Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, Head of Hasidic Dynasty in Brooklyn, Dies at 89


This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.

Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, who inherited the leadership of the Novominsker Hasidic dynasty that was founded in Poland by his grandfather and transplanted to Brooklyn a century ago, died on Tuesday at his home in the Borough Park section. He was 89.

The cause was the new coronavirus, according to Agudath Israel of America, the umbrella ultra-Orthodox organization.

The rabbi, known as a persuasive orator and respected scholar, had been president of the organization since 1998 and was chairman of its rabbinical Council of Torah Sages.

He straddled two worlds, defending Haredi, or strict Orthodox, tradition, but at times going outside the insular Hasidic community to opine on public policy. Most recently, he urged his followers to heed the advice of medical experts in the coronavirus pandemic and avoid the gatherings that are integral to religious rituals.

“We are told that the Jewish law is that we must listen to doctors whether it’s about a sick person on Yom Kippur or a sick person that requires desecrating Shabbat and so on,” he said. In contrast to the funerals of revered ultra-Orthodox figures, which often attract huge crowds, his service was limited to family only.

While he said students in religious schools should also be offered classes in secular subjects and called for greater dialogue with Reform and Conservative Jewish groups, he fiercely condemned the growing assimilation of American Jews and, in particular, the Open Orthodoxy movement that favored a greater role for women in rituals and liberalizing other strictures.

Addressing an Agudath Israel dinner in 2014, he said the Reform and Conservative movements have “disintegrated themselves, become oblivious, fallen into an abyss of intermarriage and assimilation” and would be “relegated to the dustbins of Jewish history” while the Open Orthodoxy movement was steeped in heresy.

Rabbi Perlow was born on Nov. 16, 1930, in Brooklyn to Nochum Mordechai Perlow, whose father, Yaakov, was the first rabbi of the Novominsk Hasidic sect, named for the city in central Poland (its name was changed from Novominsk to Minsk Mazowiecki in 1916). His mother, Beila Rochma Morgenstern, was the daughter of a founder of Agudath Israel in Poland.

He attended Yeshiva Toras Chaim and Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn and Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J. He graduated with honors from Brooklyn College.

He taught at Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Ill., and at a yeshiva in Washington Heights. After he succeeded his father as the Novominsker rabbi in 1976, he opened Yeshivas Novominsk-Kol Yehuda, in Borough Park, Brooklyn. He married Yehudis Eichenstein; she predeceased him.

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