Rabbi Israel Tabak, who led area congregation, dies

April 20, 1991

Rabbi Israel Tabak, a Baltimore spiritual leader who had headed the Shaarei Zion Congregation for many years before moving to Jerusalem, died Wednesday at Shaarei Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem after complications from a fall. Rabbi Tabak was in his mid-80s.

Rabbi Tabak came to Baltimore in 1931 and soon became rabbi of the oldest congregation in Northwest Baltimore. Through the years, he was credited with keeping worshipers together as the expanding congregation was uprooted before finally settling into its present site on Park Heights Avenue and Clarks Lane during the mid-1960s.

Rabbi Joshua Shapiro, senior rabbi at the synagogue since 1976, said Rabbi Tabak was most insightful when examining Jewish history.

In 1976, Rabbi Tabak moved to Jerusalem in what is referred to in the Jewish faith as ascension to Aliya -- Israel, the holy land. He continued to make annual visits to Baltimore for banquets and congregation anniversaries.

Born in Romania, Rabbi Tabak came to New York as a boy. A graduate of the Rabbinical Seminary of Isaac Elchanan, he held a bachelor's degree from Yeshiva College and doctorate in philosophy from the Johns Hopkins University. During the 1940s, he received a doctor of divinity from Yeshiva University.

His doctoral dissertation, "Henrich Heine's Philosophical Roots in the Talmud," was later the basis of his book, "Judaic Lore in Heine: The Heritage of a Poet." Published in 1948, it examined the poet-philosopher's Hebrew heritage and its influence upon his poetry. In addition, he had written for the Rabbinic magazine, "Tradition."

Past national president of the Rabbinical Council of America, he was past national chairman of the board of the Religious Zionists of America and chairman of the board of education at the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore for at least a decade. He was a former delegate to the World Zionist Congress.

In 1973, Rabbi Tabak chaired a citywide committee that sent more than 11 sacred Torah scrolls to Israel.

Rabbi Tabak's first wife, the former Lillian Oskolsky, died in 1953.

He is survived by his second wife, the former Gerta Wall; a son, Dr. Ya'acov Tabak of Jerusalem; two daughters, Judith Goodman of New York City and Ruth Ungar of Baltimore; and several grandchildren.

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