Selig Starr

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Rabbi Selig Starr, born Zelig Starobinski (15 June 1893 Yanow or Yanaveh, Poland – 2 November 1989), was a 20th-century Talmudic scholar in Poland, Chicago and Jerusalem. As the instructor of the highest-level shiur at Skokie, Illinois's Hebrew Theological College, he was responsible for most of Orthodox rabbinical students in the Chicago area over several decades.

He has taught thousands of young Jewish men Torah, Jewish ethics and culture. Due to his influence and inspiration many of these students later became leaders and teachers in Israel. There are at least 25 rabbis in Chicago alone (as of 1956) who were his students.


In his early years, Selig studied at Navaradak and Telz. At 17, he came to Slobodka yeshiva "Knesses Israel" near Kovno, Lithuania. His Talmudic training there was so thoroughly and rapidly absorbed that through scarcely no more than a boy he was ordained as rabbi, in 1921, by the world-famous Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein of Slobodka and Rabbi Solomon David Cahana of Warsaw.

He immigrated to the United States on the S.S. Latvia, sailing from Danzig (14 July 1921) along with his widowed mother Guta Tova.

Life in Chicago[edit]

He came to Chicago in 1921, and immediately became a member of the faculty of Beth Medresh Latorah Hebrew Theological College. At the same time he pursued his secular studies at the University of Chicago and received degrees of Ph. B 1926. and M. A. 1930 and wrote a dissertation in English history on the Exclusion Bill crisis from 1679 to 1681.

Rabbi Starr married in 1924 to Pearl (Penina) Cohen (born 15 December 1904, died 1970).

Rabbi Starr obtained U.S. citizenship, on 16 May 1929, and in 1931, he was elected Rabbi of Am Olam (8006 Cottage Grove Avenue, Chiccago). His scholarly article "Historical and Present Day Judaism" was published in Ohel Moed.

He was Senior Rabbi at Hebrew Theological College (Skokie, Illinois). By the time he had finished his career at Hebrew Theological College, he had taught three generations of some student's families. He knew all the Masechtot that are regularly studied in yeshivot. He was critical of Israeli yeshivot, faulting them for luring the best students from American yeshivot.

Rabbi Starr was also the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Joseph South Shore (5433 W. Jackson Boulevard).

Rabbi Starr served as a bridge between the world of the great Lithuanian yeshivot of prewar Europe and the world of modern American Jewry. While a staunch defender of Orthodoxy and many of the traditions of European Jewry, Rabbi Starr was extremely sensitive and optimistic towards the spiritual potential of the New World, the challenges of modernity and secularism, and the new State of Israel. An example of this attitude and his dedication to strengthening Orthodox youth to meet the benefits and the challenges of America head on, as well as his commitment to integrity and clarity of purpose, is Rabbi Starr's famous formulation of "Ten Modern Important Commandments:"[1]

"1) Remember to embrace equally all the three fundamentally Jewish loves - Ahavas Hashem, Ahavas Torah, Ahavas Yisrael (love of God, Torah, and the Jewish People).

2) Remember not to minimize any one of [the above] in any way whatsoever.

3) Remember that time is the most precious element in your mental treasury; therefore, spend it very carefully.

4) Remember not to spend your spiritual harvest time more on one crop than on the others.

5) Remember that personal flattery - chanifa - is your worst enemy, while expert criticism is your best friend.

6) Remember that human behavior must be analysed and comprehended; some people are acting as spiders, while others [behave] like flies enwrapped in the deadly silken threads of the spiders. Avoid the company of either one of them.

7) Remember that six million of American Jews are waiting for your spiritual Orthodox guidance. Do not disappoint them.

8) Remember that you have been trained to fight two internal enemies, ignorance and confusion, the latter the greater.

9) Remember that our spiritual Orthodox survival depends solely on the ability of our leaders to rescue the wine while the barrel is broken, to watch over our Torah inheritance while the ghetto walls have been eliminated.

10) Remember that destiny - hashgachat HaBorei - has bestowed upon the incoming Jewish generation the greatest among the most precious blessings, and at the same time, imposed upon our selected Talmudic scholars the greatest responsibilities to be sincere servants of God, Torah, and Israel (as an independent state and everlasting people)."

More than any of these "ten commandments" Rabbi Starr had a motto which he constantly drummed into his students: "You should know what you know and know what you don't know".

Famous Students[edit]

Among Rabbi Starr's more prominent students who learned from him are Rabbi Meir Segal.

Life in Israel[edit]

In 1984, Rabbi Selig Starr became rosh yeshiva at Darchai Noam (Jerusalem).


  1. ^ Ohr Shmuel. Hebrew Theological College. Skokie, IL. 1996

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