Moshe Feinstein

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein
Reb Moshe Feinstein.jpg
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein at his desk in the bais medrash of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem.
Born (1895-03-03)March 3, 1895
Uzda, Minsk Governorate, Russian Empire
(now Belarus)
Died March 23, 1986(1986-03-23) (aged 91)
New York City, United States
Resting place Har HaMenuchot, Israel
31°48′00″N 35°11′00″E / 31.8°N 35.183333°E / 31.8; 35.183333
Other names Rav Moshe, Reb Moshe
Occupation Rabbi, Posek
Employer Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem
Known for Igros Moshe, Various Rulings in Jewish Law
Spouse(s) Shima Kustanovitch
Children Pesach Chaim Feinstein
Dovid Feinstein
Reuven Feinstein
Shifra Tendler
Faye Shisgal
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, together with Rabbi Yona Shtencel, founder of Daily Halacha daily mishna
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, together with Rabbi Yona Shtencel, founder of Daily Halacha daily mishna
הגאון רבי משה Rabbi Moshe Feinstein Manuscript

Rav Moses Feinstein (Hebrew: משה פיינשטײַן‎‎ Moshe Faynshteyn; March 3, 1895 – March 23, 1986) was an Orthodox rabbi, scholar, and posek (an authoritative adjudicator of questions related to Jewish law), who was world-renowned for his expertise in Halakha, extreme gentleness, and compassion, and was regarded by many as the de facto supreme halakhic authority for Orthodox, especially ultra-Orthodox, Jews in North America. In the Orthodox world, he is widely referred to simply as "Reb Moshe", and his halakhic rulings are often referenced in contemporary rabbinic literature.

He was president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, Chairman of the Council of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the American Center of Agudat Israel, and Head of the yeshiva "Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem" in New York.


Moshe Feinstein was born, according to the Hebrew calendar, on the 7th day of Adar, 5655 (traditionally the date of birth and death of the Biblical Moshe) in Uzda, near Minsk, Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire. His father, David Feinstein, was the rabbi of Uzdan and a great-grandson of the Vilna Gaon's brother. His mother was a descendant of talmudist Yom Tov Lipman, the Shlah HaKadosh, and Rashi.

He studied with his father, and also in yeshivas located in Slutsk and Shklov. He also had a close relationship with his uncle, Rabbi Yaakov Kantrowitz, rabbi of Timkovitch, whom he greatly revered and considered his mentor. He was appointed rabbi of Lubań, where he served for sixteen years. He married Shima Kustanovich in 1920, and had 4 children (Pesach Chaim, Fay Gittel, Shifra, and David), before leaving Europe.[1] His son, Pesach Chaim, died in Europe, and his son, Reuven, was born in the US. Under increasing pressure from the Soviet regime, he moved with his family to New York City in 1936, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Settling on the Lower East Side, he became the rosh yeshiva of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem. He later established a branch of the yeshiva in Staten Island, New York, now headed by his son Rabbi Reuven Feinstein. His son Rabbi Dovid Feinstein heads the Manhattan branch.

He was president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, and chaired the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America from the 1960s until his death. Rabbi Feinstein also took an active leadership role in Israel's Chinuch Atzmai.

Rabbi Feinstein was revered by many as the Gadol Hador (greatest Torah sage of the generation), including by Rabbis Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, Yonasan Steif, Elyah Lopian, Aharon Kotler, Yaakov Kamenetsky, and Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, even though several of them were far older than he. Rabbi Feinstein was also recognized by many as the preeminent Torah sage and Posek of his generation, and people from around the world called upon him to answer their most complicated Halachic questions.

Notable decisions[edit]

Owing to his prominence as an adjudicator of Jewish law, Rabbi Feinstein was asked the most difficult questions, in which he issued a number of innovative and controversial decisions. Soon after arriving in the United States, he established a reputation for handling business and labor disputes. For instance, he wrote about strikes, seniority, and fair competition. Later, he served as the chief Halakhic authority for the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, indicative of his expertise in Jewish medical ethics. In the medical arena, he opposed the early, unsuccessful heart transplants, although it is orally reported that in his later years, he allowed a person to receive a heart transplant (after the medical technique of preventing rejection was improved). On such matters, he often consulted with various scientific experts, including his son-in-law Rabbi Dr. Moshe David Tendler, who is a professor of biology and serves as a rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University.

