Photo: Lubavitch Archives
Yesterday, the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Chovevei Torah (NOT the Open Orthodox one), aka “Murphy’s Shul”, was niftar.
Rabbi Eliezer Zirkind, or as he was affectionately called by so many “Zeide” was deeply committed to Torah and Mitzvos and was amongst many other things, “A Shulchan Aruch Yid”.
His ability to teach (almost anyone) the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch was unparalleled. He had a knack for explaining the most abstract of situations that might arise in Halacha. In the decades before Amazon and Youtube, you might have thought that Rabbi Zirkind was a “beta tester” and had access to the internet long before its inception. That’s because, today, if you want to learn how to make wine, olive oil, bake matzas or even shecht, you can order a book via Amazon Prime or instantly watch a few “How To” videos and begin.
Rabbi Zirkind was knowledgeable in every aspect of life and learned how to do these and many other skills. Yet, he learned them on his own and then was able to teach generations how to follow along the same path. If he had a You tube channel, he would have had many subscribers.
That prowess was accompanied by a non negotiable stance and posture especially when he felt that Kavod Hatorah was being threatened. I remember vividly one shabbos many years ago, when a New York Times reporter brazenly walked into our shul looking for a “scoop” and the Rabbi literally sent him running. There were many times when he would raise his intonation and pitch and you knew how dear and important the issue was.
Yet, there was another side of him that some of us were fortunate to see as well. He was a kind, gentle soul. Deeply caring of family and friends, even a house guest that spent over 30 years at his Shabbos table. Once when this guest had taken ill, Rabbi Zirkind called him in the emergency room, at 3 AM, and advocated on his behalf (giving the doctors his medical history and staying involved as if he was the patient’s father).
He had a sense of humor and an uncanny ability to identify a joke being told, almost immediately. He had what we would call “Zirkinism’s” which were phrases, that he would inject during the course of conversation or in response to “trigger” questions and greetings.
Since he was a master in Halacha, he knew not only the final and definitive rulings, he also could tell you the machlokes and the dissenting and minority views.
Because of this skill, he was able to compromise and walk away from machlokes, when he felt Halacha supported that action.
Several years ago, it became increasingly difficult for him to walk to shul. As the weeks, months and years went by, we began to realize the deep impact he had on us and we missed him dearly. We begged, cajoled, made modifications, but alas, it was not meant to be. A minyan was formed in his home, and he wasn’t coming back to our Shul. We are grateful for the time we did have with this great giant in Torah.