(Rabbi Krauss officiating at the author’s hatan’s tish, June 2012)
This piece is based on reflections on the life and impact of Mori v-Rebbi (my master and teacher) Ha-Rav Simcha ben Ha-Rav Avraham David Ha-Kohen Krauss, which I shared with the students and faculty of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah during the week of his shivah. I am but one of Rav Krauss’s many students, and I knew him for only a portion of his decades-long career — between the years of 2008 and his passing. As such, my perspective is obviously limited and my recollections may be contradicted by the memories of other students, congregants, colleagues, and family members. However, I felt it was only appropriate to share my thoughts as a way of showing kavod to my rav muvhak — my primary teacher and mentor in Torah — for over a decade. In proper rabbinic fashion, my reflections are shaped by allusions and references to traditional sources in the rabbinic canon, in accordance with the baraita (Avot 6:3),“one who learns from another…must treat them with kavod. And kavod refers only to Torah.”
My initial thought upon hearing of Rav Krauss’s sudden turn and incapacitation was of the gemara in Temurah (16a) where Moshe reminds Yehoshua to ask any last lingering questions before his passing. Assuming he had already learned everything from Moshe, Yehoshua brazenly refused, and so, upon the death of Moshe Rabbenu, Yehoshua forgot three hundred laws and was plagued by seven hundred new doubts. As a student who no longer has the opportunity to ask my rebbi, I am, only a few weeks after his passing, already discovering that I think of questions and immediately pause and say to myself, “If only I could have asked Rav Krauss!”
As I was driving home from work on Thursday evening, 19 Shevat, I received the news that he had died. The phrase that popped into my head to characterize rebbi was the line from the concluding blessing of the amidah, “Torat hayim v-ahavat hessed” — “A Torah of life, and a love of kindness.” Later, during the week of shivah, I was reminded that I had used this exact phrase ten years earlier in a thank-you note to rebbi. We have too often been disappointed by the reality that Torah scholarship does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with acts of loving-kindness to other human beings. It is even rarer that we find those personalities who so deeply embody the Divine values of the Torah that, in their hands, the Torah becomes the perfect vehicle for their hessed. Rav Krauss was a living Torah; he was the embodiment of Torah for life. He was a lover of humanity and the Jewish people, and he brought that love about through his mastery of Torah.
Who was Rav Krauss? To me he was a link to the past. He was Rabbi Eliezer, who “never said anything he did not hear from his teachers” (Sukkah 28a). So many of his shiurim began with the humble phrase, “I just want to show you how Reb Yoshe Ber learned the gemara,” or “We should say something from Rav Soloveitchik…” At Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi in Jerusalem, where he taught for many years and where I first met him, Rav Krauss felt his primary role was to communicate Torat Ha-Rav — the original methodology and insights from Rav Soloveitchik that he had acquired over their nearly thirty-year teacher-student relationship.
Although he was deeply deferential to his teachers (Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Hutner) like Rabbi Eliezer, he also embodied the spirit of Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi (and King Hezekiah before him) who responded to criticism of an original ruling with, “My ancestors left me room through which to achieve prominence” (Hullin 7a). Rav Krauss was unafraid to stand by his own original ideas when he was confident they were correct, even if it meant opposing prominent members of the rabbinate. This was the case, for instance, during the controversy in Queens in the late 1990s over the halakhic propriety of Women’s Tefillah Groups, and of course, as others have written more about, with his involvement in the controversial International Beit Din for marital issues. In a similar vein, he once told me privately that “the hardest mitzvah for a rabbi is ‘lo taguru mipenei ish!’” [Fear no man, for judgment is God’s] (Deuteronomy 1:17, cf. Perishah to Tur Hoshen Mishpat 9).
