Rabbi Yisrael Rosen z"l (1941 - 2017)
Rabbi Yisrael Rosen z"l (1941 - 2017)
Sometime during my first few weeks as a shana alef student in Yeshivat Har Etzion, R. Menachem Leibtag (our madrich!) approached me and asked if I was interested in being "adopted" by an Israeli family in Alon Shvut, the Rosens. While meeting the local residents was not one of my goals for the year, I figured a few meals out of Yeshiva, and the opportunity to meet "an interesting rabbi" justified walking across the yishuv (i.e. a 5 minute walk..) on Shabbat mornings.
For the next two years, I ate Shabbat meals almost regularly at the Rosens. Table conversation was always interesting. R. Rosen always had what to say, and was always curious to hear the opinions of others. He was interested in Torah, technology, Israeli society, American society, the rabbinic world, and almost everything else. He was creative and always had new and even surprising ideas. I even recall almost falling off my chair when he suggested the Mafdal include Reform and Conservative leadership, becoming a party representing all "religious" interests.
When I returned to yeshiva after college, I once again invited myself to the Rosens for Shabbat meals. By the early to mid 90's, he was already familiar with the emerging world of the Internet (which did not yet recognize Hebrew characters, a topic which concerned him greatly!) and he was thinking of ways to use the Internet for all sorts of religious and educational functions. Years later, we had to privilege to of hosting the Rosens as well, and after undergoing a medical procedure in America, he spent weeks recuperating at my in-law's home, time spent learning and trying to understand American culture.
Only years later did I realize that this interesting, curious, creative, opinionated yet tolerant and open-minded rabbi was one of the more important figures in the Religious Zionist world. I began to fully appreciate the contribution and importance of Tzomet and its Torah publications, as well as R. Rosen's work as a dayan giyur and his role in the Religious Zionist rabbinic world. I also began to appreciate his knowledge and his creativity and to realize how many great Torah scholars and leaders regularly spoke to him. Alongside his desire to introduce innovations into halakha, he was grounded, well rooted and respected in the rabbinic world - this allowed and enable him to accomplish so many things.
As I continued to speak to him, and as we had contact in other rabbinic contexts and forums, I saw the qualities which so many people mentioned today: he was principled yet open-minded, both conservative and liberal, stringent and lenient, and most important, kind and generous. He was not sheltered, and while holding strong views about religious and State (and almost every other issue), he was deeply rooted and very much exposed to different segments of the religious world, as well as to the broader Israeli society.
I popped into Tzomet occasionally to ask him about electrical appliances on Shabbat, and to consult with him regarding questions I received. He would speak with me, bring me to the machsan to look at some of the newest Tzomet products, and excitedly give me copies of his sefarim, on Tanakh and giyur. In turn, when I received the first copies of my sefer which was translated into Hebrew, I quickly ran to his office to give him a copy.
R. Rosen dedicated much time in recent years to his beit din legiyur. He understood that the Rabbanut's failure to properly address the needs potential converts does not and cannot justify ignoring their plight. If the Rabbanut would not take responsibility for those who wish to convert, both in Israel and abroad, then responsible and recognized rabbinic leadership must step up tend to their needs. He viewed giyur from both a broad, national outlook, as well as from a very human and personal perspective While he had strong feelings regarding who should fill this role, his concern for others, and willingness to think, and act "out of the box," responsibly, is worthy of appreciation and emulation.
I hope that R. Rosen's contributions continue to flourish, including the important work of the Tzomet Institute, the publication of high-quality Torah articles (Techumin), and his beit din legiyur (and others!), which combines rigorous halakhic standards with caring and sensitivity.
Yehi zikhroi barukh.