Rabbi Ephraim Zimand like most, perhaps all American pulpit rabbis, dedicated his life to strengthening the Jewish identity of his congregants and Jewish life in America. It has been a daunting challenge for Traditional rabbis in these generations. Assimilation and trends to the left and the right took American Jews to other places and shrank the size of those dedicated to the UTJ’s motto: “אמונה צרופה וישר דעת” -- “genuine faith with intellectual integrity.” He served proudly and with significant accomplishment.
Rabbi Zimand served four congregations in Sarnia, Canada; Toledo, Ohio; and Albany and Schenectady, NY before his longest tenure, 26 years, at Traditional Congregation in Creve Coeur / St Louis, MO until his retirement nearly 11 years ago. He passed on to olam ha-ba, the next world, after living more than a decade in Arnona, Yerushalyim. His wife, Esther, was always by his side, and his six children were his blessing. As his successor at Traditional, I offer a few words about some of his work at Traditional, in St Louis, and for the UTJ.
Rabbi Zimand loved to learn and teach. He enriched many in classes and other forums at Traditional Congregation, and in community classes, including in the Melton Curriculum. I inherited several of his classes. The students spoke fondly of him and often learned with him many years.
His favorite source was Pirke Avot, the section of the 1,800 - 2,000-year old Mishnah which primarily gently deals with ethical behavior. Many of his classes continued for years, exploring and applying Pirke Avot to life and the personal lives of his students. In writing he often would aim to connect other elements of Torah and general wisdom to teachings from Pirke Avot.
Another of Rabbi Zimand’s interests was collecting writings for supplemental congregation use. Several years before I arrived, he had, with support from other congregants, collected excerpts and published an in-house supplementary booklet of well more than 100 pages of readings for Rosh HaShanah and Yom ha-Kippurim. Some of these modern readings augmented existing piyyutim (traditional poems) and others were used in place of those which had less relevance for the worshipper. Similarly, an additional reading was and is still included each Shabbat, as is a brief printed excerpt from general wisdom. Rabbi Zimand also permitted women to assume limited public religious roles that did not violate halachah.
Rabbi Zimand was also active in the St Louis Jewish community. A musmach (ordainee) of Yeshivah University, he supported non-Orthodox rabbis as a member of the SLRA (St Louis Rabbinic Association), and worked on educational programs. One included a Reform Rabbi coming to Traditional to teach and he going to his congregation for the same; he taught in their community-wide program.
He was a founding member of FTOR (Federation of Traditional Orthodox Rabbis), which felt that more moderate positions were rejected or dismissed by organizational Orthodoxy. FTOR later merged with UTCJ from the Conservative movement, which felt Conservative Judaism had drifted too far left, not adhering to halachah. This new group became the UTJ and eventually its rabbinic group, Morashah. As evident, Rabbi Zimand was not fond of extreme trends, yet he would work broadly with others.
Rabbi Zimand was a proud Zionist, which was punctuated by his retirement in Israel where two of his children and several grandchildren live. He and Esther joined us to celebrate the wedding of one of our sons in Yerushalyim in 2016.
When I interviewed for Traditional, I asked him dozens upon dozens of questions so that I could make an informed decision. He answered them all. In the early years I needed to consult him on a few matters of Traditional’s history -- his decisions, issues, and people, and he answered them all. Finally, he adopted a personal custom to write “I” as “i” to emphasize humility.
I close with Pirke Avot 4:21, even as I do not know his commentary on this teaching:
“Rabbi Ya’akov” (who offered some particularly bold teachings), “taught: This world is like a prozdor, a corridor, before olam ha-ba, the future world. Prepare yourself in the prozdor so that you may enter the palace.” As a dedicated rabbi to Torah, its rituals and ethics, to Israel and the the Jewish people, and to his congregants and the American Jewish community, it is evident that Rabbi Ephraim Zimand prepared himself for olam ha-ba.” הנצב״ה
Rabbi Seth D Gordon