| Magazine Feature |

Iron Will, Soft Heart

Remembering Rabbi Pinchas Aharon Weberman, architect of Miami’s religious infrastructure

Photos: Family archives

Sixty years ago, Rabbi Pinchas Aharon Weberman proved himself as both a pioneer and a visionary when this dynamic and selfless trailblazer moved his young family to Miami Beach, spending the next six decades developing and maintaining all the infrastructure vital to Jewish life while never compromising his own Torah scholarship and yiras Shamayim. On his first yahrtzeit, family members and fellow rabbanim share memories of a beloved leader

ONFriday nights after Maariv, when the gabbai at Miami Beach’s Congregation Ohr Chaim, Dr. Victor Sabo, would make his weekly announcement that the eiruv was operational, all of the congregants in attendance, including me, knew why.

It was because Rabbi Pinchas Aharon Weberman had spent hours on Erev Shabbos riding atop a red and black ATV, his white peyos tucked under a brown baseball cap, inspecting every inch of eiruv wire along the length of Miami Beach, routinely subjected to strong winds off the sea.

That hands-on approach typified Rabbi Weberman, whose first yahrzeit was commemorated this week on the 28th of Tammuz. Today, Jews in Miami Beach take carrying on Shabbos for granted — but only because Rabbi Weberman had come along and taken charge of the eiruv reconstruction project. Thanks to his intervention, mikvaos in the community are halachically state of the art, and he also inaugurated the highest standards of kashrus.

His inspiration came from a variety of sources, including a resolute family background, a large dose of earnest self-motivation, and sage rabbinical advice.

Born into a Williamsburg family in 1930 (see sidebar) that was already well-established in America since the 1880s, Rabbi Pinchas Aharon Weberman became a young cheder rebbi at the local Be’er Shmuel Yeshivah in the 1950s. Many of his students came from households of Holocaust survivors or refugees, and he would comb the nearby Rockaway Beach for seashells to hand out as prizes to his young charges. Little did he know his affinity for the beach would eventually enrich the lives of tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews in South Florida.

As much as he earned zechuyos teaching cheder boys early in his career, in 1957 Rabbi Weberman, already a very learned man, felt the time had come to spread his wings and reach a more diverse flock. He wanted to move to a community that needed strong Torah leadership. A colleague at Be’er Shmuel recommended he consult with the Lubavitcher Rebbe before making any moves. He was impressed in that initial meeting with the Rebbe’s erudition and life insights; he accepted the Rebbe’s suggestion that he learn to be a mohel and a shochet and agreed to consult with him on any job offers he received.

Rabbi Weberman’s wife, Gittel Leah, had an aversion to the cold — both in the form of New York’s winters, and in the form of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which was then reaching its peak. Although she feared for America’s security, the Rebbe told them not to worry about the Cold War. He did advise Rabbi Weberman to turn down the first job offer as a shochet he received, as it was in a Midwestern state. Winters there could be more forbidding than New York’s, and besides, the Rebbe quipped, Rabbi Weberman’s communications skills would make him more successful dealing with people than with animals.

Another job offer came from South America, which fulfilled Rebbetzin Weberman’s criterion for warm weather, but the Rebbe thought the challenges of both learning a new language and adapting to a new culture would be daunting.

So Rabbi Weberman took a pilot trip to Miami. Although he returned without a job offer, he had seen the potential. In those years, Americans, including Orthodox Jews, were spreading their wings too, moving in droves from the Rustbelt to the Sunbelt. Miami’s Orthodox Jewish population had also swelled, thanks to new retirees and seasonal residents, and a wave of Jewish emigration from Latin American countries engulfed in political turmoil, such as Cuba, Colombia, and Argentina.

The Rebbe gave his blessing and Rabbi Weberman moved his young, growing family to South Florida in 1960. He established an Orthodox synagogue for a dozen families in a storefront on Normandy Isle, which eventually became Congregation Ohev Shalom, now located on Bonita Drive and 71st Street, a stone’s throw from Indian Creek and a five-minute walk from the Atlantic Ocean.

At a gathering at Miami Beach’s Freedom Tower. His seriousness of purpose was unmistakable, yet he intuitively knew how to relate to everyone on their level

Rising to the Top

Today, South Florida’s Orthodox community is home to thousands of families, sprawling from South Miami to Boca Raton. The area’s Jewish population boasts one of the highest percentages of frum households outside of Brooklyn and Lakewood. The largest concentration of Orthodoxy still resides in Miami Beach, although many younger families have long since been priced out of the neighborhood. But it’s impossible to imagine Miami Beach having reached this situation without Rabbi Weberman.

