TORONTO — Rabbi Moshe Stern will become rabbi emeritus of Shaarei Tefillah Congregation on Aug. 19 (Rosh Chodesh Elul), exactly 32 years after he became spiritual leader of the modern Orthodox congregation.
He and his wife, Sarah, plan to spend winters in Israel, where they have a home in Ramat Beit Shemesh, close to their son and his family.
“I just believe the time has come,” said Rabbi Stern, 68. He and Sarah – who have five children, “numerous” grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren – also want to spend time with the rest of their family, including children in New York and Toronto.
“It’s the right time to transfer the leadership of the shul to a younger generation,” said the Montreal-born rabbi. He will be succeeded as senior rabbi by Rabbi Rafi Lipner, who was hired by the shul three years ago to attract young couples to the congregation. Rabbi Lipner will continue to be associated with The House, a Jewish learning centre for students and young professionals, where he is executive director.
Among his retirement plans, Rabbi Stern said he would like to write a book about his experiences as a rabbi. As well, he said, he’s always wanted to translate the works of the Maharal of Prague. “I’ve always been fascinated with his philosophy and approach to Jewish law. I find it very progressive and fascinating and deep.”
Reflecting on the past three decades at Shaarei Tefillah, Rabbi Stern said he’s been “blessed with a synagogue that has allowed me to connect with the community at large. Very often in the Orthodox world, rabbis can become insulated and isolated… I’ve always believed we are part of a larger Jewish community.”
He attributes a significant part of his philosophy to his previous pulpit position in Mountain Brook, Ala., where he “learned very quickly that in order for the small Jewish community to survive and thrive, we all have to get along and work together.”
As well, he added, he was determined to change what he feels is a common perception of Orthodox rabbis in the Jewish community: “That we are rigid, uncaring, unconcerned with the welfare of the total community and that we have negative views about the State of Israel.
“I think in my way, maybe in a small way, I was able to change that kind of perception that people might have of Orthodox Judaism, which I prefer to call Torah-oriented Judaism.”
The flip side is that his own perceptions have also been affected. “When you’re out in the community, you realize that every Jew is a Jew. Everything else are just labels. When you start talking to people and when you see others who might not consider themselves Orthodox, who care about Judaism and the State of Israel, you see that we are one people,” he said.
“And yes, I would like to see everybody observant the way I understand observance needs to be… The perception sometimes within the Orthodox community is that you have Orthodox Jews, and everybody else is assimilated. That’s not an appropriate picture of the reality of the Jewish community.”