Volume 16 • Issue 19 | October 07 - 13, 2003


Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, 89, religious scholar, dies

By Albert Amateau

Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, leader for 50 years of the landmarked synagogue Beth Hamedrash Hagadol on the Lower East Side and venerated among Orthodox Jews as a sage of the Torah and author of a five-volume religious response to the Holocaust, died on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 28, the second day of the Jewish New Year, in Mt. Sinai Hospital at the age of 89.

He was revered for the influence of his character on succeeding generations of the congregation as much as for his scholarship. “He was known as a Posek, a term bestowed on a man whom people can ask the difficult questions of life,” said Victor B. Zybernagel, a member of Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagadol at 16 Norfolk St. for 30 years.

Born in Kupishok, Lithuania, in 1914, Ephraim Oshry studied with the great rabbis of the day. He was interned in a concentration camp near Kovno, Lithuania, by the Nazi invaders during World War II. His first wife and their children died in the camps before the end of the war. In 1949, he married Frieda Greenzwieg, a survivor of Auschwitz, said his son-in-law, Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum.

The volumes on the religious response to the Holocaust were begun while he was in the camp, written in Hebrew on bits of paper, which were buried and retrieved after the war, according to Zybernagel. It was the rabbi’s life work. A one-volume version in English won a National Jewish Book Award several years ago, he said.

Rabbi Oshry and his wife left Lithuania and landed in Rome where the rabbi organized a yeshiva for orphaned refugee children. In 1950 he managed to bring all the yeshiva students with him when he moved with his family to Montreal. They came to New York in 1952 where he was invited to be the rabbi of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, a congregation founded in 1852. The family has long made its home in the Seward Park Co-op on E. Broadway.

For several years Rabbi Oshry ran two yeshivas, one for boys and the other for girls, in the East Bronx. He is also the patron of a yeshiva named after him in Monsey N.Y., Shaar Ephraim, run by a son-in-law, Zelig Greenberg.

Rabbi Oshry is survived by his wife, three daughters and six sons. He designated his son-in-law Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum, to succeed him at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol.

The funeral was at the synagogue on Mon. Sept. 29.



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