Ner Israel dean Yaakov S. Weinberg, 76, dies; Thousands gather at college to mourn 'the rabbi's rabbi'


Thousands of Orthodox Jews, many arriving from as far as the West Coast, gathered yesterday at Pikesville's Ner Israel Rabbinical College to mourn "the rabbi's rabbi."

Rabbi Yaakov S. Weinberg, dean of Ner Israel and a world-renowned Torah and Talmudic scholar, died of cancer early yesterday at Sinai Hospital. He was 76.

By yesterday afternoon, his family, friends, colleagues and former students crowded into Ner Israel's study hall, where on a typical school day rabbinical students would sit in pairs discussing or arguing points of Jewish law.

This time, they gathered before the body of Rabbi Weinberg, laid to rest in a simple coffin draped in a black cloth with a white Star of David, to say farewell to the man who taught them to love learning.

"The turnout says it all," said Rabbi Jonathan A. Seidemann, director of community services for Ner Israel. "He was a rabbi's rabbi. There are likely thousands of rabbis who were either taught by him or who were taught by rabbis who were taught by him."

Before his burial at United Hebrew Cemetery in Lansdowne, a succession of rabbis took to a podium behind the casket to eulogize Rabbi Weinberg during the three-hour service before a roomful of men, mostly garbed in the traditional black suit and black hat of the Orthodox. Women sat in a separate section, as is Orthodox custom.

"He was a truly unique educator of many generations of students who are now functioning as rabbis or educated laymen throughout the United States and in many foreign countries," said Rabbi Herman N. Neuberger, Ner Israel's president. "His insights and his ability to analyze with depth and perception was breathtaking to his students. He taught them how to think and analyze with clarity. And more importantly, he taught them to feel a sense of responsibility for their fellow man."

A son, Rabbi Matis Weinberg of Jerusalem, spoke of his father's simple lifestyle.

"Whoever heard him ask for anything?" Matis Weinberg said. "A shirt? A pair of pants? A tie? He never knew what it was to desire."

Rabbi Yochanan Zweig, a disciple of Weinberg's from Miami Beach, Fla., recalled that his teacher "was always listening to us with tremendous, tremendous patience.

"He gave us a tremendous feeling of how much he loved us and how much we must love every single Jew," Rabbi Zweig said. "The love that you felt!"

Rabbi Zweig lamented: "We bothered you when it was convenient for us. And the times we never bothered you. The thousands and thousands of things you could have told us. You only wanted us to ask."

Another son, Rabbi Simcha Weinberg of New York, recalled that several years ago, his father was asked to speak in St. Louis and the advertisements read, "Come and hear the man who can answer any question! And ask any question you want!"

The day the rabbi arrived for the lecture, the hall was crowded with people who were determined to stump the great holy man from Baltimore. A man with the first question stepped forward and expectantly awaited his answer.

"My father said 'I don't know.' " Simcha Weinberg recalled. "Here is the man who can answer any question and the first answer he gives is 'I don't know.' And he said, 'I think the best way to first answer any question is 'I don't know.' "

Rabbi Weinberg was born in New York and raised in Israel. In 1944, he received his rabbinical degree from the Chaim Berlin Rabbinic Seminary in Brooklyn, N.Y. He served as a Talmudic professor at Ner Israel Rabbinical College from 1945 to 1965, as well as dean of the Kollel Graduate School at Ner Israel from 1953 to 1965.

In 1965, he moved to Toronto to serve as dean of the Ner Israel Yeshiva College, a branch of the Baltimore school. In 1971, he returned to Baltimore to become associate dean and then dean of the Kollel Graduate School. In 1987, he was named dean of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College.

Rabbi Weinberg was a member of the Rabbinic Advisory Board, and Torah Umsorah, the National Association of Hebrew Day Schools.

In addition to his wife, Chana Weinberg, and his sons, he is survived by four daughters: Aviva Weisbord of Baltimore, Miriam Feldman of Atlanta, Judy Zwick of New York, and Naomi Sprung of West Orange, N.J.

He is also survived by two brothers, Rabbi Noah Weinberg and Morris Weinberg, both of Israel; and two sisters, Chave Pincus of Israel and Helene Moskovitz of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Pub Date: 7/02/99

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