Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky, 88, passed away in Jerusalem on erev
Rosh Chodesh Nisan, March 17. As the National Director of
Torah Umesorah for 35 years, and another six years as the
active Director Emeritus, he was the key figure in the
explosive growth of Orthodox day schools in the United States
and Canada since the Second World War.
Dr. Kaminetsky was a Jew who was replete with love of Torah,
love for gedolei haTorah, and love for all people. One
of his most remarkable traits was his uncanny ability to
translate his fervor and inspiration into deeds. The missions
which were imposed on him, and the ideas which his fruitful
mind devised, never remained in drawers. He would translate
them into practical projects, and transform plans into
reality, while grappling in a battlefield which was never
easy. He was a man with a big mission in life, and he
undertook this mission with mesiras nefesh, the same
mesiras which typified all of his activities.
He spent many years traveling throughout the United States,
going from city to city, talking with people and persuading
them that founding day schools in their communities was not a
pipe dream. Throughout all those years, his fervor never
waned, and his belief in the vision he bore with him
everywhere, never dimmed. And this was the secret of his
When he began his tenure at Torah Umesorah in 1946, he set as
his goal that every town and city with a Jewish population of
at least 5,000 have a Jewish day school. At the time, it
seemed an impossible, quixotic dream. In all of the United
States in those days, there was only a handful of yeshivos
and day schools. More than one Jewish leader in city after
city proclaimed to Dr. Joe Kaminetsky, "When hair grows in
the palms of my hand, there will be a day school here." It is
not known whether the hair grew -- but the day schools exist
by the hundreds. According to Rabbi Joshua Fishman, Dr.
Kaminetsky's successor at Torah Umesorah, there are now 600
such schools with 170,000 students all over the United
The levaya was held in the Har Nof neighborhood of
Yerushalayim, next to the Chanichei Yeshivos shul that
he attended and learned in, even when it was very hard for
him, in his last years.
HaRav Nachman Bulman called him a "bridge figure" in whose
presence all differences between Jews melted away, since he
could as easily talk to a Jew from Boro Park as to a Jew from
Texas. "Tens of thousands owe their neshomoh lives to
him," he cried, noting that Dr. Kaminetsky was dedicated to
seeing that not one Jew was lost, no matter where he is.
HaRav Moshe Chait, rosh yeshiva of Chofetz Chaim
yeshiva in Jerusalem, were Dr. Kaminetsky learned for many
years in retirement before he moved to Har Nof, spoke of the
niftar's wonderful power to generate love that
continued to grow as long as you knew him. HaRav Chait
recalled the parshiyos of the Mishkan, which called
upon people based on nedivus lev, the heart. Dr.
Kaminetsky "had a heart full of chesed and
ahava and he built a Mishkan that stretched from the
East Coast to the West Coast of America. . . . We may think
`Yosef einenu' but he is really still here and will
remain until the coming of Moshiach." Just as Moshe Rabbenu
did not know in advance how he would build the Mishkan until
he obligated himself and undertook it, so we must obligate
ourselves and then we will be able to get things done.
Rabbi Yisroel Nulman, a colleague of the niftar for
many years at Torah Umesorah, said that his 20 years of
working with Dr. Kaminetsky were 20 years of challenge and
opportunities. Rabbi Kaminetsky was selected for the task of
implementing the dream of R' Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz to,
"Dot the American continent with Hebrew day schools." The
American roshei yeshiva were the guiding force behind
the movement, and Rabbi Kaminetsky worked with all of them.
The commentators ask how it was that a people that just came
out of slavery in which they were engaged only in menial and
crude labor, had the skills and the abilities to build
something exalted and refined like the Mishkan. They answer
that it was their nesi'us lev, their elevated hearts
that carried them through to success. A prominent Jewish
activist said that today there is a problem with developing
leadership for major Jewish institutions, since those with
talent and ability in the younger generation are going into
fields like finance and medicine. Dr. Kaminetsky used his
considerable talents for chinuch.
