Tribute To Rabbi Zevulun Charlop zt”l


(Rabbi Elchanan Poupko) — There are rabbis who will teach you a great deal of Torah through their lectures and books, and there are rabbis who will teach you even more Torah through their stories, behavior, friendship, kindness, and conversation. Such was my relationship with Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, the Dean Emeritus of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University.

Join our WhatsApp group

Subscribe to our Daily Roundup Email

While I did not get to study in YU when Rabbi Charlop served as dean, I was very blessed to know him and spend Shabbat with him often. During these times, I got to see a kind of Torah scholar our world no longer produces and one that will be dearly missed now that Rabbi Charlop is no longer with us.

There are Yiddish titles we use today that no longer carry the gravitas they used to carry; “a shtot rov” a city’s rabbi, “a veltishe Yid” a worldly Jew, “a barimteh lamdan” a well-known brilliant Talmudists, and other titles that used to carry a gravitas hardly seen nowadays. Rabbi Charlop embodied so many of these titles and more. He was one of the rare Lithuanian Jews I ever met who could share a great story about great Torah scholars that does not only involve events great Torah scholars had been through but also the various Halachic and Talmudical details of their conversation. It is fashionable to discuss stories about great Torah scholars of past generations, but few people are able to offer an original Torah insight by each and every Torah scholar whom they discuss. Rabbi Charlop did not share the Torah ideas of great scholars from their books or from recordings; he shared those because he either met those Torah scholars and discussed those ideas with them or because he cared enough to know those details when speaking of those scholars.

While Rabbi Charlop was deeply committed to many broad causes, his commitment to “my balebatim”, the members of his synagogue in the Bronx, was more parental than spiritual. He knew that his synagogue and those who attended it, were his responsibility. Whether it was selling their chametz, making sure they are visited when in the hospital, or being there when needed him,

Rabbi Charlop’s ability to smile at and love each and every Jew earned him the admiration of every person who met him, myself included. His unjudgmental love for every person he met were truly unparalleled. His radiance earned him the respect of people from very different backgrounds. In his capacity as the rabbi of the Young Israel of Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx, Rabbi Charlop once gave a talk, the title of which included a mention of his discontent with NYT’s Thomas Friedman’s writing about Israel. Sure enough, Rabbi Charlop received a letter from Thomas Friedman responding to this discontent. Rabbi Charlop graciously explained to Mr. Friedman why he thought his writing was unfair to Israel, yet everything was done in a dignified and gracious way.

Living in a world where if someone went to Yeshiva University, they may not share social or cultural common ground with someone who has gone to some of the Yiddish speaking more right wing Yeshiva’s, Rav Charlop embodied the beauty of the previous generation in his ability to show a great deal of respect, and be respected, by rabbis from very different backgrounds. Whether is was Rav Ovadia Yosef, a Hasidic Rebbe, a Lithuanian Rosh Yeshiva, or a modern orthodox rabbi, Rav Charlop had the perfect fluency of language with that person because of his deep love for Torah. Social restrictions and lines were burned down with the fire of Rav Charlop’s love for Torah and Torah scholarship. He was able to fill the role of the Shul Rabbi, the Rosh Yeshiva, history professor, public activist for the Jewish people, and loving father and grandfather in a harmony that is rarely found. None of these roles were exclusive to the others, and Rav Chalop filled them all in ways that inspired everyone who came into contact with him.

“Rabbi Ishmael would say: Be yielding to a leader, affable to the black-haired (youth), and receive every person with joy.” (Pirkei Avot chapter 13) Rav Charlop very much lived his life by the statement of this Mishna. From his grandchildren and great-grandchildren to students in the MTA High School and Yeshiva University, Rabbi Charlop was always affable to the young, tried to teach a lesson, but also to learn one himself, and no matter what a person’s age was, Rabbi Charlop always greeted them with a joyous smile.

“and out of Zevulun they that handle the pen of the scribe…Zevulun is a people who jeopardized their lives to die, as did Naphtali, upon the high places of the field. (Shoftim 5)
Whether he was writing a check to Tzedaka, which he always did, or writing a Torah thought or letter to someone wishing them well, Rabbi Charlop was the scribe of a glorious chapter in the history of our people. His ability to connect generations with a two-way wellspring of knowledge and kindness will echo for many more years.

The smile on his face, his warmth, sincerity, brilliance, and love for his fellow Jews will resonate with me for years to come. I know I am just one of many who will miss him dearly. May his memory be a blessing.

Rabbi Poupko is an eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.

Listen to the VINnews podcast on:

iTunes | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Podbean | Amazon

Follow VINnews for Breaking News Updates

Connect with VINnews

Join our WhatsApp group

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 months ago

Thank you rabbi for this great tribute and remembrance.

Bernhard H. Rosenberg
Bernhard H. Rosenberg
2 months ago