Moshe Feinstein

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein at his desk in the bais medrash of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem.
Born March 3, 1895(1895-03-03)
Uzda, Belarus
Died March 23, 1986(1986-03-23) (aged 91)
New York City
Resting place Har HaMenuchot, Israel
31°48′00″N 35°11′00″E / 31.8°N 35.1833333°E / 31.8; 35.1833333
Other names Rav Moshe, Reb Moshe
Occupation Rabbi, Posek
Employer Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem
Religion Judaism
Spouse Shima Kustanovitch
Children 5
Pesach Chaim Feinstein
Dovid Feinstein
Reuven Feinstein
Shifra Tendler
Faye Shisgal

Moshe Feinstein (March 3, 1895 – March 23, 1986) was a Lithuanian Orthodox rabbi, scholar and posek (an authoritative adjudicator of questions related to Jewish law), who was world-renowned for his expertise in Halakha and was regarded by many as the de facto supreme halakhic authority for Orthodox Jewry of North America during his lifetime. In the Orthodox world he is widely referred to simply as "Reb Moshe", and his halakhic rulings are widely quoted in contemporary rabbinic literature.



Feinstein was born, according to the Hebrew calendar, on the 7th day of Adar, 5655 (traditionally the date of birth of the Biblical Moshe) in Uzda, near Minsk, Belarus, then part of the Russian empire to his father Rabbi David Feinstein, rabbi of Uzdan. His father was a descendant of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman, Rabbi of Kapolye, whose glosses on the Talmud have been published in the back of the Gemarah; and also the author of other Talmudic works.

He studied with his father and also in yeshivas located in Slutsk, Shklov and Amstislav, before being appointed rabbi of Lubań where he served for sixteen years. He married Shima Kustanovich in 1920 and had 4 children (Pesach Chaim,Fay Gittel, Shifra, and David) before leaving Europe.[1] Under increasing pressure from the Soviet regime, he moved with his family to New York City in 1936 where he lived for the rest of his life.

Settling on the Lower East Side, he became the rosh yeshiva of Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem. He later established a branch of the yeshiva in Staten Island, New York, now headed by his son Rabbi Reuven Feinstein. His son Rabbi Dovid Feinstein heads the Manhattan branch.

He was president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada and chaired the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America from the 1960s until his death. Rabbi Feinstein also took an active leadership role in Israel’s Chinuch Atzmai.

Feinstein was revered by many as the Gadol Hador (greatest Torah sage of the generation), including by Rabbis Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, Yonasan Steif, Elyah Lopian, Aharon Kotler, Yaakov Kamenetsky and Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, even though several of them were far older than he. He was also recognized by many as the preeminent Torah sage and Posek of his generation, and people from around the world called upon him to answer their most complicated Halachic questions.

Notable decisions

Owing to his prominence as an adjudicator of Jewish law, Feinstein was asked the most difficult questions, in which he issued a number of innovative and controversial decisions. Soon after arriving in the United States, he established a reputation for handling business and labor disputes. For instance, he wrote about strikes, seniority, and fair competition. Later, he served as the chief Halakhic authority for the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, which suited his growing involvement with Jewish medical ethics cases. In the medical arena, he fiercely opposed the early, unsuccessful heart transplants and, over time, it is unclear whether he shifted toward acceptance of brain death criteria; the last responsa, printed after he had died, suggests as much. On such matters, he often consulted with various scientific experts, including his son-in-law Rabbi Dr. Moshe Dovid Tendler who is a professor of biology and serves as a rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University.

As a leader of American Orthodoxy, moreover, Feinstein issued opinions that clearly distanced his community from Conservative and Reform Judaism.[2] Nevertheless, he faced intense opposition within Orthodoxy on several controversial decisions, such as rulings on artificial insemination and eruv. In the case of his position not to prohibit cigarette smoking, other Orthodox rabbinic authorities disagreed. It should be noted that all his detractors while disagreeing with specific rulings still considered him to be a leading and venerated sage. The first volume of his Igrot Moshe, a voluminous collection of his halachic decisions, was published in 1959.[3] He made noteworthy decisions on the following topics:

