Stories of Rabbi Simon J. Finkelstein (1859-1948)

Stories from Louis Finkelstein

The world

Simon J. Finkelstein, thinking about all the difficulties that life presents is reported as having said "That this world is a world is very hard to believe. That the world-to-come is a world is easy to believe."

The retired hazzan

When Louis Finkelstein was a rabbi at a synagogue in the Bronx, one of his congregants was a retired hazzan. One day the hazzan came to speak to him. "I have a heart condition, and my doctor has told me that it is no longer safe for me to walk to shul," he said. "But going to shul is my whole life. Would it be possible for me to arrange for a non-Jew to drive me?"

"I'm sorry," answered LF, "but I really can't say that that is permitted."

"You are a young man; please ask your father what to do," responded the hazzan.

So LF asked his father Simon J. Finkelstein, and his father answered as follows: "Since it means so much to the hazzan to come to shul, it can be viewed as a matter of pikuah nefesh (mortal danger). So for this Shabbas, he should make all the arrangements beforehand, and then he can ride to shul. I am not giving a blanket permission for him to do this for the rest of his life, but week by week, if the doctor still feels that he cannot walk to shul, and if he still feels that it would be endangering his life not to come to shul, he may make the same arrangement again for that Shabbas."

Mnemonic for the parshiot of D'varim

Simon J. Finkelstein invented the following mnemonic for the parshiot of the book of D'varim. I doubt that its effectiveness as a mnemonic has ever been put to the test, since I suspect that the only people who have learned the mnemonic are people who in any case know the sequence of parshiot, and use the sequence to reconstruct the mnemonic, rather than vice versa. Be that as it may:

Matot and Masei were brothers. They had words דברים about a property. But they were reconciled ואתחנן because עקב you see ראה if you take this kind of dispute to the judges שופטים you set out כי תצא and you arrive כי תבוא and you're standing in court נצבים and the property walks off וילך ! Listen to me! האזינו ! Harmony between brothers is the greatest blessing. וזאת הברכה

Fear of Heaven

Simon J. Finkelstein raised the question: Why, in the blessing of the month, does the phrase ``Fear of Heaven'' occur twice? And he gave an answer: If a train is carrying a particularly heavy load, they put on an engine in front and an engine in back. So here too. In the blessing of the month, we pray for ``a life of wealth and honor''. If that part of our prayer is answered, we must hope that we have the fear of Heaven before us and behind us.

Picture of S.J. Finkelstein's grave on Thanks to Alan Kesler for bringing this to my attention.

שיח יצחק A commentary on the siddur by Simon J. Finkelstein.

Other material about my grandfather, Louis Finkelstein