Rav Krauss was a noted Zionist; he served as President of the Religious Zionists of America (Mizrachi/Ha-Poel Ha-Mizrachi) and, along with his wife, Rabbanit Esther Krauss, made aliyah in 2005. Thus he was Rabbi Zeira, who upon ascending from Babylonia to the land of Israel rededicated himself to Torah learning from scratch in order to master the unique approach of the scholars of the land of Israel (cf. Bava Metzia 85a). As Rashi elaborates (ad loc.), “He ascended to the land of Israel in order to learn from Rabbi Yohanan.” Upon his aliyah, Rav Krauss made it a central part of his routine to attend the Torah classes of his senior colleague, off-and-on havruta, and lifelong friend Rav Aharon Lichtenstein. He also continued to serve as Honorary President of the RZA until his death.
Yet his dual passion for the land of Israel and the Torah that could be learned there did not rob Rav Krauss of his nuanced approach to the complexities of the current political realities in Israel and their underlying ethical concerns. He and I regularly discussed the problem of policial extremism in the Religious Zionist community. In the spring of 2021, Jewish Israelis attacked Arab citizens and vandalized businesses in several Israeli cities. Rav Krauss charged me to oppose this violence vocally, saying,
“I do believe be-emunah sheleimah [with full faith] that rational and sane observant people should not be on the sidelines of public discussion.We have what to say and [we must] say it with civility. But we should speak out, even if at times we are lonely.”
Rav Krauss, a leader in the Religious Zionist movement, understood that if and when Zionist ideologies lead people to irrational, insane, and criminal behavior, then we must voice our opposition strongly and present an alternative. He concluded by noting that his hope for a peaceful and just future for Israel needed “great Siyata Di-Shamaya [help from heaven].”
In his later years he was often embroiled in high-stakes rabbinic controversies, and although I was working closely with him—even typing his hand-written decisions and researching responsa for him in libraries and online databases—Rav Krauss always told me to keep my head down and avoid rabbinic politics. Rav Krauss’s guidance was to always make Torah study the most important thing. He shared those same sentiments at a Torah class for alumni of Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi and college students where he concluded his remarks, “But the main thing, hevre [friends]: You should learn. Learn and learn and learn.” And then he paused. If he had been the average Rosh Yeshiva, a listener might have thought he had finished. But he resumed: “And not only learn. Think and think and think.” He taught his students that Torah knowledge must be refracted and mediated through human sensibilities to implement its sublime values.
In this vein, I once had the great fortune to hear Rav Krauss teach for Shabbat Ha-Gadol in the community I would eventually serve as Rabbi, the Riverdale Minyan. Rav Krauss noted the lengthy comment of Rabbi Yehoshua Falk Katz in his Derishah commentary to the Tur (Orah Hayim §430) discussing the origins and naming of Shabbat Ha-Gadol. Rabbi Yehoshua Falk had identified the name as originating from the “nes gadol [great miracle]” that occurred on the Shabbat preceding the exodus, on the tenth of Nissan. Rav Krauss, in his deeply humanistic way, asked what was so great about the miracle of the tenth of Nissan, when the Egyptians did not attack or harass the Jews who were keeping lambs in preparation for the paschal sacrifice. He answered, “That was the greatness of the miracle. That no one was hurt. Not like the plagues of Egypt. Here there was no suffering!” Once again, he showed his willingness to offer an original interpretation borne out of his commitment to a humanistic intuition of Torah grounded in traditional sources.
It is worth noting for the public record how Rav Krauss carried himself during moments of heated controversy. Rereading my email correspondence with Rav Krauss reminded me of how many times he asked me to share a particular responsum or article with rabbis who were actively opposing him. He welcomed their feedback and critique; indeed, the reason for publicly publishing all of the IBD rulings to their website, rebbi told me, was to ensure transparency. He felt that all too often, poskim would be willing to invoke particular mechanisms to resolve difficult cases related to marital law, mamzerut, and the like, but only if the specifics were kept secret. He felt that this made a mockery of the truth of Torah. If a principle or argument were correct and justified—if it were true—then, in Rav Krauss’s view, it deserved to be accessible to the community of Torah scholars. The truth of Torah belongs to the whole Jewish people.
