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(photo credit: Courtesy Aish.com)
Maverick Rabbi Noah Weinberg, head of the Aish Hatorah Yeshiva and one of the trailblazers of Orthodox Jewish outreach (kiruv), passed away in Jerusalem on Thursday after a yearlong battle with lung cancer. He was 78.
Thousands flooded the capital to attend the funeral of the innovative rabbi, known for his strategy of drawing young, unaffiliated Jewish travelers from the Western Wall to the nearby Aish Hatorah Yeshiva for a dose of yiddishkeit.
Weinberg, who grew up on Manhattan's Lower East Side, received his Torah education at Brooklyn's Yeshivat Chaim Berlin and Baltimore's Ner Yisrael Yeshiva, which was headed by his older brother Rabbi Ya'acov Weinberg.
Noah Weinberg arrived in Israel about four decades ago and studied at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem and at Yeshivat Hanegev in Netivot.
In the 1960s, Weinberg established yeshivot and educational programs aimed at young Jewish men with secular backgrounds who were interested in embracing traditional Judaism.
He was co-founder of the capital's Ohr Somayach, still one of the leading educational institutions focusing on outreach.
In the mid-1970s, Weinberg broke with Ohr Somayach due to a dispute over educational philosophy, according to Janet Aviad's 1983 book Return to Judaism.
While Ohr Somayach encouraged its students to dedicate their lives to studying Torah, Weinberg believed that after several years of study students who were the object of outreach should themselves get involved in reaching out to secular Jews, or they should find work in a secular workplace and influence fellow workers to embrace an Orthodox way of life.
Aish Hatorah's Rabbinical Ordination/Leadership Program focuses on producing graduates imbued with the "Aish culture" of kiruv. These graduates are seen as the future leaders of the institution.
Many are sent out to one of Aish Hatorah's 30 centers around the world to work in outreach or to help establish new centers.
Unlike most haredi rabbis, Weinberg was very pro-Zionist. He established several institutions that focus on strengthening the Jewish state.
For instance, he created a hesder yeshiva that combines IDF service with Torah studies for both veteran Israelis and new immigrants. In addition, he established organizations such as Hasbara Fellowships, which teach Diaspora Jews to defend Israel on college campuses. He also lobbied strongly to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
"Rabbi Weinberg felt very strongly that the Jewish people had to support the State of Israel," said Ephraim Shore, a spokesman for Aish Hatorah.
"He believed that all Jews had an obligation to recognize the tremendous good God did for us by giving us a state."
Weinberg is survived by his wife, Dina, 12 children, and more than a hundred grand and great-grandchildren.
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