May 30, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 30, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Rabbi Simcha Kauss, zt”l

Rabbi Simcha Krauss, zt”l, died in Jerusalem last week, surrounded by his family; he was 85. Rabbi Krauss was born in Romania and immigrated to the US after World War II. He held degrees from The City College of New York and The New School, and taught at St. Louis University and Utica College. A talmid of Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner (from whom he received semicha in 1963) and the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, he counted Rav Aharon Lichtenstein among his chavrutas. He served several congregations in Utica, St. Louis, and most recently Hillcrest (Queens), where he served for 25 years before making aliyah in 2005. He also taught Talmud at Yeshiva University. In Israel, he taught principally at Yeshiva Eretz HaTzvi, where he was known not only as a brilliant Halachist, but a compassionate and gentle soul, learning one-on-one with the students, many from the US on gap year programs. (Note: I was a congregant of Rabbi Krauss in Hillcrest from 1998-2005.)

Rabbi Krauss was an exceptional scholar, drawing on the traditions of his main mentors, as well as a breadth of knowledge of ancient and modern commentators. Among his students—and many others who came in contact with him—he was known for his humanity and love of Torah. He did not believe that Torah and Halacha were stagnant and lived on a shelf, merely to be consulted for an answer like Google. Application of Halacha meant understanding the circumstances in which it was operating. His love of God and Torah was such that he could not conceive that it would either demand the impossible, nor allow it to be used to inflict cruelty on people. He always inquired into his students’ and congregants’ lives, their learning, their families. His teaching was intense and filled with joy.

He was passionate about emet (truth). He felt that too often, contemporary rabbis acted on fears, rushing to denounce and prohibit things that the Halacha permits. He was happy to work within existing systems, but when it was apparent that institutions allowed injustices to fester, he was not afraid to stand alone if Torah law supported his view. As a result, he became most widely known because of two actions he took that reflected this approach.

In 1997, he was constructively forced out of the Queens Vaad HaRabonim for his support of a women’s tefillah group. The group attracted the wrath of the Queens Vaad when a bat mitzvah invited her classmates from the local day school to her Torah reading at the group. The Vaad publicly denounced it, and by extension Rabbi Krauss, despite Rabbi Krauss’ vigorous defense. He was quoted in The New York Times as saying ”Some people want something. We are rabbis. We are guardians of the law. Other people want something, and it’s a quest for spirituality, a yearning to be closer to God, and if we can say yes, we should say yes.”

The struggles of agunot (women denied a get after a beit din has ordered the recalcitrant husband to issue one), had troubled him for years. Many batei din are known for siding with men who withhold a get, often demanding huge financial concessions from women or custody or visitation rights even where the man is an abuser. Despite Halachic precedents, many of these courts are reluctant to void marriages when a husband refuses under any circumstances to give a get, essentially holding the women hostage for years. In 2014, Rabbi Krauss helped found a new beit din that would work on cases, looking for ways to void the marriage in accordance with existing halachot. Again, many in the rabbinic establishment attacked him, notwithstanding the legal precedents and exacting Halachic bases for the decisions.

In both cases, Rabbi Krauss stood firm and continued his work undeterred, with dignity and grace. Rabbi Krauss is survived by his wife Esther, founding principal of Teaneck’s Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School, which is one of the first to teach Gemara to young women, his son Binyamin (and Shana) Krauss, principal of SAR Academy, daughters Dr. Rivka (and SAR High School principal Tully) Harcsztark of Teaneck and Dr. Aviva (and Danishai) Kornbluth, and twelve grandchildren. May his memory be for a blessing to all Klal Yisrael.

Michael Rogovin
Teaneck
Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles