Two weeks ago a giant of Torah learning passed away. Rabbi Zechariah Fendel was, after Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, one of the most prolific and articulate Jewish writers of our time.
Each of the over dozen books and booklets that Rabbi Fendel authored reflected a deep passion for meticulous research into the vast world of Jewish study, from the beginnings of time until the end of the 20th century. His works encompassed every academic discipline. Sadly, despite his great contributions, the tributes tendered to his memory were shockingly sparse. I hope and trust that by the time this essay appears that will no longer be the case.
I learned of his passing from a heartfelt essay written by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein in the blog, Cross-Currents. I contacted Rabbi Gil Student of Hirhurim, one of the premier blogs serving our community. Rabbi Student suggested that I pen my own tribute to the memory and legacy of Rabbi Fendel and what follows is, in good measure, what I wrote. I hope that this will serve to keep Rabbi Fendel’s literary legacy alive and prompt my readers to search out and read his many works.
Rabbi Fendel was a tough man. He was tough in his demeanor, in his stare, his glance and in his gait. He walked a tough and rough road in the field of Jewish education in an era when real quality Jewish education was at a premium. He demanded quality and he delivered quality. Nothing less than the best was good enough for him.
While I never knew him personally, I was an early reader and fan of Rabbi Fendel’s literary works. We both had a common passion for Jewish history and his early works were of high quality and accurate, which, for its time, was revolutionary. Each of his books reflected the hashkafah of what Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan would come to call normative Judaism.