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Zichrono Livracha – Remembering Rabbi Dr. David Ellenson

Last month we mourned the untimely death of Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD. 

Rabbi Ellenson was a past President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and was one of my favourite professors at HUC-JIR. He was the person who physically laid his hands on my head in May 2004 at my rabbinical ordination ceremony. He was a brilliant scholar of many subjects, including history, tensions between tradition and modernity, trends in contemporary American Jewish life, and ethics. He wrote and edited countless publications, taught any number of subjects…and was a tremendous mensch.

To know Rabbi Ellenson was to make a friend. He was warm and generous with his time and hugs. He cried readily, if only because the magic and awe of life were so palpably felt by his neshamah every day. He was happily married to Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, and was a loving father, grandfather, mentor, and friend.

In honour of the great teacher that Rabbi Ellenson was, let us study a bit of his Torah: a piece called “Universalism and Particularism: Jewish Teachings on Jewish Obligation.” While I would encourage you to read the whole teaching, I will share here his concluding remarks:

In his Orot Hakodesh, Rav Kook wrote, “The love for Israel (ahavat Yisrael) entails a love for all humankind (kol ha’adam).” According to this great sage, Jews must display concern for Jews and gentiles. By allowing this imperative to direct us, the Jewish people, to cite Rav Kook once again, succeed in expanding the Jewish “soul” and the Jewish “song beyond the limits of Israel.” In this way, our people “sing the song of humanity” that Judaism requires.

My teacher, HaRav Tzvi Dov ben Shmuel v’Tova, you definitely sang the song of humanity all the days of your life. I miss you and your sweet soul and your brilliant mind. May we all help your memory live on through our good acts and our deeds in this world. 

Kein Yehi Ratzon.

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