Rabbi Dovid Kaminetsky, a son of the niftar, spoke
about his father's tremendous love for Torah and learning, as
reflected in his final years. He said that those who carried
him so devotedly to shul to learn, prolonged his life.
In his last years he used to tell people, "I'm preparing for
the final exam." He recalled his father's outstanding love
for people, and that when a policeman would walk onto the
subway, he would greet him: "How're ya doing buddy?"
He said that there was an insight from R' Elchonon who asked
why it was that Eisov's angel fought only with Yaakov, and
not with Avrohom or Yitzchok. Avrohom built chesed
institutions, hospitals, but the angel did not fight him.
Yitzchok built houses of worship, but the angel did not
attack him for that. Yaakov built Torah and study houses, and
the angel attacked him. "My father fought with the angel --
and he prevailed," he said.
Rabbi Eli Liff, son-in-law of the niftar, said that he
knew how to fight but that he was really soft like butter and
sweet as honey. It says in Shmuel I that the women
used to sing, "Shaul smote in his thousands, and Dovid in his
tens of thousands." Rabbi Liff said that his own father
zt'l explained that "his thousands" refers to the
mitzvos that he performed, as each mitzva creates a
mal'ach that helps and is a zechus for the one
who performs it. Shaul was upset that the people said that he
had only thousands of mitzvos while Dovid has tens of
thousands. Rabbi Liff said that his father-in-law certainly
has countless mitzvos that accompany him on his final journey
and speak to his credit. He was very close to HaRav Eizik
Sher, zt'l, the Slobodke rosh yeshiva, and he
once cried to him that he wanted to go to learn there in
Europe but was not able to. HaRav Sher replied, "Make your
shtender a Slobodke shtender!"
Dr. Moshe Steinhart, a grandson, was the last speaker. He
spoke of the niftar as a loving zeide whose
imprint was tangible all over America.
Joseph Kaminetsky was born in Brooklyn in 1911. After a year
in public school, his father saw the need to enroll him in a
yeshiva so, at a great sacrifice, he sold his home in East
New York and moved to a small apartment in Brownsville. The
young Joe Kaminetsky attended Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, and
later Talmudical Academy High School on East Broadway.
After high school, he became a member of the very first class
of Yeshiva College, from which he graduated magna cum
laude in 1932. From the start, his career was Jewish
education. He became the founding principal of the afternoon
school of Manhattan's prestigious Jewish Center synagogue and
later its assistant rabbi under Rabbi Leo Jung. Meanwhile, he
was earning his doctorate in education from Teachers College
at Columbia University. The new "Dr." Kaminetsky became
executive director of Manhattan Day School, and from there he
was drafted by the newly founded Torah Umesorah, first as
educational director and two years later as director, which
he served for almost four decades.
Torah Umesorah was founded by R' Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, to
be, as Dr. Kaminetsky put it in his book of memoirs,
Memorable Encounters, "a national bureau of `doers'
who could help communities establish all-day Jewish schools
of their own." Dr. Joe Kaminetsky was the man sent from
Shomayim to fulfill the aspirations of R' Shraga
The rich background of Rabbi Kaminetsky in Jewish education,
his ability to draw people closer to Torah, his rhetorical
talent and sweeping fervor, made him the best candidate for
educational director of Torah Umesorah. He shared the dream
of R' Shraga Feivel, and when the great leader was
niftar, Dr. Kaminetsky replaced him.
Throughout his career, Dr. Kaminetsky merited a special
relationship with the gedolei Torah. Every single one
of his meetings with them was deeply etched on his mind and
memory. He would repeatedly say that his conversations with
them and visits to them inspired him in his efforts to cope
with the seemingly impossible task of building Torah
institutions in the heart of the materialistic United States.