  • Artificial insemination from a non-Jewish donor (EH I:10,71, II:11, IV:32.5)[4]
  • Cosmetic surgery (HM II:66)[5]
  • Bat Mitzvah for girls (OH I:104 (1956), OH II:97 (1959), OH IV:36)[6]
  • Brain death as an indication of death under Jewish law (YD IV:54)[7]
  • Cholov Yisroel Permitted reliance on U.S. government agency supervision in ensuring that milk was reliably kosher (YD I:47). This was a highly controversial ruling disputed by prominent peers of Feinstein.[8]
  • Cheating for the N.Y. Regents exams (HM II:30)
  • Classical music in religious settings (YD II:111)
  • Commemorating the Holocaust, Yom ha-Shoah (YD IV:57.11)
  • Conservative Judaism, including its clergy and schools (e.g., YD II:106–107)[9]
  • Donating blood for pay (HM I:103)
  • Education of girls (e.g., YD II:109, YD II:113 YD III:87.2)[10]
  • End-of-life medical care[7]
  • Eruv projects in New York City
  • Financial ethics (HM II:29))[11]
  • Hazardous medical operations[7]
  • Heart transplantation (YD 2:174.3)[7]
  • Labor union and related employment privileges (e.g., HM I:59)
  • Mehitza (esp. OH I:39)[12]
  • Psychiatric care (YD II:57)
  • Separation of Siamese twins[13]
  • Shaking hands between men and women (OH I:113; EH I:56; EH IV:32)[14]
  • Smoking marijuana (YD III:35)
  • Tay-Sachs fetus abortion, esp. in debate with Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg[15]
  • Smoking cigarettes[16]
  • Veal raised in factory conditions (EH IV, 92:2)

Note: Responsa in Igrot Moshe are cited in parentheses

Moshe Feinstein's grave


Feinstein died on the March 23, 1986 (13th of Adar II, 5746 on the Hebrew calendar). It has been pointed out that the 5746th verse in the Torah reads, "And it came to pass after Moshe had finished writing down the words of this Torah in a book to the very end." (Deuteronomy 31:24). This is taken by some as a fitting epitaph for him.

At the time he was regarded as Orthodoxy's foremost halkhic authority and Posek. His funeral in Israel was delayed by a day due to mechanical problems to the plane carrying his coffin, which had to return to New York. His funeral in Israel was said to be the largest among Jews since the Mishnaic era, with an estimated attendance of 300,000 people. Among the eulogizers in America were Rabbis Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, Dovid Lifshitz, Shraga Moshe Kalmanowitz, Nisson Alpert, Moshe David Tendler, Michel Barenbaum and Mordechai Tendler and the Satmar Rebbe. The son of the deceased, Rabbi Reuven also spoke.

In Israel, Rabbis Elazar Menachem Shach, Dovid Povarsky, Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss, Yehuda Tzadkah, Feinstein's son Reuven and Feinstein's nephew Rabbi Michel Feinstein, all tearfully expressed grief over what they termed a massive loss to the generation.

Feinstein was held in such great esteem that Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who was himself regarded as a Torah giant, Talmid Chacham and posek, refused to eulogize him, saying "Who am I to eulogize him? I studied his sefarim; I was his talmid (student)."

Feinstein was buried on Har HaMenuchot in proximity to his teacher, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer; his friend, Rabbi Aharon Kotler; his son-in-law Rabbi Moshe Shisgal and next to the Belzer Rebbe.

Prominent students

Rabbi Feinstein invested much time molding some of his select students to become leaders in Rabbinics and Halacha. Those students, over the years, spent countless hours a day serving as apprentices to their great Rabbi. Most are considered authorities in many areas of practical Halacha and Rabbinic and Talmudic academics. Some of those students are:


Rabbi Feinstein's greatest renown came from a lifetime of responding to halachic queries posed by Jews in America and worldwide. He authored approximately two thousand responsa on a wide range of issues affecting Jewish practice in the modern era. Some responsa can also be found in his Talmudic commentary (Dibros Moshe), some circulate informally, and 1,883 responsa were published in Igrot Moshe. Among Rabbi Feinstein's works:

  • Igros Moshe; (Epistles of Moshe), a classic work of Halachic responsa, seven volumes were published during his lifetime, an eighth volume, edited posthumously by his granddaughter's husband Shabbetai Rappoport, and published by Rappoport, and Feinstein's grandson, Rabbi Mordecai Tendler, is not universally accepted as authoritative. A ninth volume was also published posthumously.
  • Dibros Moshe (Moshe's Words), an eleven-volume work of Talmudic novellae.
  • Darash Moshe (Moshe Expounds, a reference to Leviticus 10:16), novellae on the Torah (published posthumously).

Some of Feinstein's early works, including a commentary on the Talmud Yerushalmi, were destroyed by the Soviet authorities.


