As a video was screened of the history of the Daf Yomi gatherings, the massive crowd at the MetLife Arena saw a portrait of Rabbi Pinchas Teitz, and heard him honored as one of the great champions of Talmud study in the United States.
It came as something of a surprise even to his family. His son, Rabbi Elazar M. Teitz, told NJ Jewish News, “Since we supplied the pictures, I assumed that they would be used, but until the night of the event, I thought their use would be in some printed form. We had no idea that it would be part of the visual presentation.”
Rabbi Pinchas, who died in 1995 at the age of 87, was the founder and long-time leader of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, with its complex of Orthodox schools and synagogues. He was also a leader in the effort to free Soviet Jews and to support the State of Israel. But on the national and international stage, he was known for another achievement: For 36 years he broadcast a pioneering radio program on WEVD, teaching Talmud in Yiddish. The half-hour weekly program, called Daf Hashavua — or The Weekly Page — ran from 1953 until 1988, and could be heard in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Montreal and by short-wave to Europe, including behind the Iron Curtain, from Israel.
His son, the current leader of the JEC, said, “In the early years of the program, the federal government monitored all foreign-language broadcasts, for fear of communist propaganda. This was the McCarthy era. I remember two federal agents visiting my father in about 1957. They told him that they estimated his weekly audience at between 175,000 and 225,000.”
The tradition continues in his family. In the 1980s Rabbi Elazar started a daf yomi class in Elizabeth. His son, Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz, the associate dean of the JEC, told NJJN that when he got married, “my grandfather presented me with a set of the Talmud and the advice to set aside some time every day to learn. He recommended daf yomi as an excellent way to follow his suggestion.”
Brian Ness, a member of the JEC board and treasurer of the JEC’s Congregation Adath Israel, went to the siyum with his son Ephraim — a JEC student — and heard with pleasure the mention of Rabbi Pinchas. He e-mailed Rabbi Eliyahu after the event: “It was a very proud moment for me and for our Elizabeth/Hillside seating area. I had the opportunity to share with Ephraim that my great-grandfather was honored by your grandfather at the 25th anniversary of the Daf Hashavua program, as he was an early supporter of the program.”
He continued: “We are so fortunate to be living in this community with such a regal history that has always set the standard for the advancement of Jewish life. I truly look forward to serving and doing whatever I can to continue my family’s legacy of supporting your family and the values they have instilled in so many generations of Jews throughout our community and the world at large.”
Inspired by the siyum, a new daf yomi group has been launched in Elizabeth, at Adath Israel, according to Rabbi Eliyahu. That makes a total of three now, including the existing one there, led by Rabbi Elazar and, during his absence, by Rabbi Shlomoh Wohlgemuth and Dr. David Hirschorn, and another at the Yeshiva Be’er Yitzchak in Elizabeth, taught by Yitzi Smith. Leadership of the new group is still to be worked out.
Rabbi Avi Shafran, public affairs director for Agudath Israel of America, said in an e-mail to NJJN, “Rabbi Teitz was a pioneer in promoting Talmud study in America. His institution of a Daf Yomi class in the 1950s and his weekly Talmud radio program put him well ahead of his time.
“The magnificent siyum just celebrated stands as a tribute to him and those like him, who knew that Torah and its study comprise the essence of the Jewish soul and are the keys to the Jewish people’s continuity.”