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He’ll Always Be Michael To Me

Rabbi Michael and Bassie Taubes

Rabbi Michael Taubes, who is a rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University High School for Boys (YUHSB) and at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), has assumed the additional position of interim dean of REITS.

It’s a prestigious position for the long-time Jewish educator and administrator, erudite  scholar, and noted author, one that carries much honor and respect both within the walls of Yeshiva University and outside the school as well.

However, he will always be Michael to me.

You see, I grew up with Michael in Teaneck, NJ, in the 1970s, at a time when there were less than 100 observant Jewish families, one Orthodox synagogue, and (gasp!) zero kosher restaurants in town. I saw another side of Rabbi Taubes that a lot of folks are not aware of.

Did you know that Michael is a huge New York Rangers hockey fan?  Those who are my age might remember that back in the 1970s, Knicks and Rangers home games were blacked out on television.  The only way you could access the games was if you had this newfangled thing called cable television, which almost no one in the community had.  Well, almost no one.  My friend David Blumenthal’s home was wired with cable – and for several years many of us would get together in the Blumenthal family room to watch some very good Rangers team play hockey during the season.  Included in our group was not-yet-rabbi Michael Taubes — who just might have been the biggest Rangers fan of us all!

Michael once joked that the two happiest days of his life were the day he got married and the day in 1994 when the Rangers finally won the Stanley Cup – and not necessarily in that order!  Several years ago, while he was a scholar in our community here in Stamford, I introduced him to the audience, and decided to surprise him by publicly asking him to name 10 players on the 1975 Rangers team.  He rattled them off in less than a minute!

How many roshei yeshiva do you know who can do that!

Michael and I (along with Eddie Susman and David Blumenthal) were also involved in writing, producing, and directing a “Thursday Night Live” comedy program for the NCSY Regional for several years in the 1970s.  It consisted of short comedy sketches and fake commercials, a la Saturday Night Live, which had just become popular at the time.  Included in each performance was a parody of a famous movie or play – we parodied the Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story.  And Michael had a huge part in the sketch writing.

It was Michael, along with David, who came up with what I feel might be one of the funniest Jewish parody songs of all time.  It was part of the My Fair Lady takeoff, and the Aliza Doolittle character was learning the Ten Commandments, and sang the following song: “Lo tisa et sheim Hashem lashav … Re-frain, from sayin, God’s saint-ly name in vain.”  Pretty hilarious!  I’ve written a lot of Jewish parody songs in my day, and nothing comes close to that bit of genius.

So … while most folks are probably familiar with Rabbi Taubes’s Torah knowledge, I thought it was important for people to see another side of Michael.  Call it Torah u’Maddah, if you will!

But let’s not dismiss Michael’s other qualities. Michael’s sterling character also shines brightly.  He is one of the finest individuals I know, a spiritual role model for the congregants at his shul and an important voice for the larger Teaneck Jewish community.  He has been especially proactive in representing his community during the past few months, as the Teaneck Jewish population has encountered some very challenging moments with its neighbors and with government officials.  Michael has risen to the occasion, as a strong leader and a respected spokesperson.

In terms of his shiurim, let me simply say that whenever a new shiur of his is posted on YUTorah, I immediately listen to it, as I know it will be well researched, thoughtful, and to the point.  You must listen to Michael’s shiurim without any distractions, though, because Michael talks incredibly fast and packs more into one class than most teachers do in three. (I’m not sure who speaks quicker, Michael or Rabbi Sobolofsky … it would be a close race!)  I enjoy Michael’s shiurim immensely.

And his source sheets are legendary.  Who else but Michael could come up with 62 different sources on the subject of transgender individuals in halacha! (Look it up … it’s true!)

The apple does not fall far from the tree, and in the case of Michael and his wife Bassie’s children, this maxim certainly holds true.  Their daughter Russi is the educational director at Gan Rina in Teaneck (named after Michael’s mother, Rina Taubes, of blessed memory); their son Yaakov is the assistant director at RIETS, an adjunct professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University, and the spiritual leader of Mount Sinai Jewish Center in Washington Heights; their son Isaac Moshe is a lawyer with an interest in international law and a specialty on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and their son Yosef Dov is an active member of Yachad and Ohel.

I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know Michael’s youngest daughter Shuli, a brilliant scholar and teacher in her own right.  Shuli is not your typical yeshiva high school female graduate – she expressed a strong interest in Tanach and Jewish philosophy at an early age, and eventually decided to attend Harvard Divinity School after college, not exactly your typical career path for a frum woman.  To their credit, Michael and Bassie encouraged her to take this unusual road, supporting her choice and taking pride in her many accomplishments.

And speaking of Bassie, I’d be remiss in not mentioning how important she has been to Michael’s success. A skilled nurse and now a health coach who has her own business, Bassie has been a devoted rebbetzin and also has been active in numerous local and Jewish nonprofit organizations.

Mazel tov, Michael, on your well-deserved promotion.  And maybe, just maybe, in your zechut, the Rangers will win another Stanley Cup Championship this year!

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
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