February 26, 2024
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February 26, 2024
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Tribute to Two Gedolim: Rabbi Eliach and Rabbi Tendler

Rabbi Eliach headed the Meshek Yaladim Moza institution for child survivors of the Holocaust, instilling Jewish values in people most likely to question them. He evidently answered the questions so effectively that he even married an orphaned child survivor of the Holocaust, who eventually earned an international reputation in her own right, Dr. Yaffa Eliach. And in 1987 Yeshiva University conferred on him its first-ever honorary degree of Doctor of Pedagogy.

Perhaps one of his most amazing achievements was his ability to inspire others to achieve greatness in Jewish studies, perhaps most notably with his wife, the orphaned child Holocaust survivor who became one of the most famous writers about the Holocaust, Dr. Yaffa Eliach, then his daughter, Smadar Eliach Rosensweig, an Ivy League-educated professor of Bible at Yeshiva University’s Stern College. His extended family achieved a unique trifecta at the inaugural Yarchei Kallah conducted by Yeshiva University on Shavuot in 1911 featuring Yeshiva University’s “A” team of educators that first year, when his daughter spoke (providing men with a rare opportunity to hear her since she usually addresses women), as did her daughter’s accomplished husband, Rabbi Michael Rosensweig, rosh kollel at Yeshiva University, and her daughter’s father-in-law, YU professor and leading pulpit rabbi Bernard Rosensweig, obm.

Rabbi Tendler’s work in cancer research was featured in Time Magazine (when this magazine was still a major staple in American households and waiting areas), referring to his work on a substance he named refuin. When I wrote that he “almost found a cure for cancer,” word got back to me questioning the use of the word “almost.”

He was treated as a “rock star” wherever he went to speak, all over the world, most notably at the conventions of the Orthodox Jewish Scientists, where he was the keynote speaker and surrounded by scientific and rabbinical groupies wherever he went. (Note for the record: Non-scientists were permitted to attend, and for us, as for everyone else, Rabbi Tendler was the main attraction.)

Memories from my student days:

At Yeshiva University, he was known, admired and loved for inserting scientific information into his Gemara shiurim, and Jewish information into his biology classes.

He is the only teacher I can recall having, in any school on any level, who arranged for a chartered bus to take our whole class to his home—in Monsey—for a memorable Chanukah chagigah!

One time he came late to class, and our class was a bit unruly while we waited for him to come, which resulted in our whole class being “suspended” by the administrator. I wrote a petition to the administrator arguing that the students who were well behaved should not have been punished with the others. It was my first “case.” As we waited in the classroom to hear the verdict—which eventually came out in our favor—Rabbi Tendler finally came and said, with his ever-present twinkle in his eye, “I hear you are to be suspended today, OK. I’ll teach; don’t listen.” (Who ever heard that dare from a teacher?) Of course most of us listened. It was a joy to hear him speak on any subject, and after a while the suspension was rescinded.

He famously quipped that when Yeshiva University would grant semicha to its students, more important than the words on the front was the phone number on the back of the klaff, of his father-in-law, Rav Moshe Feinstein, long considered the gadol haddor.

I organized a Yavneh convention centered in his shul in Monsey in the early 1970s, but it turned out he had to be away that Shabbat. My disappointment was tempered by the other guest in his home that Shabbat, filling in for him at his Shabbos table, the aforementioned Rav Moshe Feinstein, obm.

Rabbi Tendler was the wittiest teacher I had at Yeshiva University—secular or holy. I used to whip out my notebook to record the witticisms of all of my teachers at YU for posterity. Like a baseball pitcher tipping off which pitch would come next, he used to form a subtle expression on his face just as he was about to come up with a wisecrack. He is the only teacher I had who noticed what I was doing, one time actually commenting, as I saw a quip coming and whipped out my special notebook, “this one is off the record, Reichel.” Of course it went into my notebook after the class was over, though it will remain in pectore, off the record, for posterity, as instructed.

Years later, my dear daughter, Ariella, was in the biology class taught by his daughter, Mrs. Fried, at the Central Yeshiva University High School. I had been unable to take his biology class due to a scheduling conflict, but sure enough, when I showed my daughter some of his biology-related witticisms from his Gemara shiur in my notebook, she said her teacher had said the same thing on one occasion! Imagine the teacher’s amazement when I produced my notebook at the next parent-teacher’s meeting!

To say that Rabbi Tendler will be missed is an understatement. He was one of a kind.

Aaron Reichel
Queens, NY
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