April 12, 2024
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A Tribute to Rabbi  Fabian Schonfeld, z”l

Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld was marked by an almost paradoxical synthesis of simplicity and complexity. He saw himself as a straightforward Torah Jew loyal to his traditions and resistant to labels—even the label Orthodox. In the deepest sense, he lived by this credo, and all of his actions and positions flowed from this simple self-perception.

In applying this conviction, he found himself in relationships that defy easy categorization. He was a supremely gifted pulpit rabbi who built not only a synagogue but an entire community. He was a devoted disciple of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and acted as a guardian of his legacy in many contexts. At the same time, he saw himself as an adherent of the traditions of Gerer chasidim even though he did not live the life of a chasid. He led a variety of Orthodox rabbinic organizations. He was a fervent Zionist and defender of Israel. He interacted in a spirit of abiding friendship with non-Orthodox rabbis and lay leaders while expressing his disagreements when needed with full candor. In interfaith discussions, he developed close relationships with Catholic leaders while adhering scrupulously to Rabbi Soloveitchik’s guidelines regarding theological dialogue.

The key to his ability to deal with these multiple challenges and relationships while remaining a beloved figure to everyone he encountered lay in the genuineness and integrity that exuded from every pore of his being.

Yehi zichro baruch!


Rabbi Dr. David Berger is the Ruth and I. Lewis Gordon Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University.

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