Video: Fire Devastates Kehilath Jeshurun Shul in Manhattan, No Sifrei Torah Damaged


kehilath-jeshurun[Video below.] A four-alarm fire broke out tonight at an Upper East Side shul that was being renovated, spitting flames through stained-glass windows, destroying the roof and heavily damaging the upper floors, the Fire Department said.

No one was badly injured in the blaze, which obscured the sky over much of the neighborhood with smoke. Four firefighters received minor injuries battling the blaze, which fire officials said apparently began on the roof. The cause was not known.

Hundreds of people crowded around Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on 85th Street near Lexington Avenue, after the fire began about 8:30 p.m.

About 170 firefighters fought the blaze, which took about an hour to bring under control.

Onlookers gaped and snapped pictures with cellphone cameras as flames shot up from the roof.

“It went up like that,” said Stephen L. Ruzow, chairman of the FDNY Foundation and a member of the shul, who saw the flames engulf the roof. “Flames were 40 feet in the air, and there were large clouds of thick black smoke.”

The shul, which is 110 years old, was being renovated and no one was inside, according to Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, and the Sifrei Torah had been removed when construction began. The renovation was to have been completed in September.

“We’re lucky,” Rabbi Lookstein said, “because every Torah scroll is as special as a human life.”

After the fire, only a few of the roof beams remained. Some of the long stained-glass windows at the front of the building were blackened and broken.

Members of the congregation flocked to the scene from across the city when they learned their shul was aflame.

Asher Levitsky, 67, a lawyer whose children attended Ramaz, a nearby school affiliated with the shul, said he was on his way to Central Park when his wife’s cousin called him. He said he immediately turned around and headed for the Kehilath Jeshurun. “It’s tragic,” Mr. Levitsky said. “It’s a terrible loss.”

Click below for a video report:

[media id=1182 width=400 height=300]

{NY Times/ Newscenter}


  1. Not to belittle the good Rabbi’s well-known reputation for being the Roish Verishon in protecting the time-honored Torah principles of Tznius and Chinuch Al Taharas Hakodesh, I think that the Rabbi may have misspoken when he said that the Torah scrolls are as precious as a human life.

    What is perhaps worth giving one’s life for, however, is protecting the Torah itself from the corrupting influence of those who would throw away all the safeguards of Kedushah Vetaharah established by the giants of the previous generations.

    Kammah Tipshai Hani Bavlai…..

  2. I knew it would not take long for some self-righteous zealot to use this terrible tragedy as an excuse to lambast his fellow religious Jews.

  3. If ever there were a post for which comments should be disallowed, it’s this one.

    I expected that the know-it-alls and fools who read Matzav would take this opportunity to heap on the sarcasm at a time when we who love KJ are in mourning. I have been proven correct. We already have one such example.

    Sadly, fires occur in synagogues and yeshivas of all types. When I was just a young man, my yeshiva, the Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway, burned down, and some of its Torah scrolls were destroyed. I recall that years later, Rabbi Hillel David’s shul burned down.

    I understand that some Matzav readers have principled objections to some of the activities at KJ. Now is not the time to discuss them. The fact remains that it has been a place of Torah and tefillah for more than 100 years. Tens of thousands of Jews have uttered their prayers there. We pray from the same siddur as you do and recite the same prayers. Men and women are seated separately, men on the main floor and women in the balcony. I ask for your sympathy at this very difficult time.

  4. Actually Leib, in hilchos Kriah, sefer torah shenisraf, is actually held to a much higher degree of aveilus than an actual person, with the double rip.

    Remember that the ashes of the kisvei rambam were said to have been comingled with the ashes of the talmud bavli.

  5. To Sender:

    I did not make light of the devastating fire, nor do I gloat over the pain of my brothers and sisters who feel very attached to this synagogue.

    Yes, I do have some principled objections to some of the activities etc. and I do not regret taking a stand in this regard.

    Nevertheless, you are right that the timing of my comments is off. I apologize for my insensitivity.

  6. PLEASE! – for the sake of Klal Yisroel, NO SINAS CHINOM because of this terrible tragedy. This was a Mikdash Me’at. Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, zt”l, famously spoke at and praised this shul for both its beauty and its conformity with the Shulchan Aruch (see here:

    The Three Weeks will be shortly upon us. I have cried and davened in this shul. When I first saw the images of the flames leaping from the rooftops, I had, for the first time, a “visual” image of just how horrifying the destructions of the Botei Mikdash must have been.


    No attacks

    May such tragedies only bring us to true TESHUVAH and ever deepening AHAVAS YISROEL.