Text size

Friends, family and followers eulogized this week Grand Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Horowitz, known as the Bostoner Rebbe, as a quiet revolutionary who reached out to unaffiliated Jews and provided an alternative voice among Hasidic leaders. Rabbi Horowitz died Saturday in Jerusalem after suffering this summer a cardiac arrest from which he never fully recovered.

Horowitz, who split his time between Boston and Israel, was respected beyond the borders of the Haredi world. Indeed, followers and friends this week reminisced about the revered rabbi's unique approach to Hasidic Judaism. Unlike most grand rabbis, Horowitz - who is said to have been a fan of the Boston Red Sox baseball team - was less known for his Talmudic erudition than for his open-mindedness and kindhearted efforts to bring unaffiliated Jews closer to their heritage.

"His contact with every person was so focused on the individual that it's hard to say what was the main focus of his work," his son Rabbi Mayer Horowitz told Anglo File. "It was important to him that a Jew knows he's Jewish."

Born in Boston and thus the first American-born Hasidic leader, he participated in the 1943 rabbis' march on Washington to demand the government do more to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. Since 1944, he headed the Hasidic dynasty his father Pinchas David established in 1915 after arriving in Boston from Eastern Europe.

He focused during his tenure as grand rabbi on acts of kindness, rather than pontificating on the importance of Torah study - hosting countless students at his home and founding a medical referral and support organization. Calling the Bostoner Rebbe "a quiet revolutionary," David Sarna, a writer who first met him in 1965, mentioned in an obituary posted online that he was the first rabbi to focus on the Boston area's large number of college students. "Many had tried to dissuade him, saying that Hasidism and college did not and could not mix, but the rebbe persevered and was personally responsible for returning thousands of students - to their Jewish roots."

Horowitz always encouraged students to study in Israel. In 1984 he decided to establish a center in Har Nof in Jerusalem, which was instrumental in building up the neighborhood's Orthodox community. In Har Nof, the rebbe underwent a transformation, according to Rabbi Seth Farber, a historian and community activist who lived in Boston before moving to Israel.

"In America, he was very much a students' rabbi," Farber told Anglo File. "Students literally flocked to him because of his charismatic personality and because he spoke their language. He actually attended public school for a few years in America and really understood the American psyche. When he came to Israel, he remained that for the people who knew him back in Boston, but he also became a lot more connected with the more normative Israeli Hasidic sects."

Because the rebbe was exceptional among Jerusalem's Hasidic leaders, his son Mayer Horowitz said, he was often seen as an outsider. "With my father... everyone said he's not one of us: the Hasidim looked at him with a little bit of skepticism because he didn't strictly 'follow the line,'" he said. "The [non-Hasidic Haredim] also felt he wasn't following their line. The Sephardim said he was an Ashkenazi, and the Israelis said he was an American."

Rabbi Horowitz was buried Saturday night on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives and is survived by three sons, two daughters and his second wife Yehudis.