The Servant of Hаshem
and the Servant of the People
On Shabbat Parashat Behukotai, the 32nd day of the Omer, Hashem took from us the pure neshamahof Rabbi Mordechai Yosef “Murray” Maslaton zt”l, at the age of 75. At his funeral, held the next day outside Bet Midrash Emek HaTorah, his son Moshe recalled Rabbi Maslaton’s words at the funeral of his son-in-law, Rav Moshe Simantov, that the deceased can do more on our behalf than he could when he was alive. And so Gd took “Rabbi Murray,” as he was affectionately known, away from his work here on Earth to the Heavenly Throne, where he could do for us even more.
How much did Rabbi Murray do during his sojourn here on Earth? He is creditedwith no less than creating a Syrian community comprised of scholars and students of Torah,
Gd-fearing men and women, who have built beautiful families based on the solid foundations of Torah study and mitzvah observance. This is the result of his influence, leadership and guidance that inspired countless individuals and families and truly transformed our community into the bulwark of Torah tradition that it is.
“All the Torah that you see in the community really comes from him,” exclaimed Rabbi Shlomo Diamond, Rosh Kollel of Deal, at the levayah. “He laid the groundwork.”
The Young Minyan
Rabbi Murray’s early years were spent under the influence of his grandfather, Hacham Murad Maslaton zt”’l, who came to the U.S. from Damascus. Rabbi Murray’s father, JoeMaslaton, was a shohetwhose occupation sometimes took him out of town, and he and his wife, Sophie, raised their family in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn.
At age 17, Rabbi Murray went to Lakewood, from where HaRav Aharon Kotler sent him to learn with HaRav Moshe Eisemann of Vineland. Rabbi Murray eventually moved to Israel, becoming the first American to study in Yeshivat Porat Yosef, then headed by Hacham Ezra Attia, zt”l. His rebbes were Hacham Shalom Cohen and Hacham Shimon Baadani, today members of the Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah of Shas.
Rabbi Murray’s other source of influence, from whom he learned about leadership and about bringing fellow Jews closer to Torah, was Mr. Charles Serouya, zt”l. Mr. Serouya led the Young Minyan at Magen David in the early 1950’s, when young Murray was just “one of the boys” who came to pray and learn. A different floor of the building was used by Mr. Serouya as a gym for the boys, and he put Rabbi Murray in charge of what we might call the first
“Kosher Gym” inBrooklyn.
Years later, as a leader of the Young Minyan at Shaare Zion, Rabbi Murray was able to put to use all that he learned from his mentor. He loved the job, and did all he could to attract boys to shul, keep them there, and ensure they would come back. He gave them raffle tickets that he wrote out by hand, and awarded them prizes such as trips to baseball games, ice cream, candy – whatever it took to keep them coming back.
A Home Open to All
Rabbi Murray was known for his boundless energy, and forthe way he channeled that energy toward the service of Gd. He made himself available to help anybody in need at any time, day or night, including the middle of the night. He cared for the sick, even giving up his own bed when necessary. The home he sharedwith his devoted rabbanit, Suzy, was a living example of how the precious mitzvah of hachnasat orhim – hosting guests –is meant to be performed. His home was always open to rabbis visiting from Israel and to anyone else who needed hospitality. Rabbi David Ozeri told how Rabbi Murray had no milk in the refrigerator, yet his rabbanit always found a way to serve their guestslavish meals, whether it was Shabbat, a holiday, or an ordinary day when a guest needed a place.
A number of Sephardic students from abroad were studying in the Mir Yeshivah, and as they were unable to return home for vacation, they needed a place outside the yeshivah campus. Rabbi Murray rented a room in back of the butcher shop on Avenue S for these boys, and treated them as full-fledged members of his family.
As a kohen, Rabbi Murray cherished the privilege of serving as the kohen at a pidyon haben. He once told the guests at a pidyon haben, “Do you know what I am going to do with this money?
It will go to bring joy to a widow and her 11 children who cannot afford food or clothes.”
In his eulogy for the rabbi, his cousin, Rabbi Mordechai (little Murray) Maslaton shelit”a, said that although he never saw the rabbi learning, he always asked his students, “Where are you holding?” and whatever the answer was, the rabbi was able to converse about the subject. He knew the Torah in its entirety, and would impress upon his students that their goal must be to learn Torah without ever stopping, and they will thus be blessed with children and grandchildren who will be accomplished Torah scholars.
“Rabbi Murray Style”
What was the secret of his success? How did Rabbi Murray succeed in building a beautiful Torah community in Brooklyn?
Simply put, he saw the potential latent within each and every Jew. In his eyes, every boy that he pulled out of public school was a talmid hachamin the making. And so he never gaveup on anyone, and would do anything necessary to provide Jewish children with a Torah education.
Rabbi Murray was famous for the unique method he employed to get boys into yeshivot. Rabbi Ozeri related that about 25 years ago, he was trying to enroll a boy into the Baltimore Yeshiva, so he called the Rosh Yeshivah. The Rosh Yeshivah was reluctant to even meet the boy, but Rabbi Ozeri pleaded with him to at least test the youngster.
“Ok,” the Rosh Yeshivah said, “but just a behinah[exam]. Don’t bring him Rabbi Murray style.”
“What’s ‘Rabbi Murray style’?” Rabbi Ozeri asked.
He was told that Rabbi Murray would come with a boy and his suitcases with all his clothes, and then drive away, leaving the boy at the yeshivah without any way of getting home. The yeshivah would have no choice but to take the boy in, sowing the seeds of yet another future scholar for the community.
“Whatever Hashem Wants”
Rabbi Maslaton’s grandson, Rabbi Shaul Simantov, related that his grandfather cared for him like a father, asking the yeshivah about his progress, and even attending parent-teacher meetings.
Rabbi Murray’s son, Eli, described the rabbi’s excitement seeing Eli at the seder going through the Haggadah in English for his
three-year-old grandson. Eli said that he had initially decided not to join his father for the seder this year, figuring it might be too difficult for his father to handle all the company. But when his children heard they wouldn’t be going to their grandparents, they began to cry and protest. Eli changed his mind, and in the end everyone had the most joyous and meaningful Pesah.
Rabbi Murray’s cousin, Rabbi Mordechai Maslaton, Rosh Kollel of Emek HaTorah, delivered words of inspiration and comfort to the Emek HaTorah congregation, which Rabbi Murray led. He spoke of the delicate balance that Rabbi Murray maintained between compassion and firmness, between his soft-hearted nature and his unrelenting insistence on strict religious standards. These qualities, the Rosh Kollel maintained, are not contradictory, and they enabled Rabbi Murray to help people even when this necessitated using strong words and taking an unpopular position without compromise.
The Rosh Kollel also noted how Rabbi Murray never followed a schedule. He couldn’t follow a schedule, because he took care of matters and people as the needs arose, and regardless of the time of day or night. He was as approachable at 3am as at 11am, on call 24/7. His motto was “whatever Hashem wants.” If Hashem wanted it, then it had to get done – no matter the time of day or night.
Several prominent rabbis, including Hacham Yosef
Harari-Raful, shelit”a,emphasized the obligation we have to continue the precious work begun by RabbiMurray Maslaton. We must follow his lead in building religious institutions and extending ourselves to help each and every Jew. And, like Rabbi Murray, we must recognize and appreciate the sanctity of every Jewish soul, the potential for greatness latent within each and every one, and this awareness should drive us to work even harder to bring all Jews closer to our Father in heaven.