Manfred and Anne Lehmann Foundation

Rabbi Shmuel Tuvya Stern, shlita--The Sage of Miami

In my last column I pictured the glitter and glamour of Southern Florida’s Gold Coast and its growing Jewish community. But far from all this glitter there is a home in Miami Beach that is totally cut off from the hustle and bustle of the world around -- a home where a proverbial masmid (assiduous Torah scholar) can be found, who in over 60 years has not once closed the Gemara.

As you enter his home, you enter a world where countless bookshelves, laden with sefarim (Torah books) of all ages, cover the walls. And in the middle is a desk on which piles of books are stacked holding the writings of the owner of the home himself: Rabbi Shmuel Tuvya Stern, a man of unbelievable facets, talents and achievements.

Rabbi Stern is a unique personality, a man who brought to this hemisphere at the age of 18 his genius in Torah learning amassed at Hungarian yeshivot, which he improved and enlarged on year after year in a constant process of shteigen (ascending), a process usually reserved for young yeshiva students in the few years they spend within the walls of the yeshiva, but which falls off and decays in the world of practical problems. Not so Rabbi Stern. The practical world has only increased the sharpness of his mind and the inventiveness of his genius.

Rabbi Stern came as an 18-year old man to this hemisphere in 1938, before World War II. He came to Mexico where he had relatives. Two years later he took a position in California and served communities in Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. From there he was called to Kansas City to serve as chief rabbi. He used his position there to transplant a European yeshiva to this country. With the permission of Rav Moshe Feinstein, he founded a yeshiva where he acted as the rosh yeshiva.

In 1953, on a visit to Israel, the Chazon Ish encouraged him to move to Israel, but he saw his mission in America. In 1955 he came to Miami and became active in creating communal institutions that had not existed there before, such as a michva, Eruv, etc. He also helped Rabbi Zweig establish a yeshiva in Miami, which today is flourishing.

His home became a center for the great Talmud sages of our time, who all visited him there. Rav J.B. Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Kahaneman, Rav Yakov Kamenetzky and many more. His correspondence with the great Talmudists of the world resulted in volume after volume of responsa (she’elyot u’teshuvot), which today fill eight volumes.

Rabbi Stern has shown the many sides of his deep erudition in writing books on kabbalah, mussar (ethics) and philosophy -- Hashamayim Mesparim -- and even a book of original Hebrew poetry. While in Mexico, he published his translation of the Haggadah into Spanish.

One of his most recent works is a commentary in two volumes on the whole Torah, with his very original interpretations on each verse, titled Sefer Ateret Zahav, which he dedicated to his pious rebitzen on their golden wedding anniversary. How many rabbis are capable of composing such a monumental work after 50 years of marriage and decades of communal work?

Rabbi Stern’s love for Eretz Yisrael is legendary, and he has demonstrated his opposition to the disastrous give-away of the Jewish land under the current Labor government.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said of Rabbi Stern: "Er is nit mein chosid, ober er is mein freint" ("He is not my chasid, but he is my friend.").

Rabbi Stern, who supervises many important kosher products, is a pioneer in the meat packing industry, where his inventions have helped streamline procedures.

My impression of him, based on an extended meeting just before Pesach, is that Rabbi Stern -- despite his years -- is ready to play a powerful, energetic role in public Jewish affairs, both in this country and in Israel. And it is immensely praiseworthy that with all his activities, he never stops learning or writing down his chiddushim (insights). His drashot (sermons) for Shabbat Shuva -- the Shabbat before Yom Kippur -- and Shabbat Hagadol -- the Shabbat before Passover -- are classics and attract listeners from far and near.

In his Shabbat Hagadol sermon this year, he concentrated on the sanctity of Hebron and Jerusalem. By quoting a passage in the Talmud in the Tractate Yoma, he brought out the message of our sages that if there is darkness in Hebron there is also darkness in Jerusalem. He also drew on the verse in Psalms, "Yerushalayim habenuyah ke’ir she’chuba lah yachdav" ("O, Jerusalem, built as a city that is joined together.") (Tehillim 122:3). By making a play on the word "chubra" ("joined"), which is spelled similarly to "Hebron," he brought out that Jerusalem and Hebron are joined together and must both remain free and strong!

One can only wish Rabbi Stern many more years of youthful and productive life -- for the benefit of Miami and for the Jewish community as a whole.

 

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