By: Yonatan Kurz  | 

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, Long-Time YU Rosh Yeshiva and YC Professor, Passes Away at 95

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Dovid Tendler, long-time rosh yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and professor of Jewish Medical Ethics and Biology at Yeshiva College, passed away on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at the age of 95. 

Born on Aug. 7, 1926, Rabbi Tendler grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He received his early education at Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva, where his father, Rabbi Isaac Tendler, was head of school, in addition to serving as the rabbi of the Kominitzer Synagogue. After elementary school, he attended YU’s Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA) and subsequently RIETS, learning under Rabbis Moshe Aharon Poleyeff, Samuel Belkin and Joseph Soloveitchik for the next nine years.

To devote more time during the day to Judaic studies while in RIETS, Rabbi Tendler attended New York University at night, and received a bachelor of science in biology and a master’s degree from the university in 1947 and 1950, respectively. He received semikha from RIETS in 1949, as well as a doctorate in microbiology from Columbia University in 1957. Rabbi Tendler continued to work in the laboratory as a microbiologist even after his doctorate, developing a drug he dubbed Refuin (a play on the Hebrew word for healing, refuah) that garnered a mention in a May 1963 article from Time Magazine.

Even before his ordination, Rabbi Tendler was delivering a regular shiur in MTA and was appointed instructor of Biology at Yeshiva College in 1952. In 1956, then-President Samuel Belkin appointed him to serve as assistant dean of Yeshiva College in charge of student affairs in addition to being chairman of religious guidance at YU. In the following years, Rabbi Tendler was appointed as a rosh yeshiva in RIETS, a position he held until his passing. 

In 1967, Rabbi Tendler was appointed rabbi of the Community Synagogue in Monsey, New York, where he would serve until his death. He also continued to give a shiur in RIETS until the past year, despite a broken hip and extended hospital stay.

Rabbi Tendler was also a neighbor and eventual son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the foremost rabbinic authorities in twentieth-century America; some of Rabbi Feinstein's "Iggros Moshe" responsa are addressed to his son-in-law. While at RIETS, Rabbi Tendler met Rabbi Feinstein’s daughter, Shifra, when she approached him at a neighborhood public library to ask him a chemistry question. “After that, somehow I managed to come more often to the library to study,” Rabbi Tendler was quoted as saying in a 2011 article; they later married. Rebbetzin Tendler died in October 2007.

As son in law of the posek ha-dor [decisor of his generation], Rabbi Tendler quickly became a major figure in Rabbi Feinstein’s positions on Jewish law and bioethics, writing many articles in prominent medical and Torah journals alike. He was also a past president and posek [decisor] of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, as well as chair of the bioethical commission of the Rabbinical Council of America and the Medical Ethics Task Force of UJA-Federation of greater New York.

Rabbi Tendler also wrote extensively on euthanasia, infertility, end-of-life issues, organ donation and bris milah (Jewish circumcision), as well as stem cell research; he was famous for his advocacy that brain death constituted death, which allowed Orthodox Jews to donate and receive organ transplants for organ donation in such instances. Rabbi Tendler also wrote Pardes Rimonim: A Marriage Manual for the Jewish Family, in addition to co-authoring Practical Medical Halachah, a​​ textbook of Jewish responsa to medical issues, with Dr. Fred Rosner

“As a renowned scientist, beloved communal leader, and preeminent rabbinic decisor, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler embodied the Torah values of our community and successfully lived a life of deep learning, commitment to others and spiritual authenticity,” President Ari Berman told The Commentator. “The Jewish community and the broader society were elevated by his leadership, and his absence is a loss for us all.”Rabbi Tendler’s funeral was held on Thursday afternoon at the Community Synagogue in Monsey, New York, with the burial at the nearby Monsey Cemetery. He is survived by eight children and over 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Photo Caption: Rabbi Tendler at the 2013 Annual Medical Ethics Conference

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University