By Joel M. Schreiber
It was 1985 and the then-president of the Orthodox Union, Professor Shimon Kwestel, requested that I, chairman of the OU Publications Commission at the time, create a magazine that would disseminate and further the values of the organization.
After attending a meeting with a group of various individuals, Sheldon Rudoff, a”h, suggested I speak to one of the attendees—Rabbi Matis Greenblatt.
Matis and I subsequently met in my home and after a few hours of intense discussion, we decided to turn the organization’s four-page newsprint throwaway—known as Jewish Action—into a full-fledged magazine.
Matis was to serve as the literary editor.
Almost thirty years later, reflecting on years of tireless work and effort, one realizes that without Matis’s contribution—his insight and extraordinary talent—the magazine would never have succeeded.
For decades, we conferred at least two or three times a week—sometimes daily—and during those times, I realized the depth of his remarkable talents. We would discuss, deliberate and debate for hours on end.
Matis is a consummate talmid chacham—an expert, whether in Talmud, midrash, Jewish philosophy or the history of machshavah. Whether it was Klezmer or classical music, novels or biographies, Chassidism or Mitnagdism, politics or organizations, Matis had an interest in and a firm knowledge of the subject matter.
Working closely with editors Heidi Tenzer, Charlotte Friedland and Nechama Carmel respectively, Matis brought an intellectual rigor to the publication. Matis, along with the editorial committee, conceptualized many of our celebrated issues, such as the 1998 issue marking the OU’s centennial which profiled the “Pioneers of Orthodoxy,” the 1993 classic issue on the life and legacy of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik published shortly after his death, as well as the special edition in 2002 devoted to highlighting NCSY alumni who are current leaders in the Jewish community. Because of Matis’s personal connections, Jewish Action began featuring some of the most prominent thinkers and rabbis in the Orthodox world, such as Rabbi J. David Bleich, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Jewish Action’s intellectual breadth is due to Matis’s influence as well. Under his guidance, we published articles covering the full range of Orthodox Torah scholarship, from Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook to Rav Yitzchak Hutner, from Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.
In our quest to challenge our readership with fresh thoughts and new insights, Matis was a continual source of ideas. His eclectic knowledge and dedication to excellence made working with him both interesting and challenging. His deep faith infused our work with value and importance. Ironically, although Matis was practically unknown to the OU administration and officers, he was the spark that helped create and sustain interest in Jewish Action, not only in the formative years but for decades thereafter.
After nearly three decades of tireless devotion to the magazine, Matis has retired, leaving a definite void. We are grateful that he will continue to serve Jewish Action as literary editor emeritus. As he enters a new stage in life, a stage meant for reflection and study, we wish him long life and good health. We can all be certain in the knowledge that his literary creation will remain an enduring gift to the Jewish public.
Joel M. Schreiber is chairman emeritus of Jewish Action and chairman of the board at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University.