Rav Krauss’s dedication to finding and sharing the truth of Torah led him to critique what he saw as an emerging theme in modern rabbinic writing. At a fundraiser for Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi, Rav Krauss was teaching about how Rabbi Yohanan attributed the downfall of Jerusalem in the time of the Romans to “the humility of Rabbi Zekharyah ben Avkolas” (Gittin 56a). Rav Krauss connected this more well-known passage to the only other appearance of this obscure rabbi — Tosefta Shabbat 17:4, where this Rabbi Zekharya was unwilling to decide between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel and ultimately chose to act more stringently than either of them (cf. Lieberman ad loc.). He began railing against English language Halakhah books, or as he often called them “humra [stringency] books,” saying, “They’re all the same! ‘Rabbi Kotler says this and Rabbi Feinstein says this.’ But tell me, what do you say?”
This was very much his style while teaching his students: he always encouraged us to develop our own opinions and to be willing to pick a side in a rabbinic dispute based on what we found convincing and how we could best argue the point, even if it meant we might disagree with him! His passion for empowering his students to this extreme recalls for me the poem written by the author of Sefer Ha-Hinnukh for his son at the end his discussion of the mitzvah of tzitzit (#386):
“If you merit, my son, you will distinguish the truth. And if you perhaps find valid reason to challenge my words in this matter – or even in another – you should not mind the honor of your father and teacher, and I will then call your destruction ‘building.’”
The gemara (Moed Katan 17a) interprets Malakhi 2:7 as follows: “What is the meaning of that which is written: ‘For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek Torah from his mouth; for he is an angel of the Lord of hosts’ (Malakhi 2:7)? This verse teaches: If the teacher is similar to an angel of the Lord, then seek Torah from his mouth, but if not, then do not seek Torah from his mouth.” Rav Krauss was such an angel.
In fact, I once even saw him fly. He was speaking to his students, alumni of Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi, explaining the gemara Megillah 3a according to the interpretation of Tosafot. Yehoshua is confronted by an angel of God (Joshua 5:13-14) for failing to uphold the study of Torah on a national scale. As Tosafot note, Yehoshua refers to Torah by allusion using the word lanu—evoking Torah tziva lanu Moshe (“Moshe commanded us the Torah,” Deuteronomy 33:4); that we have been commanded to study Torah. But the angel, in response, alludes to Torah using the word ’ata – evoking ve-’ata kitvu lakhem et ha-shirah ha-zot (“And now, write for yourselves this poem,” Deuteronomy 31:19). And as Rav Krauss invoked a teaching of Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman of Ponevezh, he began to call out, or even to sing:
“Torah is shirah, Torah is poetry, Torah is wonderful, Torah is love, Torah is joy. Without Torah…What do you mean a day without Torah? Without Torah my day is empty! Yes I work ten hours a day at a hedge fund, but the hour that I learn, the hour that I study, that makes my life meaningful! That gives my life ta’am va-reyah [flavor and aroma]. That gives my life coloration. It gives me purpose. If you learn like that then you will never stop…The Torah that’s learned not because it’s le’ol al tzavarekha [a yoke on your neck], but the Torah that’s studied as simchah, as joy, then then of course you’ll always learn Torah and you will never stop!”
I saw Rav Simcha Krauss, my master and teacher, fly off the ground with those words.
 Special thanks to the editorial staff of theLehrhaus.com, and to my dear friends Gabriel Slamovits and Joshua Freundel (also close students of Rav Krauss) and my long-time havruta Rabbi Avram Chaim Schwartz for helpful comments.
 “Avkolas” may be a corruption of the Greek compound-word ἀμφί-κοῖλος meaning “hollowed out on both sides.” Consider the genus of dinosaurs Amphicoelias whose vertebrae were concave on two surfaces. Thus, Rabbi Zekharyah, who erred on the side of stringency beyond what was demanded by either Beit Shammai or Beit Hillel, was “hollowed out on both sides.”