Rabbi Sholom Klass, who founded The Jewish Press 40 years ago and built the weekly newspaper into a leading, and often controversial, voice of the Orthodox community, died this week at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn after a long illness. He was 83 and lived in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn.
Rabbi Klass, who grew up in Williamsburg, was ordained by Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. He was a co-publisher of The Brooklyn Daily newspaper before starting The Jewish Press in 1960.
The paper attracted a large and devoted readership, especially in heavily Orthodox neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The Press is known for its uncompromising advocacy of Orthodox issues, its sometimes militant stance on Israel and religious issues — the late Rabbi Meir Kahane was a former editor and frequent contributor — and its support for agunot, a personal issue for Rabbi Klass.
“Rabbi Klass was a proud, committed and courageous Zionist,” said Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America. “He stood up for and spoke up for his people. And he spoke out against the enemies of his people.”
The paper is an eclectic blend of Israel news, Torah commentaries and children’s cartoons, personal columns and social news, singles listings and ads for products popular with Orthodox consumers.
“It became the voice of the silent Orthodox majority,” said Ronnie Greenwald, a political activist and international mediator who lives in upstate Monsey. “It became the protector of Orthodox Jewry.
Rabbi Klass, when he founded The Jewish Press, recognized the strength of an emerging, English-speaking Orthodox community, Rabbi Greenwald said. “He recognized that the community was becoming a political force. As the community grew, the paper’s role grew.”
In recent decades an endorsement by The Jewish Press was tantamount to major Orthodox support on Election Day, said Rabbi Greenwald, who served as Jewish coordinator of the campaigns of Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller. “His endorsement was considered key. If Sholom Klass took his picture with you, it was a sign that the Orthodox community was behind you.”
The paper, whose conservative positions on many domestic and international issues stand in opposition to much of organized Jewry in the United States, drew its heaviest criticism for supporting the Jewish Defense League and its founder, Rabbi Kahane, 30 years ago.
The paper “didn’t change” in response to criticism, Rabbi Greenwald said. It became even stronger. They never backed down.”
Yeshiva University presented its Lifetime Achievement in Journalism award to Rabbi Klass at the annual dinner of its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in May 1997. Following an internal debate at YU, a spokesman clarified that the rabbi was being honored “as an individual and it has nothing to do with the political viewpoint of the Jewish Press.”
Rabbi Klass continued working at The Jewish Press plant in Brooklyn until recent months.
He is survived by his wife, Irene ; three brothers, Sol, Albert and Lionel; a sister, Rita Rosenthal, two daughters, Naomi Mauer and Hindy Greenwald; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.