A Legend in His Time: Rabbi Aharon Ben Zion Shurin z”l


candle-small5It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Rabbi Aharon Ben Zion Shurin z”l, well-known for his many decades serving as a columnist for the Yiddish-language edition of The Forward. He was 99.

The Forward was a daily from 1897 to 1983, at which time it became a weekly and also introduced an English edition. Throughout its history, The Forward was a socialist, secular publication, and the presence of Rabbi Shurin, a frum Yid, was something of an anomaly. His hiring reflected the feeling of the founding editor, Abraham Cahan, that the newspaper needed to speak to the religious Jews who flooded the United States in the 1930s and 1940s.

Rabbi Shurin, who served as a columnist for the Forward for over 60 years, was of Lithuanian origin and was the 36th consecutive generation of rabbinic figures in his family. He began writing his column during the Holocaust and over the years dealt with subjects as diverse as the lives of illustrious rabbonim and the impact of court decisions on funds for yeshivos.

Rabbi Shurin in his younger years.
Rabbi Shurin in his younger years.

Rabbi Shurin lived in Flatbush, Brooklyn, with his wife, Ella, a daughter of Rav Moshe Dov Ber Rivkin zt”l, rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. They had his three sons.

In addition to writing for The Forward, Rabbi Shurin taught at Stern College, the women’s branch of Yeshiva University, from 1966 until retiring in 2001.

Rabbi Shurin was born on 2 Tishrei, 1913, in Ritova, Lithuania, to his parents, Rav Moshe and Mrs. Rus Shurin. Rav Moshe was a talmid of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, and also learned in Mir and Novardok.  In 1928, he moved to America and served as rov in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He later moved to New York and became rov of the Ein Yaakov shul in the Bronx. During this entire period, his family remained in Europe.

Rabbi Shurin, in his youth, studied at the local cheder in Ritova, and later went to learn in Telshe and Ponovezh, forming a kesher with the Ponovezher Rov, among others.

On Erev Pesach in 1936, Rabbi Shurin arrived in Eretz Yisroel, where he learned at the Chevron Yeshiva and the Lomza Yeshiva in Petach Tikvah. He ultimately received semichah from various illustrious gedolei Torah, including Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Yitzchok Isaac Halevi Herzog, Rav Reuven Katz of Petach Tikvah, and others.

In about 1940, Rabbi Shurin moved to America, where he attended Yeshiva University and Columbia University. Upon the passing of his father, he filled his position as rov of Bais Haknesses Anshei Slutzk in New York. In about 1944, he married his wife, Aliza (Ella). A year later, he became the rov of Bais Knesses Toras Moshe in Brooklyn, and several years later, he served for a stint as a menahel at the Talmud Torah Hachodosh in Brooklyn.

During his first year in America, Rabbi Shurin became a member of the Agudas Harabbonim. He was also instrumental in the founding of Poalei Agudas Yisroel in America among other endeavors of tzorchei tzibbur.

His father, Rav Moshe Shurin zt"l.
His father, Rav Moshe Shurin zt"l.

Rabbi Shurin wrote thousands and thousands of articles over the years, with his column appearing twice a week in The Forward.

The Forward was, at the beginning, published on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and people wondered why the newspaper invited a rabbi to write there. The readers were Yiddish-speaking but not religious. They were all laborers and most were socialists. At that time, The Forward had a quarter of a million readers.

After the Second World War, many people wished to find out what happened to their relatives, so The Forward used to print full pages of names. The newspaper had a column called “Relatives Gezucht – Searching for Relatives.” The popularity of the newspaper at that time is hard to comprehend in this day and age.

Rabbi Shurin once remarked, “The Yiddish [of the newspaper] was common. Abe Cahan [the publisher] didn’t let people write fancy Yiddish. If a writer wrote a literary word, he’d call over the elevator man, and he’d ask, ‘You understand this word?’ And the elevator man would say, ‘Oh, no, I didn’t understand.'”

Rabbi Shurin, at the time, lived on East Broadway on the East Side of Manhattan.

Another memory once related by Rabbi Shurin: “When I came to The Forward, Isaac Bashevis Singer wasn’t so big yet. He used to write under the name Singer. Then he became popular, and he got the Nobel Prize. But in the beginning he used to write plain articles, news items. I was very friendly with him. The Forward had 50 typesetters. Most of them were not religious. But one of them was very religious. He didn’t want to set Singer’s articles.”

Rabbi Shurin was a trailblazer in his field, and it is difficult to gauge just how many people were positively affected by the writings of this frum rov in The Forward for all those years. He was a legend in his time, who made his mark in his field like few others.

His levaya is being held this afternoon in Boro Park.

Yehi zichro boruch.

{Casriel Bauman-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Yes, an Uncle.
    Dov’s father was Rav Yisrael Shurin, z”l the son-in-law of Rav Yaakov Kamenecki.

    They had a sister Ella who was married to Rav Ahron Soleveitchik z”l

  2. And A Brother Tzvi Shurin who was a Rav in Jersey City And in charge of setting up schools and training for Tora Umesora all over America.