Just as he respected all of the gedolei Torah, who
were very fond of him so too did he respect all of the laymen
who collaborated with him in the illustrious endeavor he
The esteem in which he was held by the gedolim is
typified by the following story that HaRav Boruch Mordechai
Ezrachi, now rosh yeshiva of Ateres Yisroel, told his
talmidim when Dr. Joe came to Israel to visit and
speak at his Bnei Torah Camp in Eretz Yisroel in the
HaRav Ezrachi was on his first fundraising visit to America
in 1973 (5733). He was visiting the posek hador, HaRav
Moshe Feinstein zt'l, when Dr. Kaminetsky walked in.
HaRav Ezrachi did not know who he was, but he was very
surprised to see that R' Moshe stood up when he walked in.
Noting his surprise, R' Moshe later told R' Ezrachi, "This
man has established Torah in America (heikim ulo shel
For 35 years, Dr. Joe Kaminetsky loyally fulfilled the
mission placed on his shoulders by gedolei Yisroel. He
traveled throughout the United States, spoke with the public,
and with people from all walks of life, built, encouraged,
and recruited funds. He was a mechanech with his every
fiber of his soul. He planned study sessions, taught teachers
and trained principals, mediated and solved the problems of
every school which had difficulties. He became a well-known
figure in the United States, and his life and name became
fully associated with Torah Umesorah.
The warmth he radiated, his desire to spread Torah and his
love of Jewish children, knew no bounds, and enabled him to
overcome all of the obstacles which lay in his path.
Thousands of Jewish souls lay in the balance, and Rabbi
Kaminetsky maneuvered all with caution and diplomacy.
Circumventing the obstacles which could have created long-
term dissension in communities, he charted the golden path
between dedication to the Torah way and the demands of the
parents, some of whom wanted compromise and modern
enlightenment, and didn't know how to appreciate the world
which Rabbi Kaminetsky was building for them.
For decades, Rabbi Kaminetsky traversed the entire United
States, from coast to coast, on behalf of Torah education. He
traveled to the Savannahs and Bangors of America and
persuaded the most recalcitrant parents and parents to
contribute their children and resources to the cause of
Orthodox Jewish education. At the same time, he was the loyal
servant of the great roshei yeshiva of the time.
The founder of Torah Umesorah, HaRav Shraga Feivel
Mendlowitz, and such colleagues as HaRav Aaron Kotler, HaRav
Moshe Feinstein, HaRav Reuven Grozowsky, HaRav Yitzchok
Hutner, HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky and HaRav Yaakov Y. Ruderman
were his guiding lights in the organization. As a student and
young educator, he basked in the glow of HaRav Isaac Sher,
the rosh hayeshiva of Slobodke in Lithuania and later
the founder and rosh hayeshiva of the Slobodke Yeshiva
in Israel, who visited America in the pre-World War II years.
The American born, university trained Dr. Kaminetsky, served
these European Torah personalities loyally, and he proudly
adopted their philosophies and made them his own.
Dr. Kaminetsky was an ardent lover of the land of Israel and
upon his retirement moved to Jerusalem where he devoted all
of his prodigious energy to the performance of mitzvos. He
translated into English many of the mussar talks of
HaRav Isaac Sher. He attended the beis hamedrash every
day and participated in vibrant study sessions. With all the
strength he could muster he struggled to perform yet another
mitzvah, learn yet another blat gemora.
He is survived by his devoted wife Selma, his son Rabbi David
Kaminetsky and family of Teaneck, NJ, who is the principal of
Manhattan Day School for a decade and is soon to assume the
position of National Director of N.C.S.Y., his daughter, Mrs.
Nechama Steinhardt and her husband Meir, both of whom are
outstanding educators and prominent lay leaders of the Jewish
community, his son Judah and his daughter Mrs. Gedalya
(Phyllis) Riess all of Brooklyn and his daughter Mrs. (Symie)
Eliezer Liff of Jerusalem. Rabbi Liff is a mechanech
in Jerusalem and Mrs. Liff is a central figure in special
education in Jerusalem.
He was surrounded by many grandchildren and great
grandchildren. All of his offspring are active in communal
life in the tradition established by the patriarch of the
family. He is also survived by his brothers Saul of Brooklyn,
NY and Willie of Miami Beach, Florida.