As a leader of American Orthodoxy, moreover, Rabbi Feinstein issued opinions that clearly distanced his community from Conservative and Reform Judaism.[2] He faced intense opposition from Hasidic Orthodoxy on several controversial decisions, such as rulings on artificial insemination and mechitza. In the case of his position not to prohibit cigarette smoking, though he recommended against it and prohibited second-hand smoke, other Orthodox rabbinic authorities disagreed. It should be noted that all his detractors, while disagreeing with specific rulings, still considered him to be a leading and venerated sage. The first volume of his Igrot Moshe, a voluminous collection of his halachic decisions, was published in 1959.[3] He made noteworthy decisions on the following topics:

  • Artificial insemination from a non-Jewish donor (EH I:10,71, II:11, IV:32.5)[4]
  • Ascending the Temple Mount nowadays (OH II:113)[5]
  • Cosmetic surgery (HM II:66)[6]
  • Bat Mitzvah for girls (OH I:104 (1956), OH II:97 (1959), OH IV:36)[7]
  • Brain death as an indication of death under Jewish law (YD II:146,174, III:132, IV:54)[8]
  • Cholov Yisroel Permitted reliance on U.S. government agency supervision in ensuring that milk was reliably kosher, and it is as if Jews had personally witnessed it (YD I:47). This was a highly controversial ruling disputed by prominent peers of Feinstein.[9]
  • Cheating for the N.Y. Regents exams (HM II:30)[not in citation given]
  • Classical music in religious settings (YD II:111)
  • Commemorating the Holocaust, Yom ha-Shoah (YD IV:57.11)
  • Conservative Judaism, including its clergy and schools (e.g., YD II:106–107)[10]
  • Donating blood for pay (HM I:103)
  • Education of girls (e.g., YD II:109, YD II:113 YD III:87.2)[11]
  • End-of-life medical care[8]
  • Eruv projects in New York City
  • Financial ethics (HM II:29))[12]
  • Hazardous medical operations[8]
  • Heart transplantation (YD 2:174.3)[8]
  • Labor union and related employment privileges (e.g., HM I:59)
  • Mehitza (esp. OH I:39)[13]
  • Mixed-seating on a subway or other public transportation (EH II:14)
  • Psychiatric care (YD II:57)
  • Separation of conjoined twins who were fused all the way from the shoulder to the pelvis and shared one heart. It is during this case that C. Everett Koop, the 13th Surgeon General of the United States, said "The ethics and morals involved in this decision are too complex for me. I believe they are too complex for you as well. Therefore I referred it to an old rabbi on the Lower East Side of New York. He is a great scholar, a saintly individual. He knows how to answer such questions. When he tells me, I too will know."[14]
  • Shaking hands between men and women (OH I:113; EH I:56; EH IV:32)[15]
  • Smoking marijuana (YD III:35)
  • Tay-Sachs fetus abortion, esp. in debate with Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg[16]
  • Smoking cigarettes[17]
  • Veal raised in factory conditions (EH IV, 92:2)
  • Permitted remarriage after Holocaust (EH I:44)

Note: Responsa in Igrot Moshe are cited in parentheses


Moshe Feinstein's grave

Rabbi Feinstein died on March 23, 1986 (13th of Adar II, 5746). It has been pointed out that the 5746th verse in the Torah reads, "And it came to pass after Moshe had finished writing down the words of this Torah in a book to the very end." (Deuteronomy 31:24). This is taken by some as a fitting epitaph for him.

