Hershel (Tzvi Yonah) Matt (1922 - 1987)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Minneapolis, MN, USA
Death: Died in Highland Park, NJ, USA
Occupation: Rabbi
Managed by: Brandi Steif (Weissmandl)
Last Updated:
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About Hershel (Tzvi Yonah) Matt

Rabbi Hershal Matt would tell his children that our family name Matt is an abbreviation of ma’asim tovim, or good deeds. Hershel embodied this Jewish value to an extraordinary degree in thought, speech and deed. “If to be truly human is to be concerned with issues of right and wrong, to be truly Jewish is to be preoccupied with them.” As his son Daniel recounts, Hershel was kind to others because he genuinely believed that each person was created in the divine image. Nothing made him happier than helping someone out. For example, one day in Troy, when a poor, hungry man came to the synagogue, Rabbi Matt took him to the local Jewish delicatessen and asked the owner to provide the man whatever he wanted, for as long as he wanted. Hershel assured the owner that he himself would pay the bill. Typically, he never mentioned this incident to anyone. It was only after Hershel left Troy that the owner shared the secret with members of the congregation. As one colleague put it, “Hershel had a veritable allergy to anything that smelled [unethical], even before anyone else got a whiff of it, and so his presence elevated the moral level of everything that went on around him.”

Among his congregants, Rabbi Matt encouraged deeper and more meaningful engagement with ritual observance and Torah study. A man of stringent personal ethical standards, Rabbi Matt also attempted to bring greater ethical sensibility into the day-to-day functioning of the synagogue. Hershel's "Principles and Policies for the Ideal Congregation" proposes that synagogues refrain from excessive fund raising. On the issue of a proposed raffle at Temple Neve Shalom in Metuchen, Hershel issued the following list of objections: "Gambling is morally objectionable because it encourages the unworthy desire of obtaining something without earning or paying fair value for it. If the item to be raffled is a luxury item, the raffle encourages luxury and ostentation, which violate the Jewish standard of modest living." Disturbed by the ostentatious displays that accompanied bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, Rabbi Matt convinced the Board of Temple Beth El in Troy to pass a "Resolution on Moderation in Serving Kiddush at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs."

Rabbi Matt also spoke out and published on many controversial issues of his day. In the 1950s he pioneered the field of equal rights for women, calling them up to the Torah at Temple Beth El in Troy, New York. Later, he was among the first to support women in their struggle to be accepted for rabbinical studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Hershel also helped lead the fight for the acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. A Zionist from childhood, he nonetheless felt a deep concern for Palestinian rights. In pursuing such controversial causes, Hershel rarely took a militant or divisive tone and managed not to alienate his colleagues. In the words of the Orthodox Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, "He forced us to consider new possibilities without betraying the tradition or the seriousness of the past...He was so kind and his spirit was so touching that he was able to say radical things that nobody else could say and yet get people to open their minds."

Rabbi Matt's unconventional views went hand-in-hand with traditional Jewish beliefs. Hershel believed in God, the Messiah, the world-to-come, life-after-death, and bodily resurrection. In his words, "Whenever we are truly aware that we stand in God's holy presence, we can catch from within time a glimpse of eternity." Hershel also took special delight in performing and promoting ritual practices that were widely neglected, such as wearing a tallit katan, reciting Kiddush Levanah (the Blessing over the New Moon) and Tashlich.

Read more:

Matt, Daniel C., ed (1993). Walking Humbly With God:The Life and Writings of Rabbi Hershel Jonah Matt. KTAV Publishing House, Inc. ISBN 0-88125-4304.

/ On Hershel Matt's 20th Yarhtzeit by Daniel C. Matt

/ Hershel Matt on Wikipedia

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Hershel (Tzvi Yonah) Matt's Timeline

1922
July 11, 1922
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1946
March 10, 1946
Age 23
1983
July 25, 1983
Age 61
Berkeley, CA, USA
1987
December 26, 1987
Age 65
Highland Park, NJ, USA
????
NJ, USA