Benjamin Bak, founding rabbi of Baltimore's Shomrei Emunah synagogue and a widely respected spiritual leader of Orthodox Judaism, died of a heart attack Feb. 11 at St. Joseph Hospital. He was 72. Rabbi Bak was born in Lithuania, where he distinguished himself in his teens as a Torah scholar. He entered Yeshiva University in New York in 1940. A short time later, both of his parents and most of his other relatives in Lithuania were killed by the Nazis.
In 1943, he married the former Muriel Alexander of New York, a teacher of Hebrew.
Rabbi Bak served a congregation in Savannah, Ga., before moving to Baltimore in 1944. Here, he led Congregation Tifereth Israel in Forest Park for 20 years.
One of his lifelong interests was the welfare of Jewish patients in mental hospitals. He had held the post of Jewish chaplain in the Maryland health department and was a rabbinical consultant to Jewish Family Services. He continued his studies at the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a master's degree in education.
From 1972 until two years ago, when he was named rabbi emeritus, he guided the rapid growth of the Shomrei Emunah congregation on Greenspring Avenue in Mount Washington.
More than 600 people attended his funeral at the synagogue there Feb. 12 and heard his successor, Rabbi Hersh Tzvi Weinreb, describe him as "20 years my senior in age and hundreds of years my senior in wisdom."
On Thursday, Rabbi Bak was buried in Jerusalem beside his son, Rabbi Pinchos Bak, who died in 1977.
Survivors, in addition to his wife, are two other sons, Joseph Bak of Monsey, N.Y., and Herzl Bak of New Rochelle, N.Y.; a daughter, Hennie Friedman of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.