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Prominent religious Zionist rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch dies at 92

Hailed by Netanyahu as a ‘polymath,’ the Canada-born spiritual leader and doctor of statistics led the hesder yeshiva in Ma’ale Adumim and was mentor to former UK chief rabbi Sacks

Portrait of Rabbi Nachum Rabinovich, at his home in Ma'ale Adumim on August 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Portrait of Rabbi Nachum Rabinovich, at his home in Ma'ale Adumim on August 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, a senior religious Zionist leader and longtime head of a hesder yeshiva in Ma’ale Adumim in the West Bank, died early on Wednesday at the age of 92.

The Montreal-born Israeli Orthodox rabbi and posek (legal decisor) led the Birkat Moshe yeshiva — which combines IDF service with Torah study — for decades. The author of over a dozen Jewish legal works in Hebrew and English, Rabinovitch also held a doctorate in statistics, dedicated to probability in the Talmud.

He served as a community rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina, and Toronto, Canada, before moving to London, where he became the community rabbi to Jonathan Sacks, who went on to become the United Kingdom’s chief rabbi.

Rabinovitch relocated from the UK to Israel in the early 1980s and began to run Yeshivat Birkat Moshe. In 2015, he became one of the founders of the Giyur K’Halacha rabbinical courts, which provided conversions to Judaism outside the state-run Chief Rabbinate, and was remembered on Wednesday as a champion of easing the process.

In recent years, Rabinovitch had gradually scaled back his involvement in the yeshiva as he battled an unspecified illness, according to Hebrew media reports.

Rabinovitch’s funeral was held on Wednesday afternoon. Only his family members attended as a result of the coronavirus restrictions, with a livestream provided for his students and admirers.

Sacks eulogized Rabinovitch as “one of the intellectual, moral, and spiritual giants of our time.”

“He was above all a teacher, raising up many generations of Torah scholars and fighters for the State of Israel,” Sacks wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

Former British chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (United Synagogue via JTA)

“He was my Rav, I was his disciple, and I count that one of the greatest blessings of my life,” he added.

Rabinovitch’s death was also mourned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Rabbi Rabinovitch was a polymath — a tremendous scholar, a prominent legal decisor and an educated scientist,” said Netanyahu in a statement. “Maimonides was his model of the educated Jew merging Torah and wisdom. His love of the land of Israel brought Rabbi Rabinovitch to the hesder yeshiva in Ma’ale Adumim, in which he groomed Torah scholars serving in the IDF. His spiritual leadership was characterized by merging devotion to halacha [Jewish law] and social sensitivity. The issue of conversion was dear to his heart and he sought to bring people closer.”

The head of the Association of Hesder Yeshivot, Uri Pinsky, mourned “the loss of a great luminary… and teacher to thousands.”

The Orthodox Union eulogized “one of the greatest poskim (Jewish legal scholars and decisors) in the religious Zionist world in Israel.”

Rabinovitch was the father of six children. His daughter, Guardian columnist Dina Rabinovitch, died in 2007 of breast cancer at the age of 45.

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