Rabbi Pinchas Weberman during an interview with JEM’s “My Encounter with the Rebbe” project in 2010. (Credit: JEM)

Obituary: Rabbi Pinchas Weberman, 92, Architect of Orthodox Judaism in South Florida

by Menachem Posner – chabad.org

With his long payos (sidelocks) tucked under his baseball cap and his woolen tzitzit billowing out behind him, Rabbi Pinchas Weberman and his ATV were a fixture on the Miami Beach shore. Every Friday, he’d spend hours inspecting the eruv he built around the island, where he had built Jewish life for more than 60 years.

It was not exactly a conventional mode of transport for a respected rabbi in his eighth decade, but then nothing about Weberman, who passed away on Wednesday, 28 Tammuz, at the age of 92, was conventional.

Pinchas Aharon Weberman was born in 1930. His American-born father, Bentzion, a practicing lawyer with four advanced degrees, was the co-founder of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, then the premier yeshivah in America.

In America since the 1880s, the family belonged to the Malachim, a small Chassidic group that stood for a unique blend of Chabad teachings and zealous adherence to tradition.

Pinchas Aharon was tutored by his mother in English and Hebrew reading, and started first grade at Torah Vodaas at age 4. By the time he was 12, his formal schooling ended, and he spent his days at the Malachim’s yeshivah Nesivos Olam, studying Talmud, Jewish law and other Torah topics for more than a decade.

Following his marriage to his wife Gittel Leah, he continued to study in Nesivos Olam, possibly the only Kollel in America at the time.

In time, he turned to teaching, and soon took a job at the Beer Shmuel yeshivah in Boro Park. An out-of-the-box thinker, he collected seashells on Rockaway Beach, near his home, to distribute as prizes.

There, a fellow teacher, Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Landa, encouraged him to meet the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—who had assumed leadership of Chabad less than a decade prior.

A natural and caring educator, Rabbi Weberman with his students at Beer Shmuel yeshivah in Boro Park in 1960.
A natural and caring educator, Rabbi Weberman with his students at Beer Shmuel yeshivah in Boro Park in 1960.

Having met Chassidic rebbes his entire life, he did not have high hopes for the meeting, which took place in 1957. “When I met with this Rebbe, I was completely attracted,” he recalled in an interview with JEM’s “My Encounter with the Rebbe” project in 2010. “I saw a depth of mind, clarity of thought, elocution, and I felt a strong attachment and that’s how I became attached to the Rebbe.”

At the Rebbe’s suggestion, he trained as a shochet and a mohel, skills that would come to good use in his long and pioneering rabbinic career.

Under the Rebbe’s guidance, in 1960, the Webermans moved their growing family down to Miami Beach, right around the same time that the Rebbe dispatched Rabbi Avraham and Rivka Korf to found Lubavitch of Florida.

In Miami Beach, young Rabbi Weberman founded Congregation Ohev Shalom with a group of 12 families.

Jewish life in South Florida was in its infancy then, and the rabbi would need to visit the farm to obtain chalav Yisrael milk, which he used for his own children as well as for visitors, such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.

Almost immediately, he began publishing opinions on various societal topics from a Torah perspective in newspapers, and became a regular guest on radio and TV. Unsure at first if he was proper in his approach, he was encouraged by the Rebbe, who explained to him that people are more likely to take note of the words of a published columnist and public figure.

The Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum; Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Gedolah of Miami Beach, Rabbi Leib Schapiro; "Eiheler Rav," Rabbi Meisels; and Rabbi Weberman inspect the Miami Beach Mikvah, which was being built according to the highest specifications, including the Chabad preference for a rainwater cistern below the immersion pool.
The Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum; Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Gedolah of Miami Beach, Rabbi Leib Schapiro; “Eiheler Rav,” Rabbi Meisels; and Rabbi Weberman inspect the Miami Beach Mikvah, which was being built according to the highest specifications, including the Chabad preference for a rainwater cistern below the immersion pool.

Within a few years, he founded the first Jewish high school in the area. Together with the Korfs, he co-founded Oholei Torah, which now became the sprawling Lubavitch Educational Center.

Fearless and eloquent, he used all media at his disposal to promote the Torah approach to hot-button issues such as abortion, school prayer and family values.

In time, his office filled with scrapbooks of clippings of news stories, op-eds and more. And at the Rebbe’s behest, he collected his sermons into a book titled The Rabbi’s Message: Modern Thoughts on Ancient Philosophy (Bloch, N.Y., 1975).

He was also the founder of the ORC (Orthodox Rabbinical Council of South Florida), of which he served as president.

‘He Was Always There to Help’

Rabbi Weberman was known for his easy smile and endearing personality.
Rabbi Weberman was known for his easy smile and endearing personality.

With a velvet rabbinic hat, he cut an imposing figure, and the lapel of his long rabbinic frock held glistening pins, indicating his position as chaplain for the Miami Beach Police Department since 1983.

“He had the keys to all the doors,” says his son-in-law Rabbi Shlomo Friedman, “and he’d use them to help people in need. If someone from out of town passed away, when a visiting dignitary needed a motorcade, he was always there to help, Jews and non-Jews.”