  1. ^ "Great Leaders of Our People – Rav Moshe Feinstein". Retrieved December 13, 2009. 
  2. ^ For example, see Roth, Joel. The Halakhic Process: A Systematic Analysis, JTS: 1986, pp.71ff. Robinson (2001).
  3. ^ Codex Judaica Mattis Kantor, Zichron Press, NY 2005, p.299
  4. ^ Cohen, A. in JHCS
  5. ^ Halperin (2006)
  6. ^ See esp. Joseph (1995)
  7. ^ a b c d Feinstein & Tendler (1996)
  8. ^ Rav Yaakov Breisch in Chelkas Yaakov Vol.2 ch.37 stated that "all of his rationales are not sufficient to contradict a clear ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and halachic authorities...." Later in ch.37 and 38, Breisch extensively debunks various premises underlying the rationale for Feinstein's lenient ruling. See also Shu"t Beer Moshe Vol.4, ch.52, Kinyan Torah 1:38 for a more detailed listing of the many authorities disputing Feinstein's reasoning and conclusion.
  9. ^ Roth (1989), op. cit. on YD 139.
  10. ^ Joseph (1995)
  11. ^ Tzedakah and Tzedek: Halachic & Ethical Financial Requirements Pertaining to Charitable Organizations by Daniel Feldman [1]
  12. ^ Baruch Litvin, The Sanctity of the Synagogue, 1962
  13. ^ Tendler excerpt on
  14. ^ See Negiah, section entitled "Shaking Hands in Halacha," for a discussion regarding Rav Moshe's opinion on this topic, both with regard to initiating a handshake and with regard to returning a handshake (i.e. where the other party extends his/her hand first). For a translation of R' Moshe's three Teshuvos (responsa) on men shaking hands with women, see [2]
  15. ^ E.g., see Sinclair, Daniel. Jewish Biomedical Law 2004
  16. ^ See RCA decision and, earlier, RCA Roundtable. (Statement by progressive Orthodox Rabbis Saul Berman, Reuven Bulka, Daniel Landes and Jeffrey Woolf.) “Proposal on smoking” (unpublished) July 1991.


  • Eidensohn, Daniel (2000) (in Hebrew). יד משה: מפתח לכל ח׳ חלקים של שו״ת אגרות משה מאת משה פיינשטיין. Jerusalem, Israel: D. Eidensohn. OCLC 51317225. 
  • Ellenson, David. "Two Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein." Chronicle of Hebrew Union College, Volume LII, Nos. 1 and 2, Fall 2000–2001.
  • Feinstein, Moshe; Moshe David Tendler (1996). Responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein: translation and commentary. [translated and annotated] by Moshe Dovid Tendler. Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House. ISBN 0881254444. OCLC 34476198. LCCN 96-11212. 
  • Rabbi Shimon Finkelman, Rabbi Nosson Scherman. Reb Moshe: The Life and Ideals of HaGaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Brooklyn, NY: ArtScroll Mesorah, 1986. ISBN 0-89906-480-9.
  • Halperin, Mordechai (2006). "The Theological and Halakhic Legitimacy of Medical Therapy and Enhancement". In Noam Zohar. Quality of life in Jewish bioethics. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. ISBN 0739114468. OCLC 62078279. LCCN 2005-29443. 
  • Joseph, Norma Baumel (1995) (Thesis (PhD)). Separate Spheres: Women in the Responsa of Rabbi Moses Feinstein. Concordia University. 
  • "Rav Moshe Feinstein". Great Leaders of our People. Orthodox Union. Retrieved October 10, 2007. 
  • _________. "Jewish education for women: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's map of America." American Jewish history, 1995
  • Rackman, Emanuel. "Halachic progress: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's Igrot Moshe on Even ha-Ezer" in Judaism 12 (1964), 365–373
  • Robinson, Ira. "Because of our many sins: The contemporary Jewish world as reflected in the responsa of Moses Feinstein" 2001
  • Rosner, Fred. "Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's Influence on Medical Halacha" Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society. No. XX, 1990
  • __________. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on the treatment of the terminally ill." Judaism. Spring 37(2):188–98. 1988
  • Warshofsky, Mark E. "Responsa and the Art of Writing: Three Examples from the Teshuvot of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein," in An American Rabbinate: A Festschrift for Walter Jacob Pittsburgh, Rodef Shalom Press, 2001 (Download in PDF format)

External links

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