Kad Demakh ha-Rav Ozer… Remembering my Friend, Rabbi Glickman
For Rabbi Yohanan said: No one is appointed to the Sanhedrin who is not of the masters of wisdom, the masters of vision, the masters of uprightness, the masters of eldership, the masters of magic, and who doesn’t know seventy languages— so that the Sanhedrin is not be reliant upon a translator.
— Sanhedrin 17a, Menahot 65a
So said, Rabbi Yohanan son of Napha, the greatest of all the Amoraim of Erets Israel, and the teacher of generations of students from his beit midrash in Tiberias. Looking back to the time when the Temple still stood, Rabbi Yohanan, who flourished during the first half of the 3rd century, projected his highest ideals onto the sages of the Sanhedrin. He demanded the highest standards of performance of himself, of his peers, and of the “students of the sages”— the talmedei hakhamim who assembled in the great house of council (beit ha-vaad) in Teveria.
Few of us come close to the worldly piety, the sophisticated wisdom, the absolute uprightness, the lightly worn eldership, vision, or linguistic capacities of the man who insisted that I call him Tony, and sometimes Ozer, and never, ever “Rabbi Glickman.”
Writing, as I am, from hutsot Yerushalayim, from Jerusalem, I am anguished by the loss of my friend and teacher Rabbi Ozer Glickman zikhrono le-verakhah. Our many hours discussing Hazal, philology, novels, writing, hebrew literature, philosophy, and of course, the present and future of our beloved Yeshiva University are over. We spoke together in shorthand—referencing obscure and well-known texts, people, places, genre, books, and events— sometimes with a single word or phrase. I cherish the moments when the flames seemed to encircle as we danced the dance of Torah. I remember fondly the day my phone rang in the basement of the Strand Bookstore— Rabbi Glickman calling to discuss a student in trouble; or the day we accidently found each other at Barnes and Nobles— separating more than an hour later, when we each realized that we had to “get back to work.” While no baal kishuf, “master of magic,” our time together was magical, and I know that Ozer thought so as well.
Rabbi Yohanan’s list of the attributes of a member of the Sanhedrin is not, I think, meant to be complete. The length of the list suggests that even Rabbi Yohanan had a hard time being concise in his job description for the ideal Sanhedrin member. Our talmudic tradition is a list of necessary public skills. What about the private ones? First among these, I would suggest was the necessity to be a ba’al anavah, a “master of modesty.” Rabbi Glickman wore his rabbinic robe very lightly. He greeted each of his many students and friends— from the janitor to the guard to the business person, rabbi and professor, the talmedei hakhamim and the talmedot hakhamim— with a smile, with sever panim yafot. He was Tony with the baseball hat. His “rabbinic costume” was a polyester jacket— not intended to impress, but not frayed or dirty— which would not befit a talmid hakhamim. Ozer knew what he knew, and sought out experts to teach him what he did not. he was ready to “learn from every person” yet truly “never lost a drop.” He was a builder of communities, and a conscience of our own.
Even Rabbi Yohanan died, and so too our dear Rabbi Glickman. The Jerusalem Talmud, Avodah Zarah chapter 3, remembers that:
When Rabbi Yohanan died (kad demakh), the statues (in Tiberias) bowed low. They say that when he would go up to carry out the intercalation of the months, the sea would split before him.
Tiberias is located on the shores of the Kinneret, deep within one of the most active earthquake zones in the world. This agadata reflects that reality— of massive stone statues bowed low, of a broad and beautiful sea splitting at Rabbi Yohanan’s feet, of time itself at his command. Ozer Glickman was one of Rabbi Yohanan’s most conscientious students. He was a “teacher in Israel,” but not a miracle worker— at least not in the traditional sense of the term. He was a lover of Torah, of Erets Yisrael, of our Yeshiva, of his talmidim, his friends, and most of all, his family. I heard of his death early on a Jerusalem morning. A comment from one our many Facebook Messenger conversations overtook me: “come back soon, haver, we need you here.” To which I respond as he did each time we parted, Shalom, haver.
Dr. Steven Fine is the Dean Pinkhos Churgin Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University, and is the Director of the YU Center for Israel Studies.