Rabbi Ozer Glickman: Reflections of a Talmid

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Ariel Rackovsky

In rabbinic literature, there is a debate about whether names are fair game for interpretation, whether we can be doresh shemot. Sometimes Tanakh explicitly links a name with the character of its bearer: Esav complains that Yaakov tricked him (“ya’akveini”) twice; Naomi, whose name means “sweet,” instructs the women of Bethlehem to call her “Marah,” “bitter”; Avigayil says of her first husband, Naval, that “ke-shemo kein hu” (I Samuel 25:25), he is indeed the scoundrel attested by his name. Other times, it is more of an open question. Does Kayin’s name, which implies acquisition and possession, shed light on his personality? Does his brother Hevel’s name, which means “air” or “lack of substance,” indicate that he was something of a luftmentsch, somewhat detached from the practicalities of the world? Are names not merely indicative but determinative?

I find myself returning frequently to the expression “ke-shemo kein hu over the past month, each time I’ve reflected on the untimely passing of my teacher, Rabbi Ozer Glickman, on 3 Nissan 5778. However, in contrast to Avigayil’s initial, pejorative application to her ne’er do well husband, I have been applying it in a wholly positive sense, as is common in Modern Hebrew. This is because the name Ozer, which means “helper,” “aide,” or “assistant” in Hebrew, perfectly describes him.

Other students and friends have written about the many facets of Rabbi Glickman’s personality and scholarship. His remarkable mind and deep intellectualism all were dedicated to the service of diverse Torah and secular interests.While he had the soul of a poet— he was able to declaim poetry in English and French at will—his sharply analytical mind made him well respected figure in the business world (he was proud of being the only YU Rosh Yeshiva ever to have shared a private jet with Wayne Gretzky) where his advice on risk management was highly prized.

It was also this analytical mind that trained numerous students in his Yoreh De’ah shiurim, in which I participated in the academic year of 2003-2004, and his Business Ethics and Jewish Legal Theory classes at YU and Stern. However, Rabbi Glickman’s teaching was not limited to covering material in the classroom. He trained his students to think, providing a conceptual framework within which to understand and apply otherwise abstruse ideas. He was a person of diverse interests, who could one moment analyze a Shakh in Yoreh De’ah and the next moment rave about the performance of his beloved Gunners in a recent match.

He was religiously committed to eclecticism as well: his background included stops in Columbia University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, the University of Toronto, and Rabbinic ordination from Rav Moshe Dovid Steinwurzel, the Bobover Rosh Yeshiva. He taught at the Metivta, the rabbinical school of the Union for Traditional Judaism, along his journey to YU and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). In his most recent iteration as the Facebook Rosh Yeshiva (a phenomenon described by Chaim Saiman), he interacted with a wide array of people and was comfortable with all of them, many of whom he never met and yet for whom he served as a Rebbe. And he was fearless; he used his Facebook platform to speak— often with nuance alongside his customary sardonic wit— about a host of subjects others were afraid to touch, including Jewish racism, day school disciplinary policies, Orthodox materialism, and the current state of American Modern Orthodoxy.

All these are certainly important aspects of his character, but it is the Ozer in him that made him truly extraordinary, and that drew so many into his orbit. Rabbi Glickman was extraordinarily generous, and in several ways. As a successful executive, he no doubt gave generously from his wealth. Indeed, his platform in the Modern Orthodox community was, I believe, expanded due to the proven success he enjoyed in the business world. But Rabbi Glickman wasn’t known for his charity, because he never sought recognition for his financial contributions.

He was generous with his time, giving freely of it to institutions on whose boards he served, to communities where he lived and taught, and to his many real and virtual students who sought his guidance. Rabbi Glickman was always available to anyone who wanted to engage with him, whether for a cup of coffee, a meeting, or a quick check-in on Facebook Messenger. A post by Lehrhaus editor, Elli Fischer, described Rabbi Glickman quietly tutoring a local youngster in Washington Heights for an exam. Rabbi Glickman also gave back to the community through singing; he was a masterful ba’al tefillah, with a sweet baritone and a consummate command of nusah, the traditional modes and melodies of prayer, who often led services during the High Holidays. He was generous in his fulfillment of Rashi’s reading of Proverbs 3:9— “Honor God with your wealth (mehonkha)” as “migronkha— from your throat, such that if you’ve been blessed with a sweet voice, you should use it to honor God.” (Rabbi Glickman’s tefillah prowess was a reason why I especially reveled in his nickname for me in Yoreh De’ah shiur- “The hazzan”.) He saw himself as a shali’ah tzibbur, an emissary of the public, in other endeavors as well, especially as an activist. He was a tireless advocate on behalf of agunot and invested considerable efforts and resources to aid them in obtaining gittin, in which he succeeded on multiple occasions.

He was also eager to use his contacts to help former students and acquaintances advance or begin their careers. This was certainly true for his students who went on to careers in finance, but it was also true for those who went into other fields. In 2004, I left RIETS for what proved to be a brief period to begin dental school at the SUNY Buffalo School of Dental Medicine. Rabbi Glickman immediately put me in contact with relatives of his wife who lived in Buffalo, and put in a good word for me with the then-Rabbi at the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo.

Rabbi Glickman’s generosity was especially remarkable because he was not thrilled that I was going to Dental School, though he never said this explicitly as it was never his way to force his advice on others. I only learned of his disapproval retroactively, several months later, when I dropped out of Dental School after one semester to return to RIETS. He told me then, as he would tell me many times subsequently, how glad and proud he was that I had returned to the path on which he thought I belonged. Finally, Rabbi Glickman gave relentlessly of his time for issues and causes that were dear to his heart, particularly when it came to injustices that he felt needed his attention.

In an age of cynicism and of the narcissism of small differences, Rabbi Glickman was refreshingly generous and effusive with his praise, and, especially on his Facebook wall, always sought to publicly “embarrass” people whose writing he enjoyed, whose analytical skills he respected or whose integrity he admired.

It is this loss of an ozer that strikes so close to home, that leaves so many of us feeling bereft. Beyond his classroom lessons on Yoreh De’ah and Hoshen Mishpat, the ritual and monetary realms of halakhah, and beyond his efforts to bring a greater degree of justice to Even ha-Ezer, the realm of halakhah dealing with marriage and divorce, every encounter with him was a lesson in Orah Hayim, in the right way to live. Rabbi Glickman was a man of principle in an era when this is vanishingly rare, a man of profound Torah knowledge— but most importantly, he was accessible to us, his posts appearing regularly and him always a click or call away, ready to help and assist however he could.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Ariel Rackovsky is rabbi of Congregation Shaare Tefilla in Dallas, Texas.