At the time, he was regarded as Orthodoxy's foremost halkhic authority and Posek. His funeral in Israel was delayed by a day due to mechanical problems to the plane carrying his coffin, which had to return to New York. His funeral in Israel was said to be the largest among Jews since the Mishnaic era, with an estimated attendance of 300,000 people (though others since then may have been bigger. Some sources put Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef's funeral attendance at over 850,000). Among the eulogizers in America were Rabbis Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, Dovid Lifshitz, Shraga Moshe Kalmanowitz, Nisson Alpert, Moshe David Tendler, Michel Barenbaum, and Mordecai Tendler, and the Satmar Rebbe. The son of the deceased, Rabbi Reuven, also spoke.

In Israel, Rabbis Elazar Shach, Dovid Povarsky, Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss, Yehuda Tzadka, Rabbi Feinstein's son Reuven, and Rabbi Feinstein's nephew Rabbi Michel Feinstein, all tearfully expressed grief over what they termed a massive loss to the generation.

Rabbi Feinstein was held in such great esteem that Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who was himself regarded as a Torah giant, Talmid Chacham, and posek, refused to eulogize him, saying "Who am I to eulogize him? I studied his sefarim; I was his talmid (student)."

R' Moshe was buried on Har HaMenuchot in proximity to his teacher, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer; his friend, Rabbi Aharon Kotler; his son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Shisgal; the Brisker Rav, Rav Avraham Yofen, and next to the Belzer Rebbe.

Prominent students[edit]

Rabbi Feinstein invested much time molding select students to become leaders in Rabbinics and Halacha. Most are considered authorities in many areas of practical Halacha and Rabbinic and Talmudic academics. Some of those students are:


Rabbi Feinstein's greatest renown came from a lifetime of responding to halachic queries posed by Jews in America and worldwide. He authored approximately 2,000 responsa on a wide range of issues affecting Jewish practice in the modern era. Some responsa can also be found in his Talmudic commentary (Dibrot Moshe), some circulate informally, and 1,883 responsa were published in Igrot Moshe. Among Rabbi Feinstein's works:

  • Igrot Moshe; (Epistles of Moshe); pronounced Igros Moshe by Yiddish speakers such as Rabbi Feinstein himself; a classic work of Halachic responsa. Consisting of 7 volumes published during his lifetime and considered necessary for every Rabbi to have. Of these, the final, seventh volume was published in two different forms, the resulting variations found in a total of 65 responsa.[20] An additional 2 volumes were published posthumously from manuscripts and oral dictations that were transcribed by others.
  • Dibrot Moshe (Moshe's Words); pronounced Dibros Moshe by Yiddish speakers such as Rabbi Feinstein himself; a 14 volume work of Talmudic novellae with additional volumes being published by the Feinstein Foundation and being coordinated by his grandson, Rabbi Mordecai Tendler.
  • Darash Moshe (Moshe Expounds, a reference to Leviticus 10:16), a posthumously published volume of novellae on the weekly synagogue Torah reading. [Artscroll subsequently translated this as a two-volume English work.]

Some of Rabbi Feinstein's early works, including a commentary on the Talmud Yerushalmi, were lost in Communist Russia, though his first writings are being prepared for publication by the Feinstein Foundation.


