In Rav Tendlers’s long teaching career, I was among his last students. I didn’t know Rav Tendler for long but the zman I spent in his shiur four years ago was very impactful. He said a lot of things that had a strong influence on me. Here’s a few of them:
Glatt kosher: Rav Tendler was very strong about glatt kosher being a chumra and how it was terrible that it entered Halacha as a requirement when it’s not, and that it destroyed a segment of Halacha. He said his father-in-law, Rav Moshe Feinstein (whom he always called “The Shver”), fought glatt kosher until the very end. Rav Moshe refused to buy glatt because you’re paskening treif what God said is kosher.
When asked if giraffe is kosher, he quipped: Giraffe is the best animal for a shochet to practice on because you can’t miss.
Torah and science: I was always troubled by conflicts between the Gemara and today’s science. As Rav Tendler was also a professor of biology, I thought he was the perfect person to come to with my questions. When I asked him about Chazal and science, he told me in no uncertain terms that Chazal didn’t know any more science than everyone else in their day. The way halacha works, he said, is that you tell us the science (the metzius) and we will tell you the halacha. Nishtaneh hateva (the nature changed) is just a nice term for nishtaneh daas hateva (what we know about nature changed).
Rav Tendler would constantly tell us stories about his father-in-law, Rav Moshe Feinstein.
He met Rav Moshe when he was an undergrad student at YU, while he was in Rav Soloveitchik’s shiur. On Fridays, when he went home to his family in the Lower East Side, he used to go to Rav Moshe’s shiur in MTJ. YU was learning the same masechta as MTJ so he would argue with Rav Moshe using what the Rav told him about the same sugya. When Rav Moshe asked him where he heard this other pshat, he told him Rav Soloveitchik. So Rav Moshe would then call Rav Soloveitchik (his cousin) to discuss the sugya with him. This started a weekly phone call between them and was how Rav Tendler became close with Rav Moshe.
He told us how he met his wife (Rav Moshe’s daughter) in the public library when she asked him for help with her chemistry homework.
People would call his father-in-law, Rav Moshe, day and night with different shailos. Rav Tendler used to answer the phones on Thursday nights so Rav Moshe could get sleep.
When I was in his shiur we were learning Masechet Horayos, which is about the Sanhedrin Gedolah making a mistake. He kept emphasizing throughout how the sugyas show that even big rabbis are fallible and can make mistakes. He explained that Halacha isn’t always in line with objective truth. Halacha is in flux. It’s not stable. This is God’s will. God gave the Torah to fallible people who will do their best, but sometimes make mistakes.
His lessons shaped the way I view Halacha and Judaism and very much spoke to me. May his memory be a blessing.
By Yehuda Greenfield