Agudath Israel leader succumbs to coronavirus

Rabbi Yaakov Perlow died early Tuesday morning

Agudath Israel

Longtime Agudath Israel of America president Rabbi Yaakov Perlow died early Tuesday morning at age 89. The cause was complications due to coronavirus.

Perlow was appointed to the role of Novominsker Rebbe following his father’s death in 1976 and became president Agudath Israel of America — after the death of longtime Agudah leader Rabbi Moshe Sherer — in 1998. He went on to serve as head of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages) of Agudath Israel.

Leading the way: The Novominsker Rebbe warned about the dangers of the pandemic and stressed the need to follow the guidelines issued by the government in a video message published on March 20. “We must be informed about the facts of this disease and what the expert doctors, the infectious disease specialists are telling us in a unanimous way,” he said. “We cannot behave today like we did last week or two weeks ago.” On Monday, the Council of Torah Sages issued an open letter to the community, saying “It is obvious that every person is obligated to obey the instructions of the government and medical professionals. Jewish families must be exceedingly careful not to err in issues which could endanger people.” 

Funeral arrangements: In a statement, Agudath Israel said that due to the current situation, the funeral and burial, which will take place later today, will be closed to the public. Community members were asked to participate in a live broadcast reciting of Tehilim (Psalms).

Bidding farewell: Chaskel Bennett, a local community leader and a member of the board of trustees at Agudath Israel of America, tells Jewish Insider, Rabbi Perlow “was a towering rabbinical figure and leader of American Jewry over the past 3 decades. A brilliant orator whose command of the English language enhanced his scholarly brilliance. He was universally respected and revered as a wise spiritual Rebbe and mentor. Personally his loss is irreplaceable for me and our family. He held my hand through many trying times and was a guiding light of wisdom and warmth for the many thousands who sought out his advice and counsel. A historic loss of generational importance for the Orthodox Jewish community in America and beyond.”

Big loss: Former Councilman David Greenfield described the Novominsker Rebbe as “the public face of Orthodox Jewry” in the U.S. and “certainly the highest-profile Jewish leader to pass” from coronavirus. “This loss is devastating to the community,” Greenfield, currently CEO of Met Council, told JI. “He had an army of followers and activists who swamped the halls of government based on his say-so. In a world where most Orthodox rabbis shy away from communal responsibility, he embraced it and was widely respected and admired by every segment of the Orthodox Jewish community. His influence stemmed not just from his exalted position but his ability to unite factions across the community around a singular purpose and goal. He was firm in his beliefs yet compassionate and pragmatic. His leadership and kindness will be sorely missed by the community.”

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