Memory Lane: Rabbi Aaron Ben-Zion Shurin
A 36th-Generation Rov, Rabbi Shurin not only led congregations in New York over the years. More famously, he spent many decades as an Orthodox writer in the socialist Forward—a position in which he was mekadesh sheim Shamayim, bringing honor to Heaven, as well as to his community.
Aaron Ben-Zion was born on the second day of Rosh Hashanah in the town of Riteve, Lithuania, where his father Rav Moshe was a Rosh Yeshivah. In later years, his father emigrated to America, serving as a Rav in Cambridge, Mass, and later in the Slutzker Shul on the Lower East Side.
In his youth, Aaron learned in the Yeshiva Eitz Chaim, headed by his father, and between the years of 1929–1936, in the yeshivos of Telshe and Panievese. In 1936, he left for Eretz Yisroel, where he entered the yeshivos of Chevron and Lomza Petach Tikvah.
Following this, he was ordained by Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Yitzchok Eizik Halevi Herzog, and Rav Reuven Katz of Petach Tikvah.
In 1940, he arrived in America and entered Yeshiva College, while simultaneously teaching there. Recognizing the immense talent in this young man, the rabbanim and activists in America recruited him for their causes, including Rabbi Silver who appointed him to the committee of Agudath Israel.
In 1944, he married Ella, the daughter of Rav Moshe Dov Ber Rivkin, the Rosh Yeshiva and Masmich in Torah Vodaath. Rav Rivkin lived on 47th street in Boro Park, and the new couple moved in nearby. At that time Rabbi Shurin became the Rav of Congregation Toras Moshe, on Tenth Avenue (today the site of Bais Bracha Girls School).
The beautiful edifice was actually a transplant from a Manhattan congregation which had sold their building in the increasingly commercialized area of Broadway in Manhattan, and erected this building in 1928. At some point the name changed from Congregation Anshei Sfard to Toras Moshe, where Rabbi Shurin served from 1945 to 1947.
This Boro Park period was also when an illustrious and storied career of seventy years of expressing the essence and the heart of yiddishkeit—eloquently, vociferously, passionately, and unapologetically—was begun.
Many have pointed out that it was a combination of qualities that made him the superior journalist that he was. Surely, there was his passion for yiddishkeit that shone through his pen—melting the hearts of even the Forverts readers, quite an unlikely audience for his viewpoint.
He was also unwavering. When he had an opinion, he was not shy about it. His opinions were rooted in his upbringing, the Gedolim that he knew and consulted, and in his vigorous thought process—so he would not cave easily. The story is told that in one article that he’d written about Lubavitch—just as he wrote about all communities—he wrote something that they were not pleased with, and asked his father in law, Rav Rivkin who was a Lubavitcher chossid, to get him to recant. But he told them, “if he expressed an opinion, then he has proof that he is correct. I will not ask him to recant.”
He most enjoyed speaking, sharing, and relating—connecting his listeners with the characters and personalities of his world—was where he was most comfortable. “When I once told him about one of his stories, ‘that’s a famous one,’ he would say; “To you it’s a famous story, to me it’s current events.”
Rav Shurin was niftar in 2012 at close to 100 years old, and remained sharp and erudite until his last days. He was remembered so fondly by family, friends and acquaintances as a most unique personality… a bridge from a world gone by—who was intimately familiar with the workings of that world—and remained relevant and up to date with an evolving Torah community with fresh needs and perspectives.