teacher, 50 or 100 years ago in Europe or in this country – is that still operative today? It would be interesting to ask this of many rabbonim and teachers and compare it with what old-timers would say.
On the Role of the Jewish People
The Jewish people has always been a curious people. We never built a wall between ourselves and the world to shut ourselves off from knowing what is going on in the world and selecting things that could be instructive and could broaden our horizons. Vegam es haolam nasan belibo, the concealed is in the heart of man, but the ksiv kri of this posuk is that the inquisitiveness was always there.
Historically, the yeshiva movement was always interested in the world. They wanted to know history, the culture of the world. The abysmal am-haratzus of the world around us did not exist. Today in the yeshivish community it is almost like a badge of honor that you do not know what is going on in the world.
We have become very insular. I have spoken to hundreds of parents who are appalled by the isolation and ignorance of their own children. If we are living in this place, in this century, in this time, it is extremely important. It is not for us to copy them, but we should understand and have a broad knowledge of the culture and the world around us.
It should not be an honor that you do not know what is happening, and it is not bitul Torah that you take time to understand these things. If someone knows the names of philosophers he is not an apikores. Rambam knew of Aristotle.
Rav Pelcovitz z”l built Torah in the Far Rockaway/Five Towns community. Under his aegis the shul grew to be one of the largest shuls in New York. He served as a role model for rabbonim across the country. He was 97 years old upon his passing.
Rabbi Pelcovitz leaves his wife Mrs. Shirley Pelcovitz and children Ethel Gottlieb, Judy Gribetz, Dr. David Pelcovitz and Nachum Pelcovitz and grandchildren Shraga Gross, Oralee Kanner, Carmi Gross, Efrom Gross and Gila Schwerd.
The levayah will be held, Wednesday, March 14th at 1 p.m. at the White Shul, 728 Empire Avenue, Far Rockaway.
Kevurah will be on Har Hamenuchos on Thursday, March 15th. It is estimated that the levayah in Israel will take place at 2:00 pm. This time is subject to change.
Shivah will be observed at the Pelcovitz home, 781 Caffrey Avenue, Far Rockaway, through Tuesday morning (March 20). Ethel Gottlieb will begin sitting shivah at the home on Wednesday evening; the other family members will return Friday morning (March 16). Minyan details TBA.
Yehei Zichro Boruch.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org