Torah scholar and theological academic Rabbi Dr. David Weiss Halivni passed away Wednesday in Israel at the age of 95.
The rabbi was born in what is now Ukraine, but was raised in Romania by his grandfather, Talmudic scholar Rabbi Yeshayahu Weiss, who encouraged his grandson’s obvious acumen in sacred texts.
Ordained at age 15, the young rabbi was captured by the Nazis just a year later and like world renowned Eli Wiesel – with whom he studied in Sighet (Romania) – he was deported to Auschwitz and then to forced labor camps such has Gross-Rosen, AL Wolfsberg and finally to Mauthausen.
The young rabbi was his family’s sole survivor by the end of the World War II. A complete orphan, he made his way at age 18 to New York, where he first learned under Rabbi Prof. Shaul Lieberman, and then taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
In 1983, however, Halivni left JTS after ordination of women was approved.
He also studied at Yeshiva Chaim Berlin under the renowned Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner and earned a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Brooklyn College and a masters’ degree in the same subject at NYU. Halivni earned a doctorate in Talmud at JTS.
The rabbi married Tziporah Hager – a descendant of the Viznhitzer Rebbes – and together they had three children and six grandchildren.
Halivni became a professor at Columbia University, where he continued to guide students in the academic ways of Talmud as Littauer Professor of Talmud and Classical Rabbinics and simultaneously served as the spiritual leader of Kehilat Orach Eliezer on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He served in both roles until his retirement in 2005, when he moved to Israel.
The rabbi then resumed teaching, this time at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Bar Ilan University, where he remained until his passing this week.
Halivni was a recipient of the Bialik Prize in 1985, the National Jewish Book Award in 1997, and the Israel Prize in 2008 for his work in Talmud.
The rabbi published a number of important works in Hebrew and in English, including: Mekorot u’Mesorot (commentary on the Talmud), Peshat and Derash, Revelation Restored, The Book and the Sword (his memoir) and Breaking the Tablets: Jewish Theology After the Shoah.
Baruch Dayan Emet.