Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, who for two decades led the prominent Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, died there Nov. 8 of an apparent heart attack. Diagnosed several years ago with Parkinson’s Disease, he was 68.
A throng estimated at more than 100,000 people attended his funeral the day of his death, at the Har HaMenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem.
A native of Chicago, Rabbi Finkel was descended from a long line of rabbis who had led the Slobodka Yeshiva in Lithuania. He settled in Israel after going there for advanced Talmudic studies after high school, and became Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in 1990, upon the death of his father-in-law, Rabbi Beinish Finkel.
During his tenure as Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel guided its growth to what is considered the largest yeshiva in Israel, with an estimated 6,000 students at its central location in the capital’s Beit Yisrael neighborhood and at two other sites he established in Jerusalem, and one in Flatbush, Brooklyn
The growth is credited to the rabbi’s open-door policy, admitting anyone who expressed a sincere interest in learning, and establishing separate classes in English for foreign-born students.
Rabbi Yehuda Oppenheimer, spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Forest Hills who studied with Rabbi Finkel in the late 1970s, said his mentor was then “somewhat bashful but very friendly.” In those days, before Rabbi Finkel became Rosh Yeshiva, he taught a lower-level Talmud class. “One thing that impressed me from the beginning was the intensity the Rebbi brought to the shiur [class],” Rabbi Oppenheimer said. “He was … one of the more popular people whom one could approach to ‘talk in learning.’ He always had a smile, always had patience, and always made one feel important, especially the younger bachurim [students], like me.”
Rabbi Finkel will be succeeded as the Mir Yeshiva’s Rosh Yeshiva by his son, Rabbi Yehuda Lein Finkel.