When I was looking at the numbers of Ethiopian Jews living in Israel, I felt very proud of those rabbis and Jewish leaders that knew how to respond in times of great crisis. Jewish ethics teaches that anyone who saves one life is considered as though he saves an entire world.
The collaborative effort of Jewish leaders across denominational lines accomplished one of the great feats of Exodus in our day. Rarely has the Jewish community of Israel and the Diaspora shown such unity–I only wish we could replicate the experience in other areas of Jewish life today.
One particular American rabbinic leader, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1885-1986, Lithuania), acted as a catalyst in mobilizing other rabbinic leaders to come to aid. This Lithuanian rabbi proved to be the real Moses of his day. Here is a little bit of background information for readers who may not have heard about this great man. Widely regarded as America Orthodoxy’s greatest Halachic scholar, Rav Feinstein’s humanity exceeded his vast encyclopedic grasp of Jewish law. When he died, over 300,000 people in Israel attended his funeral–the largest number seen since the Mishnaic era. He will long be remembered as one of Haredi Judaism’s greatest leaders.
Rav Feinstein also distinguished himself as an expert in Jewish medical ethics; in addition, he was famous for knowing how to resolve labor and business disputes; he was the first Haredi rabbi to accept brain death as a viable definition of death at a time when no other rabbi did. Although he was not a religious pluralist, Rav Moshe (as he was affectionately called by many of his students) knew how to respond to the endangered Ethiopian Jewish community and added his voice to those participating in their rescue. Thinking ahead, Rav Moshe also worked with other leading Israeli rabbis in laying out a practical Halachic plan that would accelerate their reintegration within the Jewish people. 
Perhaps Rav Moshe’s best legacy is his multi-volume exposition dealing with the thousands of questions people asked concerning Jewish law that rabbinic and historical scholars refer to as “Responsa.”
What exactly is Responsa? Here is a brief explanation.
Without the aid of an Internet, rabbis managed to develop a literary phenomenon, viz. the rabbinical correspondence that is better known today as “Responsa.” About 1700 years ago, the great rabbinic scholars known as the “Geonim” (savants) of Persia corresponded with the rabbis of North Africa and Spain, and exchanged ideas and thoughts on a variety of topics affecting their communities. This genre of literature constitutes one of the most fertile sources of information for Jewish life in the middle ages. Maimonides, Rav Hai Gaon, Ramban and countless other luminaries sustained an ongoing relationship with other Jewish communities that were across the ancient world. Continue reading “Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and the Rescue of Ethiopian Jewry (Part 1)”