Tributes paid after Dayan Ehrentreu dies aged 89

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis hailed the 'exceptionally learned and fearless leader'


Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has led tributes to one of the most influential Orthodox rabbis in Britain in the past 50 years, Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu.

The former head of the London Beth Din, who was born in Frankfurt in 1932, died on Thursday morning aged 89.

Praising him as “an exceptionally learned and fearless leader”, the Chief Rabbi said, “His warmth touched countless hearts and his enduring legacy of commitment to Torah values and scholarship will enrich our communities for generations to come. 

“He will forever be remembered as 'The Dayan' whose sincerity and sense of principle established him as a great leader of our generation.”

His funeral took place on Thursday afternoon and his body will be flown to Jerusalem to be buried on the Mount of Olives.

Writing on Twitter, Rabbi Joseph Dweck, the Senior Rabbi of the S & P Sephardi Community, said: “Today we lost one of the last Torah greats of a generation. Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu z”l [may his memory for a blessing] was at once a towering Talmid Hakham and a deeply caring and empathic human being…

“He was fearless and his leadership was legendary. At times Dayan Ehrentreu held opinions and enacted decisions that were less than popular. 

“But when he knew something was right, he stood for it steadfastly against all pressures and politics.”

As head of the London Beth Din for more than 20 years, he wielded immense authority over the United Synagogue rabbinate and was greatly respected in the wider Orthodox community.

Under his supervision, the US launched its Really Jewish Food Guide, which made life for kosher shoppers easier by listing thousands of approved products.

But probably his greatest triumph was the launch of the country’s first city eruv in North-West London in 2003, which brought new freedom to young families on Shabbat.

Despite fierce opposition from rabbis to his right who questioned its halachic validity, he stuck to his guns, paving the way for other eruvim to be established elsewhere in the capital and in other parts of the country in succeeding years.

He was the only British rabbi to be distinguished with an entry in the Posen Library’s Jewish Culture and Civilization volume 10 1973 to 2005, which included his opinion on Shabbat lamps as an example of halachah grappling with modern technology.

Dayan Ehrentreu was born into a rabbinic family, his grandfather having been chief rabbi of Munich when Hitler launched the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. After living through Kristallnacht, his family moved to the UK before the War.

He studied in Letchworth, then at Hasmonean High School in London, before going to Gateshead Yeshivah. In 1960, he founded the Sunderland Kollel for higher talmudic study, where he taught for 18 years before becoming head of the Manchester Beth Din.

In 1984, he was recruited as head of the London Beth Din by Chief Rabbi Jakobovits and led it for 22 years, postponing his retirement more than once.

One former student, in a JC profile in 2013, said: “He has done more to revitalise Jewish life in London than anyone else in the last 100 years.”

Dayan Menachem Gelley, his successor as head of the London Beth Din, said, "Dayan Ehrentreu’s towering presence crowned Anglo-Jewry and European Jewry for many decades. He was a giant in halachah, in chesed and in wisdom, accessible to young and old alike. His courageous leadership, wise counsel, warmth and empathy won him the respect and admiration of all who came into contact with him."

Michael Goldstein, president of the United Synagogue, said Dayan Ehrentreu's passing marked "the end of an era. He had an international reputation as a dayan and posek [halachic decisor] of the highest order. With his unwavering commitment to halachah, he served our community and Beth Din with distinction.

"Under his leadership, the London Beth Din became an institution respected across the Jewish world and by all sections of the community. His deep humility and personal touch will be remembered by everyone he came into contact with."

On Facebook, the former minister of Barnet Synagogue, now rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York, Rabbi Shaul Robinson said,  “As a young rabbi, when you had 'the Dayan' helping you with a problem way above your head, you were in safe hands.”

He remained opposed to Orthodox rabbis attending the Limmud Conference while non-Orthodox rabbis taught Torah there and instigated the Encounter conference as a rival venture, which ran for a number of years.

He was head of his own synagogue in Hendon and also established a kollel in Edgware. He remained the head of the European Beth Din of the Conference of European Rabbis, which oversaw conversions on the continent.

Manny Weiss, a close friend of the rabbi, said: “Dayan Ehrentreu was a major figure in UK and European Jewry for the last 50 years, the symbol of Torah and derech eretz [the way of the world].

“His halachic wisdom and knowledge were legendary. His common touch with thousands of United Synagogue people, from religious to traditional and secular, was unbelievable. His congregants were his children and their children were the einiklech [grandchildren] of the dayan and his rebbetzin.“

Mr Weiss added, “He is the guiding spirit of many Torah and learning institutions in the United Kingdom. He has trained many rabbis, teachers, mohelim, shochtim and dayanim. And many lay leaders of the Jewish community honed their skills with the ever-present dayan. We are now truly orphaned without his presence and will miss him always.

"His laugh, infectious smile and wonderful lectures in Torah and halachah will be with us always. Our hearts are pained.”

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the CER, said, "Dayan Ehrentreu was a true Torah giant. His contribution to deciding complex issues of halachah was of unparalleled importance in our age in the UK, in Europe and far beyond."

READ MORE: Dayan Ehrentreu profile

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