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Teaneck Father and Son Receive Rabbinic Ordination Together

This represents the first in a series of father-son semicha stories leading up to RIETS’s March 19 rabbinic ordination ceremony.

It’s not uncommon for sons to follow in their fathers’ footsteps—but relatively few fathers have walked in those of their sons.

Yet for Alvin Reinstein of Teaneck, and his son, Sam, that’s exactly what happened. The two will receive semicha (rabbinical ordination) together at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University this year after Alvin was moved by his son’s experience to undertake his own rabbinical studies.

Those studies had been a lifelong dream of Alvin’s. The son of Holocaust survivors who emigrated to the United States with nothing but their determination to create a Jewish home, religious education was an important value for Alvin, who attended Yeshiva Salanter, the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy/Yeshiva University High School for Boys and Yeshiva College, from which he graduated with a mathematics degree in 1972.

Though he went on to earn an MBA from Baruch College and work for the New York City Housing Authority for 32 years, Torah study continued to play a central role in his identity. “I believe that it is a primary duty for each one of us to achieve spiritual growth by spending our time learning Torah and performing mitzvot,” said Alvin. He studied on his own and with partners and attended lectures, but was frustrated by the many interruptions of daily life that made it difficult to maintain a steady schedule.

Then his wife, Esther Lauber, had an idea.

When Alvin retired in 2010, Sam had recently begun studying for the life of a pulpit rabbi at RIETS, after completing a mathematics degree at Yeshiva College, as his father had done three decades before. “Esther suggested I register for the RIETS semicha program, which would give me an opportunity for concentrated Torah learning in many different aspects of Talmud Torah,” said Alvin, adding wryly, “Also, I think she didn’t want me hanging around the house.”

He was also influenced to enroll by Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, who leads Teaneck’s Congregation Beth Aaron (the shul Alvin attends) and has since joined RIETS as director of professional rabbinics.

Since Sam had a bit of a head start, he found himself in an unusual position: guiding his father through the challenges of intense rabbinic studies. “What has been most interesting about this experience is that I have been largely able to mentor my father through the process,” said Sam, who currently serves as an assistant rabbi at Congregation Kol Israel in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights and also works as an actuary at Prudential. “It has been an interesting inversion of mesorah [tradition], but one where we have been able to work together to both achieve higher proficiency in our Jewish texts. For his entrance bechina [test], I was my father’s chavrusa [study partner], and as we opened the daf [page] he was given to learn, I realized it was the same daf I had been given a couple years earlier.”

“Since Sam took most of the RIETS classes before I did, I was able to avail myself of his copious class notes,” said Alvin. “For example, Rabbi Hershel Schechter’s shiur on Hilchot Eruvin was challenging, and Sam’s notes were an extremely useful study aid for succeeding in that class.”

The unique situation has led to some funny experiences for the pair—like the time Sam was delayed on a return trip from a shabbaton and received a text from his father about why he wasn’t in class, or the time Sam learned in a pastoral psychology class that his parents had signed a halachic prenup at their own marriage almost 30 years ago. And there have been other interesting moments as well. “In 2012, during my first semester attending RIETS, President Joel hosted a 40-year reunion for the Yeshiva College class of ’72,” said Alvin. “He noted that I was the only 40-year alumnus who also was a current student at the university.”

While some might find Alvin’s return to full-time study after retirement surprising, it’s completely in character for the father Sam recalls growing up. “While it is amazing that my father decided to go back to school and finish semicha, my father has been extraordinarily committed to his Judaism for as long as I can remember,” said Sam. “From making sure to always be at minyan to giving divrei Torah at the Shabbos table to doing acts of chesed [kindness], he has always modeled for me what a ben Torah [observant Jew] should be. There was always an important value in my house to do what you can to help the Jewish people.”

That value is in part what inspired to Sam to pursue the rabbinate: “Throughout my life I’ve felt like a rabbi in different situations, but semicha granted me the opportunity to make that official,” he said. “The additional ability to gain further understanding and knowledge of my tradition was another benefit.”

Both father and son consider the instruction they’ve received at RIETS—both in textual learning and in developing a toolset to combat the challenges of the rabbinic life—unparalleled.

“I studied Talmud for two years with Rabbi Moshe Tendler, whom I consider my rebbe,” said Alvin. “He had a unique way of relating the texts of the Gemara and rishonim [early commenters] to current times. For example, when we studied Masechet Sanhedrin, he frequently compared the judicial methodology of the U.S. Supreme Court to that of the Sanhedrin, which was fascinating. There were also many excellent shiurim from other RIETS faculty, like Rabbi Baruch Simon on kashrut, Rabbi Netanel Weiderblank on Jewish philosophy, Rabbi Yosef Blau on contemporary Jewish issues and Rabbi David Horowitz on the weekly parsha [Torah reading]. I also found Professor Brent Baer’s public speaking course very helpful.”

“Rabbi Jeremy Wieder and Rabbi Daniel Feldman are both unbelievable talmidei chachamim [scholars] who are able to relate their vast knowledge base to real-world applications in the 21st century,” said Sam. “I am lucky to have been able to keep up a relationship with them, as their advice and guidance have been irreplaceable. Dr. Daniel Rynhold broadened my horizons in Revel where we learned about philosophy of halacha [Jewish law] and many other topics.”

For Alvin, the ordination that he and his son are about to receive is especially meaningful because it fulfills the mission his parents set out on so long ago.

“Watching Sam perform his rabbinical duties at his shul in Brooklyn makes me extremely proud,” said Alvin. “He is a very serious leader of his congregation. We sometimes discuss halachic issues and this inspires me to deepen my own Torah learning. I believe that our respective semichot are a tribute to Sam’s ancestors, who died, al Kiddush Hashem, in the Holocaust.”

Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and the Yeshiva University community will celebrate the ordination of more than 30 musmachim (ordained rabbis) at their Chag HaSemichah Convocation on Sunday, March 19, in the Nathan Lamport Auditorium, Zysman Hall, 2540 Amsterdam Avenue, New York City.

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