In fact, his involvement with law enforcement began after the police observed him calming a German tourist who was experiencing a breakdown. Impressed, they recommended him to the force, and he continued to serve with distinction for decades.

Around 1968, the Rebbe encouraged Weberman to build a new mikvah in Miami Beach. “The first mikvah that was built here was built in the 1940s, during the wartime, material was unavailable, and the building was starting to deteriorate,” the rabbi would later recall.

However, the project, which finally took off in 1970, was taken over by an elderly rabbi, who made some major halachic blunders, and Weberman soon found himself at the center of a controversy that spanned the United States, Europe and Israel, with various rabbis and communal leaders being pressured to support the lone rabbi’s erroneous plans, some of which were at that point, literally, set in cement.

In his police uniform, posing with two of his many grandchildren.
In his police uniform, posing with two of his many grandchildren.

With tenacity and single-minded devotion to truth, Rabbi Weberman traveled the world to iron things out, and the mikvah was eventually built in the best possible manner, according to Chabad custom, with the blessing of the Satmar Rebbe and others.

In 1973, with the squabble behind him, the rabbi was in New York sharing with the Rebbe his plans to introduce kosher-meat production in Florida, where the mild climate allows for cattle to grow with healthy lungs, yielding a high rate of kosher animals. The Rebbe advised him to appoint his erstwhile opponent as supervising rabbi for the enterprise. “Rebbe,” he replied in surprise. “After such a war and such a personality, I should take him along?”

The Rebbe replied with two points: Firstly, the supervising rabbi does not make the food kosher. As long as the slaughter and the on-the-ground supervisors were trustworthy, learned and G‑d-fearing, there was nothing to worry about.

Moreso, the Rebbe explained, as they were meeting during the Three Weeks, when the Jewish world mourned the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem, which happened due to baseless hatred. “Do you know how to overcome unwarranted hatred?” the Rebbe continued. “With unwarranted love. And could you find a better example of unwarranted love than that which you’d be giving to this person?”

‘He had patience, gentleness and a softness’

With the same can-do attitude, with the encouragement of the rebbe and guidance from R. Moshe Feinstein, he constructed an eruv around Miami Beach, taking advantage of the fact that it is an island, with a seawall all along its western side.

Yet as fiercely as he battled for truth, he was always ready to listen to others. “It once happened that a certain rabbi declared our eruv invalid,” says Bernardo Coiffman, current president of the eruv committee and personal student of the rabbi. “We invited him to share his concerns with us, and he began by apologizing for his behavior and asking Rabbi Weberman to forgive him.

“After the meeting was over, Rabbi Weberman asked me, ‘Why does he keep on apologizing? He did nothing wrong. People are allowed to argue with me!’ ”

His relationship with the Rebbe was unusual, and his meetings would often last “45 minutes or, if [the Rebbe] ignored the knocking on the door, for an hour, and we discussed many things.”

The Rebbe’s advice covered international news (the Rebbe did not believe that the Cuban missile crisis was reason to leave Miami), personal issues (the Rebbe would bless them upon hearing all of his wife’s pregnancies, except for once, and his wife miscarried two months later), pastoral care (“be careful how much power you give to lay leadership”) and ritual matters (the Rebbe explained to him why Chabad liturgy differs from some others).

Even with his growing load of duties and responsibilities, the Rebbe pushed him not to neglect his own spiritual pursuits. “He asked me what my curriculum in Chassidus is. I told him. He was not satisfied; not enough. He said, “That’s all? Why do you hold Moshiach back?”

Wishing to bring joy to the Rebbe, he’d often send the best mangoes that grew in his yard to the Rebbe, and the Rebbe would reciprocate with a note of thanks.

In addition to his communal work, he also lectured at local Jewish schools, molding the next generation of Jewish Floridians.

“I would wait and look forward to [his visits] each month with my questions written down,” recalls a former student of Bais Yaakov High School. “He had a patience, a gentleness and a softness that accompanied his answers, and he brought such a sense of gentle strength to our upbringing and lives.”

Active to a fault, he never retired, and even after the covid lockdowns, he continued attending synagogue, participating in communal prayers from the safe isolation of his office.

Predeceased last year by his wife, he is survived by their children: Sarah Nitki, Eli Weberman, Dovid Weberman, Shaya Weberman, Brocha Friedman, Shoshana Dubinsky, Miriam Wiener, Zalman Weberman, Chani Gniwish, Shlomo Weberman, Brendy Aron, Bentzion Weberman, Bassy Lapciuc, Yisroel Weberman and Hudy Jaimovitch; in addition to many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He is also survived by his two elder siblings: Mirelle Rappaport of Monsey, N.Y., and Rabbi Moshe Weberman from the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.

This article has been republished with permission from chabad.org

For decades, Rabbi Weberman would ride along the Miami Beach coastline on Fridays to ensure that the eruv was in working order.
For decades, Rabbi Weberman would ride along the Miami Beach coastline on Fridays to ensure that the eruv was in working order.

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