Not Your Average Mirrer

The signs in Meah Shearim, in both Hebrew and English, gave away the fact that there was a story here. The aron of “Rabbi Theodore Lewis (Uncle Teddy)” was being brought home. He was “Uncle” because he never had any children. But when he was niftar recently at the age of 95, any ben yeshivah who read about him sensed that he had lost a treasure.

He grew up in Ireland, and became the rov of that country’s largest shul. Moving to the US, he served for 36 years as the rov of this country’s oldest shul (and national landmark), the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.

Not the usual route for someone who learned for six years in the Mir – the original one. In his native Dublin, he had grown up under the influence of Chief Rabbi Herzog, who later would become a Chief Rabbi of Israel. As a teen, he spent time in London at the Etz Chaim Yeshiva, where he absorbed the mussar of R. Elya Lopian. After retiring from the rabbinate, he moved to Israel, but eventually returned to the States to be with his old friends at the Mirrer Minyan in Boro Park. (After over three decades in Los Angeles, what I miss the most of New York besides family, is the Mirrer Minyan. There, besides rubbing shoulders with some Torah giants, you could walk into the beis medrash burdened by a problem anywhere in shas, confident that when you left you would have some sort of answer. There was no such thing as “We’re not holding there.” Someone could respond regarding any sugya in shas. The only price you had to pay was often getting cut down to size in the typical manner that Litvaks abuse each other….I mean, converse with each other.)

Rabbi Dr. Lewis self-published a volume of his derashos. Part of his introduction was reminiscences of a Westerner learning in the Mir. That introduction is available on the Web. It makes for intriguing reading, and provides details about the life of yeshiva bochrim and the townspeople in a town that was so small it was literally not on the map – but looms in Jewish memory as one of the most important world capitals.

His passing marks not only the loss of an important link to the yeshiva world before the Churban, but of a kind of talmid chacham who could make the transition to serving a decidedly non-yeshivish tzibbur.

Yehi zichro baruch.

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4 Responses

  1. Mordechai says:

    Steve, I think that was Rabbi Theodore Adams. I don’t think the RCA has ever had an Irish Rabbi at the helm. ;-)

  2. Jewish Observer says:

    Shkoyach! IN my quest for information about yesteryear, I have read his stuff about the Mir with great interest, almost pathalogically nostalgic for a world I never knew

  3. dr. bill says:

    The few that i had the zechut to meet always were much more inspiring than their romaticized image that is often depicted. YZB.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that R Lewis ZL was a former RCA president and that in a volume of letters from RYBS on various communal issues, he was the addressee as to why RYBS disapproved of the RCA being involved in the JPS translation of Tanach.