Shloshim Summary

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, then-President of Yeshiva University, speaking at Rabbi Levine's installation at the Young Israel of Avenue J in 1982

On Monday night, May 23, an azkarah was held in honor of Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine z”lMora d’Asra of the Young Israel of Avenue J and the Samson and Halina Bitensky Professor of Economics at Yeshiva University.  Rabbanim, roshei yeshivah, officers and members of the Young Israel, relatives, friends and former colleagues and students all gathered to pay tribute to Rabbi Levine.

The speakers touched upon Rabbi Levine’s life, including his rabbinical lineage and his prolific scholarship, emphasizing that he was a man who walked with moral integrity and lived his life with profound yiras shamayim.  

Rabbi Yona Reiss, Dean of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, the former Director of the Beth Din of America and fellow arbitrator, said that Rabbi Levine’s course on halachah and economics “was truly a tour de force in Torah u’Madda, as [he] masterfully explained difficult economic concepts through the prism of Torah, and guided and inspired us for life with what I would describe as his gentle integrity.”  He added, “Rabbi Levine’s sense of yashrus, of honesty, fairness and integrity permeated his interactions with the litigants and his approach towards resolving cases.”  “He understood that he was fulfilling a Divine imperative in his role as Dayyan.”

Dr. Lyle Mitzner

Dr. Lyle Mitzner Son-in-law of rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine z"l

Dr. Lyle Mitzner, speaking both from the perspective of a son-in-law and former student, noted that Rabbi Levine was his “quintessential role model” who “changed his life in a profound and tangible way” and was a constant source of inspiration to his students, colleagues, children and grandchildren.  Reacting to the outpouring of grief from Rabbi Levine’s many admirers, Dr. Mitzner said, “These words of condolence, laced with shock, sadness and grief, came from individuals hailing from the full spectrum of contemporary Jewry, spanning generations in time and continents in space.”  He shared that the family received many messages from people who had never even met the niftar, but credited him with their professional or personal success.

Leon M. Metzger, a dear friend of the niftar, remarked that Nobel Laureate, Dr. Yisrael Robert Aumann, considered Rabbi Levine to be “the foremost authority in the world on the relation between what the halachah has to say about business practices and business ethics, and on economics in the Talmud and in halachah.” 

Another presenter mentioned that even at a young age, Rabbi Levine impressed many with his scholarship.  “His early halachic discourses published in the Kol Yaakov—the Torah Journal of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva—were lauded by prominent roshei yeshivah across New York City, including Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Dovid Lifshitz.” 

Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman and Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine z"l

One speaker revealed a highlight, early in Rabbi Levine’s career—his 1980 debate in Vancouver with the renowned economist and Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman, on “Morality of the Marketplace.”  It was a stunning display of intellectual perspicacity, in which Rabbi Levine presented his arguments from the multi-faceted perspective of an economist, a rabbi, and an ethicist.  Friedman was no easy opponent with whom to contend; colleagues in his field described him as “the greatest debater that ever lived,” and years later, after Friedman’s death, a Wall Street Journal obituary stated, “Getting spanked by Milton Friedman is one of life’s most humiliating experiences.”  Yet, Rabbi Levine clearly impressed the audience at the debate by showing that Friedman’s own vision of economic systems was actually rooted in the Torah.  The discussion ended on a high note, with both sides emerging victorious.

Reisher Rav zt"l

Reisher Rav zt"l, HarRav Aharon Levine zt"l, grandfather of Rabbi Levine z"l

Rabbi Dr. Levine was named after his paternal grandfather, HaRav Aharon Levine zt”l, the Reisher Rov, who was a prominent rabbi during the early 1900s, leader of the Agudath Israel movement, deputy in the Polish parliament, and the first Orthodox Jewish rabbi in Galicia to be awarded the title of Imperial Counsel.  Comparing Rabbi Levine to the Reisher Rav, Dr. Mitzner observed, “Both were known for expertise in conflict resolution and promulgation of peace in individual and communal matters.  And, at the end of life, despite suffering personal adversity, each in his own circumstance, both continued to be productive until the very last day, displaying unbelievable optimism and idealism in outlook.”

Rav Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik zt"l

Rav Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik zt"l, father-in-law of Rabbi Levine z"l

Rabbi Levine was a son-in-law of his beloved rebbi, Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, who was a paradigm of Torah and mussar of a bygone era.  Rabbi Warshavchik’s influence left its mark on the life and direction of Rabbi Levine, his entire family and countless talmidim.

Rabbi Efraim Levine, son of the niftar, shared the personal side of his father.  He expressed his deep void as he stood at the podium where, for the first time in this setting, he could not preface his remarks with the words, “b’reshus avi mori.”  He expounded upon the expression chazal use to describe the malachim, “nosnim reshus zeh la-zeh,” i.e., they give permission to one another, by relating how his father epitomized this angelic trait in his dignified yet humble role as a father, Mora d’Asra, and Professor of Economics.  He proceeded to give magnificent honor to his mother, tibadel l’chayim tovim v’aruchim, who served as a partner and enabler in all of his father’s achievements.  He concluded by comparing his father to a beautiful sefer torah, bedecked with precious ornaments, that has fallen suddenly in our midst.

Rabbi Aharon Kahn, Mora d’Asra of Knesses Bais Avigdor, focused on Rabbi Levine’s unassuming manner.  He commented that there are three levels of spiritual growth.  First comes pashtus (simplicity), next comes gadlus (greatness) and above all comes pashtus again.  Rabbi Kahn expressed, “Rav Levine was the pashtus that transcended his own gadlus.  It was possible to make the big mistake of not realizing to whom you were speaking and who was in front of you precisely because of that extraordinary pashtus.”  Rabbi Kahn concluded by saying, “There are just no words to describe what we lost because there aren’t words to describe who he was.”

Alan Gross, President of the Young Israel, who worked closely with Rabbi Levine for the last seven years, praised Rabbi Levine’s tireless devotion to the members of the shul and the community for almost thirty years.  He noted his prodigious fundraising efforts on behalf of Ezras Torah, Od Yosef Chai, and many other charities.  Leon M. Metzger introduced the speakers and shared personal stories about Rabbi Levine.  Rabbi Nosson Levine closed the program by conducting a siyum ha-mishnayos in memory of his father.

May Rabbi Levine’s memory be a blessing.  U-tehei  nishmaso  tserura  b’tseror  ha-chayyim.