Rabbi Abraham B. Hecht, ZT”L
At 9:12 p.m. on Motzaei Shabbos Shemos – 24 Teves, December 5, 2013 – the incredibly intense Torah life of Rabbi Abraham B. Hecht came to a close. His passing occurred at almost the same time, to the hour, as the passing 200 years ago in Ukraine of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, zt”l, founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and author of Tanya.
An Amazing Personality
Every so often a person comes along who amazes everyone he meets. Talking with Rabbi Hecht gave one clarity and insight. Rabbi Hecht intrigued people by drawing them into high places, giving them an inkling about what was happening in meetings of great Torah scholars, national and international boardrooms, and high-level government conference rooms.
Rabbi Hecht was an unusually engaging personality. He served as the leading rabbi of the American Syrian community for more than 50 years. After being invited to speak to a group of Syrian Jews vacationing at a Catskills summer resort in 1945, Rabbi Hecht was asked to lead their Brooklyn community. Appointed rabbi of the Syrian congregation Bnei Magen David of Brooklyn in October 1945, Rabbi Hecht rose in leadership within the Syrian community until he was widely acknowledged as the rabbinic leader of the Syrian Jewish communities in America.
As president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud Horabbonim, Rabbi Hecht was a true beacon of Torah. He was elected in 1972 and served until the end of his life. His pronouncements were taken into consideration by U.S. presidents, Israeli prime ministers and other world leaders.
Family In America Since 1885
Rabbi Hecht’s paternal grandfather, R’ Zvi (Hirsh) Meilich Hecht, zt”l (1850-1938), was granted permission (rare in those days) to move to America from Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam, zt”l (1811-1899), revered Shiniva Rebbe and author of Divrei Yechezkel. R’ Hirsh Meilich arrived in the U.S. with his family in 1885. Shortly thereafter he brought his elderly father to the United States.
R’ Hersh Meilich’s son R’ Shia Hecht, zt”l (1896-1952), had six notable sons. Born in 1922, Abraham was the third. He was enrolled in the elementary school of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, which was co-founded by R’ Hirsh Meilich in the then-Jewish Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. R’ Hirsh Meilich was also the founder of the Rayin Ahuvim Shul. Abraham later was a student at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, where he was influenced by a young Rabbi Avrohom Pam, zt”l (1913-2001), a future Torah Vodaath rosh yeshiva.
The Orbit of Lubavitch
The Hecht family’s Lubavitch connection had its roots in the visit of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe to the U.S. in 1929. R’ Hirsh Meilich had built and maintained his own not-for-profit mikveh. When the Rebbe came to New York, he used Hersh Meilich’s mikveh. Hirsh Meilich refused any money from the Rebbe in payment, declaring that he gave money to chassidishe rebbes but did not accept it from them. In response the Rebbe blessed Hirsh Meilich and imparted that the Hecht progeny would become devout Lubavitcher chassidim.
In August 1939, Rabbi Hecht traveled to Poland to begin his studies at the Lubavitcher yeshiva in Otwock. There he befriended a young Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l (1902-1994), son-in-law of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, zt”l (1880-1950), sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Menachem Mendel later became the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe. But World War II erupted a few weeks later and the young Rabbi Hecht, who had studied under the personal direction of the then-Lubavitcher Rebbe, miraculously made his way back to America.
After studying at Torah Vodaath and Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim, Rabbi Hecht ventured out in 1942 and established religious institutions in Worcester, Massachusetts, New Haven, Connecticut, and Newark, New Jersey. In New Haven, Yeshiva Achei Temimim elementary school for boys and girls continues to flourish.
A Life of Accomplishment
Rabbi Hecht married Lieba Greenhut, a”h (1922-2004) in June 1944. She was the daughter of Rabbi Baruch Greenhut, zt”l, Tzelemer shochet. The following summer, Rabbi Hecht was drafted into the rabbinate in service of the Syrian community.
Among his numerous accomplishments, Rabbi Hecht led the crusade to preserve Flatbush as an observant Jewish community. Sometimes risking his life, he faced down powerful real-estate brokers and malevolent city developers who sought to exploit and divide Flatbush. Never blinking, Rabbi Hecht fought on until these so-called blockbusters retreated in defeat.