IRF Mourns the Passing of Rabbi Professor David Weiss Halivni z”l
July 3, 2022
The International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) mourns the passing of Rabbi Professor David Weiss Halivni z"l (1927-2022) a gadol ba-Torah, a great Torah scholar, who served as a bridge between European Jewish life and American Jewish life.
Renowned as an ilui, – a child prodigy – from his youth in Sighet, Romania, Professor Halivni went on to become one of the most brilliant Talmudic minds of the past fifty years.
After receiving semicha – rabbinic ordination – at the age of 15, R. Halivni endured the Holocaust in his teenage years. After the Shoah, he emigrated to America, where he learned first at Yeshiva Chaim Berlin with Rav Yitzchak Hutner and later at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) with Professor Saul Lieberman. R. Prof. Halivni taught Talmud at JTS until 1983, and then at Columbia University until 2005, where he impacted hundreds of students directly and many more indirectly. After retiring from Columbia, he made aliya to Israel, continuing to teach and to work on his Talmudic commentary.
R. Halivni is known for introducing a paradigm-shifting theory about the editing of the Talmud into the world of academia and attempted to restore the peshat, plain sense meaning, of the Gemara. He composed a commentary on the Talmud known as Meqorot U-Mesorot, which he continued to write until shortly before his death. It is a central text in the world of academic Talmud scholarship.
R. Halivni also contributed to Holocaust memory and post-Holocaust theology. His autobiography, The Book and the Sword, provides a searing portrait of the experience of the crucible that was the Shoah. His book of theology, Breaking the Tablets, expresses his own wrestling with what the Shoah means for the Jewish people and for Jewish people to be in relationship with God after the Holocaust.
R. Halvni’s attempt to imbue halakhic Jewish life with meaning in the modern age is reflected in his co-founding of the Union for Traditional Judaism and his position as rabbi of Kehillat Orach Elizer (KOE) in NYC. As someone who found himself attached to both the Conservative Movement and to Orthodoxy at different points in his life, he felt a deep responsibility to root modern life in Torah.
R. Halivni achieved all these successes while being an exemplar of the finest middot: – honesty, kindness and respect for human dignity. The stories told about him frequently include the way that his modesty, integrity and courage were intertwined.
We extend our condolences to his children, grandchildren, and to his hundreds of students.