  1. ^ "Great Leaders of Our People – Rav Moshe Feinstein". Retrieved December 13, 2009. 
  2. ^ For example, see Roth, Joel. The Halakhic Process: A Systematic Analysis, JTS: 1986, pp.71ff. Robinson (2001).
  3. ^ Codex Judaica Mattis Kantor, Zichron Press, NY 2005, p.299
  4. ^ Cohen, A. in JHCS
  5. ^ Meyer, Gedalia; Messner, Henoch (2010). "Entering the Temple Mount—in Halacha and Jewish History". Hakirah (10). ISBN 0-9765665-9-1. 
  6. ^ Halperin (2006)
  7. ^ See esp. Joseph (1995)
  8. ^ a b c d Feinstein & Tendler (1996)
  9. ^ Rav Yaakov Breisch in Chelkas Yaakov Vol.2 ch.37 stated that "all of his rationales are not sufficient to contradict a clear ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and halachic authorities...." Later in ch.37 and 38, Breisch extensively disputes various premises underlying the rationale for Feinstein's lenient ruling. See also Shu"t Beer Moshe Vol.4, ch.52, Kinyan Torah 1:38 for a more detailed listing of the many authorities disputing Feinstein's reasoning and conclusion.
  10. ^ Roth (1989), op. cit. on YD 139.
  11. ^ Joseph (1995)
  12. ^ Tzedakah and Tzedek: Halachic & Ethical Financial Requirements Pertaining to Charitable Organizations by Daniel Feldman [1]
  13. ^ Baruch Litvin, The Sanctity of the Synagogue, 1962
  14. ^ Tendler excerpt on
  15. ^ See Negiah, section entitled "Shaking Hands in Halacha," for a discussion regarding Rav Moshe's opinion on this topic, both with regard to initiating a handshake and with regard to returning a handshake (i.e. where the other party extends his/her hand first). For a translation of R' Moshe's three Teshuvos (responsa) on men shaking hands with women, see [2]
  16. ^ E.g., see Sinclair, Daniel. Jewish Biomedical Law 2004
  17. ^ See RCA decision and, earlier, RCA Roundtable. (Statement by Orthodox Rabbis Saul Berman, Reuven Bulka, Daniel Landes and Jeffrey Woolf.) “Proposal on smoking” (unpublished) July 1991.
  18. ^ (November 18, 2015) "Chicago Orthodox Rabbi Found Guilty of Sexually Assaulting 15-year-old Boy", Haaretz
  19. ^ Rich, Alan and Femmus, J. (February 17, 2016) "Jackie Mason: Bloomberg a Hypocrite!", The Jewish Voice
  20. ^ Shalom C. Spira, "A Combination of Two Halakhically Kosher Prenuptial Agreements to Benefit the Jewish Wife," footnote 100 [3]


  • Eidensohn, Daniel (2000). יד משה: מפתח לכל ח׳ חלקים של שו״ת אגרות משה מאת משה פיינשטיין (in Hebrew). Jerusalem, Israel: D. Eidensohn. OCLC 51317225. 
  • Ellenson, David. "Two Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein." American Jewish Archives Journal, Volume LII, Nos. 1 and 2, Fall 2000–2001.
  • Feinstein, Moshe; Moshe David Tendler (1996). Responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein: translation and commentary. [translated and annotated] by Moshe Dovid Tendler. Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House. ISBN 0-88125-444-4. LCCN 96011212. OCLC 34476198. 
  • Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, Rabbi Nosson Scherman. Reb Moshe: The Life and Ideals of HaGaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Brooklyn, NY: ArtScroll Mesorah, 1986. ISBN 0-89906-480-9.
  • Halperin, Mordechai (2006). "The Theological and Halakhic Legitimacy of Medical Therapy and Enhancement". In Noam Zohar. Quality of life in Jewish bioethics. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-1446-8. LCCN 2005029443. OCLC 62078279. 
  • Joseph, Norma Baumel (1995). Separate Spheres: Women in the Responsa of Rabbi Moses Feinstein (PhD thesis). Concordia University. 
  • "Rav Moshe Feinstein". Great Leaders of our People. Orthodox Union. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  • _________. "Jewish education for women: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's map of America." American Jewish history, 1995
  • Rackman, Emanuel. "Halachic progress: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's Igrot Moshe on Even ha-Ezer" in Judaism 12 (1964), 365–373
  • Robinson, Ira. "Because of our many sins: The contemporary Jewish world as reflected in the responsa of Moses Feinstein" 2001
  • Rosner, Fred. "Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's Influence on Medical Halacha" Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society. No. XX, 1990
  • __________. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on the treatment of the terminally ill." Judaism. Spring 37(2):188–98. 1988
  • Rabbi Mordecai Tendler, interview with grandson of Rabbi Feinstein and shamash for 18 years.
  • Warshofsky, Mark E. "Responsa and the Art of Writing: Three Examples from the Teshuvot of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein," in An American Rabbinate: A Festschrift for Walter Jacob Pittsburgh, Rodef Shalom Press, 2001 (Download in PDF format)

External links[edit]