As I’ve watched–mostly from afar, sadly, as I’m now living on the other coast–various communities and lots of people that I know respond to the death of Rabbi Lew, I have found myself thinking about some of the stuff in Tractate Moed Katan about mourning for a rav.

I don’t know if any of this will be of use or of solace to folks in the Beth Sholom community or other students of R. Lew’s elsewhere, or other students of other rabbanim elsewhere, but I offer it to all, each for their own purpose. I’m deliberately not going to comment on the text, but invite folks to share their own thoughts on the matter….

In any case, some tidbits from Moed Katan. Translation some combination of Soncino and my own:

Our Rabbis taught: When a teacher dies, his beit midrash [place of learning] is canceled [for a time]; when the head of the beit din dies all the batei midrash in his city are canceled and [the people of the synagogue] enter the synagogue[s] and change their [usual] places: those that [usually] sit in the north sit in the south and those that [usually] sit in the south sit in the north. When a Nasi [head of the Sanhedrin] dies, all the batei midrash are canceled and the people of the synagogue enter the synagogue [on Shabbat] and seven people read [the weekly portions of the Torah, ie the aliyot, as one must read the Torah in public] and thereafter they go away. [and pray as individuals, not as a community]. R. Joshua b. Korhah says, Not that they go and walk about in the street but they sit [at home] in silence. (22b-23a)


GEMARA. [NONE REND etc.] even though [the dead be] a recognized scholar.

But then, is it not taught [otherwise]: “If a scholar dies, all are his close relatives?” ‘All are his near of kin’, say you? — Rather, “All are like his close relatives.” — All rend their clothes on his account and all bare [their shoulders] on his account and all provide a repast [ie the mourner’s meal] for those that mourn on his account in the [public] square.

When R. Safra died, the Rabbis [or, students] did not rend [their clothes] on account of him, since, they said, We have not learnt from him [directly]. Said Abaye, Is it taught: ‘When a Master [your rabbi] died’? The teaching is: ‘When a scholar dies [all are his close relatives]’. Besides, we repeat daily the halachic interpretations reported [in his name; ie, his teachings] at the beit midrash! The [Rabbis of the beit midrash] then took the view that what was done was done [ie, they erred in not rending, but it was too late to fix it.] Said Abaye to them, We learned: ‘If a scholar dies, as long as they are engaged in a lament [as long as people are eulogizing] for him they are in duty bound to rend [their clothes]’. They thought then of rending immediately [their clothes]. Said Abaye to them, [No], it is taught: ‘A scholar is honoured at the eulogy held on his account’ [and it’s better to rend while other people are eulogizing.] (24b-25a)

Subscribe to Rabbi Ruttenberg’s free newsletter, on the messy business of being a person in the world.

Share This