Remembering Rabbi Matis Greenblatt

Rabbi Matis Greenblatt, z”l the former literary editor of Jewish Action, was widely respected as a brilliant thinker and talmid chacham. For more than three decades, his vision, intellectual breadth and unrelenting determination helped mold Jewish Action and set a standard of excellence in the world of Orthodox publishing.


A Dedicated Editor

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. Matis Greenblatt and I subsequently met in my home, and after a few hours of intense discussion, we decided to turn the organization’s seven- or eight-page in-house newsletter, known as Jewish Action, into a full-fledged magazine. Matis was to serve as literary editor.

Almost forty 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 was a consummate talmid chacham and expert, whether in Talmud, Midrash, Jewish philosophy or machshavah. Be it klezmer or classical music, novels or biographies, Chassidim or Mitnagdim, politics or organizations, Matis had an interest in and a firm knowledge of the subject matter.

Working closely with editor Heidi Tenzer, Charlotte Friedland and Nechama Carmel respectively, Matis brought an intellectual rigor to the publication. Along with the Editorial Committee, he conceptualized many of our celebrated issues, and because of his personal connections, Jewish Action began featuring some of the most prominent thinkers and rabbis in the Orthodox world, such as Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Jewish Action’s intellectual breadth was due to Matis’s influence as well. Under his guidance, we published articles covering the range of Orthodox Torah scholarship, from Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook to Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, from Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. In our quest to challenge our readership with fresh perspectives 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 retired while continuing to serve Jewish Action as literary editor emeritus. We can be certain in the knowledge that his literary creation will remain an enduring gift to the Jewish public.

On a personal note, Matis’s recent passing leaves a void in my heart that will never be filled. My special relationship with this very special person was a gift that I will always cherish. Chaval al d’avdin v’lo mishtakchin.


Joel M. Schreiber is chairman emeritus, Jewish Action Committee. This article is adapted from an essay that was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of Jewish Action.


My Co-Conspirator

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel Goldberg

It was a criminal conspiracy. The criminals: Matis Greenblatt and Hillel Goldberg. The crime: getting Orthodox Jews who don’t usually read each other, or hear each other or pay attention to each other, to do so. The tools of the crime: Greenblatt’s checkered history, aided and abetted by Goldberg’s own checkered history. The checkered history: Torah study under rebbeim both in and out of the yeshivah world, appreciation of perspectives both in and out of Modern Orthodox communities, and personal connections in both worlds.

For example, when Greenblatt, in 1987, proposed to Goldberg a symposium on musar (“Do We Need a Renewal of Musar?”), no time was spent on evaluating whether this was a good idea. Of course it was a good idea, not just intrinsically, but because it was an area of Torah that no particular segment of the Orthodox Jewish community could claim a monopoly on, or a particular expertise in. By its nature, musar crosses boundaries. So no, time was not spent on evaluating the idea. Immediately, we began tossing out names of potential contributors, a key criterion being their roots in yeshivot that otherwise might not pay attention to each other, their study under rebbeim who might not otherwise read each other.

In truth, Greenblatt was the chief conspirator; Goldberg was the co-conspirator. Indeed, Greenblatt’s genius was in gathering around himself many co-conspirators. Another one was Joel Schreiber, chairman of the OU Publications Commission from 1985 to 2004, who insisted on the independence of the magazine’s voice and not only supported diversity of voice, but offered his own ideas on it. Another one was editor Heidi Tenzer, who was followed by Charlotte Friedland and current editor Nechama Carmel. They not only had to edit the consequences of the various literary conspiracies (Greenblatt’s official title was “literary editor”), but also had to keep the magazine in balance with other valuable foci.

As the years went on and Greenblatt’s special projects and symposia grew Jewish Action in stature and readership, his crimes multiplied. He tackled many controversial topics. Jewish Action became the go-to publication for many sides, not just one side, of a controversy. When a magazine grows in stature, there are dramatic side benefits. Surely one of Greenblatt’s many lasting contributions derived from his special link to the late Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, which yielded his memorable 1992 piece, “The Source of Faith Is Faith Itself.” Sum it up this way: Unlike almost all house organs, in Jewish Action many pieces shepherded into print by Rabbi Matis Greenblatt have ended up with a permanent place in the Jewish spiritual firmament.

