This afternoon, the New York Times, in a series of articles commemorating different individuals who unfortunately passed on from coronavirus, profiled the famed Rosh Yeshiva of Oholei Torah, Rabbi Yisroel Friedman.
A young student under the charge of Yisroel Friedman once left a Talmud study session to do his laundry. The boy’s action so distressed Rabbi Friedman that he fretted aloud to the other students for half an hour.
Rabbi Friedman, the longtime dean of Oholei Torah, a leading yeshiva of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Orthodox Judaism in Brooklyn, rarely let worldly matters intrude on his service to God. He was pious and sincere; even sugar in his coffee was a frivolity.
“It was one consistent life of devotion,” said D. Maimon Kirschenbaum, a former student of Rabbi Friedman’s and an employment lawyer in Manhattan. “He studied intensely. He prayed intensely. He didn’t let up.”
Another former pupil, Mendel Rubin, called Rabbi Friedman “an internist,” adding, “He wanted us to internalize our learning, make it part of our life. Not close the book at the end of the day but make it shape your perspective.”
Rabbi Friedman died on April 1 at N.Y.U. Langone Health in Manhattan. He was 83. Nosson Blumes, director of development for Oholei Torah, said the cause was the novel coronavirus.
Rabbi Friedman had a razor-sharp intellect and an argumentative teaching style. He would call out students in class for one knowledge lapse or another. Yet he also had a “soft underbelly,” said Rabbi Rubin, and was known to display humor and a paternal sensitivity.
“When I was a student, I didn’t pay attention to my appearance because I was so immersed in my studies,” said Rabbi Rubin, who is now co-director of Shabbos House, a Chabad student center in Albany. “He asked my study partner if I could use money for clothes.”
Such purchases came out of a fund that Reb Yisroel, as his students called him, kept for students in need, whether the need was for shoes or tuition. One acquaintance speculated that for all the rabbi cared about material things, he might have worn the same coat for 30 years.