As I contemplate Matis’s wide perspectives and laser-focused dedication, I regret that no similar conspiracy is ever likely to come my way again. Matis, you cared; Matis, you mastered the art of friendship. Rest in peace, my friend: you did your piece to change the world and heal the breaches.

Rabbi Dr. Hillel Goldberg is editor of the Intermountain Jewish News and a contributing editor of Jewish Action.



Rabbi Matis Greenblatt, z”l, was born in 1933 in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, where he spent his childhood.

He attended Yeshiva of Brighton Beach for elementary school and Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin for high school and post−high school beit midrash studies. It was there that he formed a close relationship with the rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner.

Rabbi Greenblatt earned his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Brooklyn College. He began working for the federal Social Security Administration (SSA) at age twenty-five when he married Audrey (Chana) Shapiro, a Stern College student from Kansas City. He spent his early married life in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and later moved to Monsey.

While still working at the SSA, he was recruited to develop Jewish Action into a full-fledged magazine and re-launched the publication. He retired from the SSA at fifty-three and devoted more of his time to Jewish Action. In 2000, Rabbi Greenblatt realized his longtime dream of making aliyah, and he spent his remaining years in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem. He is survived by six children, thirty-one grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.


My Good Friend, Rav Matis

By Rabbi Emanuel Feldman

King David in Psalm 24 asks, “Mi Ya’aleh . . . who will ascend to G-d’s holy place . . . . ?” And he answers: “Neki kapayim u’var levav, the clean of hands and the pure of heart, asher lo nasa la’shav nafshi, who did not carry My soul in vain.” The meaning of neki kapayim is fairly clear: a “clean hand” takes not what is not his, but instead gives to others and bestows blessings; bar levav, “pure of heart,” means one who bears no grudge, has no malice or envy or hatred. But the meaning of “did not carry My soul in vain” is not readily apparent.

In the life of my friend Rabbi Matis Greenblatt, the meaning becomes apparent. For at birth, every person is granted a soul and is bidden to improve it, heighten its spirituality and utilize it to serve G-d and to help others. If during a person’s lifetime he does not enhance his spirituality or increase his service of G-d and man—does not, in a word, cleanse and purify his G-d-given soul but instead returns it to its Maker unimproved and unrefined—that means that the soul given to him at birth was carried by him in vain, la’shav, for he did nothing with it.

The person who will ascend to G-d’s holy place is the one who during his lifetime devoted himself to loyal service of G-d, to study of Torah, to spiritual pursuits, and to doing chesed, kindness.

It is these words—lo nasa la’shav nafshi—that portray my friend of many years. Having learned with him as a chavrusa for many years, I recognized his brilliant mind and intellectual rigor. He loved learning, reveled in its depths, and was a veritable bibliographer: give him just the title of any classic seferNimukei Yosef, Rif, Rashba, Tosafos Rid—and he would immediately know its author and when it was published. Beyond this, having studied in Mesivta Chaim Berlin under the legendary Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, he absorbed his rebbi’s ability to perceive, to analyze, to prize integrity and to give no quarter to intellectual dishonesty. But above all else, in addition to his perceptive editing and fine writing, Rav Matis was a mentsch, a sensitive human being, kind and considerate and caring despite the fact that his was not an easy life. He and his devoted wife—whose care and concern for him in his last years was without parallel—overcame many challenges even before his final, lengthy illness. Notwithstanding all this, his goodness remained unchanged.

Who will ascend to G-d’s holy place? People like Rav Matis Greenblatt. He surely earned a rich Olam Haba, taking with him his clean, unsullied hands (as a Kohen, he gave thousands of blessings), his pure heart and especially his soul, which he refined and enhanced and certainly did not carry in vain.

He is sorely missed. May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, the rabbi of Atlanta’s Beth Jacob Synagogue for forty years, is a current columnist for Mishpacha Magazine. He is the past editor of Tradition and the author of twelve books.


Video Tributes

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This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
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