Having lived in Miami Beach from 1987 to 1993 before making aliyah, I only met Rabbi Weberman once, when he was one of three dayanim on a beis din that presided over a chalitzah on a late Sunday afternoon at Congregation Ohr Chaim. Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, who then served as Ohr Chaim’s rav, presided, and he urged all of his congregants to witness this rare ancient ceremony. Rabbi Feuer had ordered the special chalitzah shoes — which I recall looking like boots with lots of laces — from the Badatz Eidah Hachareidis in Jerusalem, and then hired a shoemaker on Rechov Yechezkel to make one for righties and one for lefties.

I remember being struck by Rabbi Weberman’s regal appearance and feeling awe in his presence. His seriousness of purpose was unmistakable, yet he instinctively knew how to relate to everyone on their level. Part of the chalitzah ceremony requires the woman to spit on the floor in the direction of the brother-in-law who has spurned her. Although for the bereaved wife in this case, such an act went against her nature, Rabbi Weberman was calm and patient with her, but politely insistent that the halachah be fulfilled without compromise.

When Miami Beach began reconstructing its eiruv in the early 1980s, Rabbi Weberman assumed responsibility for ensuring it was built to airtight halachic standards. At that time, there was resistance from some local rabbanim and balabatim. Rabbi Feuer, who had just moved to Miami Beach around that time, remembers backing Rabbi Weberman every step of the way.

“There is always some controversy involved in an eiruv, but Rabbi Weberman wasn’t afraid of anyone,” said Rabbi Feuer. “We decided that we would build the best eiruv, and that we would act as two rabbis with the same opinion. I was the midget riding on the giant’s shoulders. He was already a well-established moreh hora’ah, but if there was anything new that he ever had to learn, he would make sure he became well-versed.”

The reason the women’s and men’s mikvaos in Miami Beach comply with the highest halachic standards is that Rabbi Weberman insisted on shelving the builder’s plans to install what he thought was a state-of-the-art heating system; it would have rendered the mikveh pasul by drawing water away from the bottom of the pool. Instead, Rabbi Weberman stipulated the mikveh be heated with an old-fashioned coil system.

Rabbi Weberman also introduced Miami Beach to local kosher shechitah and chalav Yisrael milk. He would visit a live chicken market on South Beach and shecht chickens and bring them back home, where his children would help rinse and kasher them with buckets of water in backyard sinks. He would also take trips to a Miami dairy farm, where he supervised the milking of the cows, bringing the fresh milk home in large containers. Rebbetzin Weberman would make ice cream for the children with the cream that came to the top.

With his cheder class in Beer Shmuel, 1958. By that time he was ready to move to a community that needed a strong Torah leadership

Media Savvy

Rabbi Weberman’s influence would eventually reach the broader community. In 1988, the Florida legislature passed what was dubbed the “Rabbi Pinchas Weberman Act,” which called for purveyors of kosher food to pay an annual licensing fee to cover the expenses of 13 state inspectors.

Rabbi Weberman built relationships with the media and frequently wrote op-eds that appeared in the Miami Herald. In the days when some local television stations opened or closed their daily programming with an invocation from a rotation of clergymen, Rabbi Weberman was part of the mix. These appearances were pre-recorded, but one time, a viewer actually called Rabbi Weberman to discuss the message he had delivered.

When right-to-life cases became a highly charged topic in the wake of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, Rabbi Weberman would travel to Florida’s state capital in Tallahassee to appear at hearings and advocate for the Orthodox Jewish point of view. He also fought against measures legitimizing “alternate forms of marriage,” never backing down, even though he received phone calls in the middle of the night threatening his life for his stances.

“He was a very sweet person in dealing with other people, yet on the other hand, when it came to Yiddishkeit, he was like iron,” said Rabbi Zev Leff, the rav of Moshav Mattisyahu.

Rabbi Leff first met Rabbi Weberman as a student of the Mesivta in Miami Beach, and after earning semichah in Eretz Yisrael, he returned to do shimush with Rabbi Weberman, serving as vice president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council (ORC).

“You couldn’t bend him, and he had no fear of anyone — not from other rabbanim, not from politicians, and not from people who took social stands that were anti-Torah,” Rabbi Leff recalled.

Rabbi Donald Bixon of Beth Israel Congregation in Miami Beach was one of the youngest rabbis in the community when he moved there in 1997. Rabbi Bixon said that when it came to hashkafah, they couldn’t have been more different, but Rabbi Bixon would travel to Rabbi Weberman’s shul for a chavrusa in the Tur and Beis Yosef. Rabbi Bixon said there were times he thought he had lost his place because Rabbi Weberman would start reading something that he didn’t see in the text.

“I would wonder why my text was so different, but I soon realized that when the Beis Yosef quoted a Gemara in brief, Rabbi Weberman knew the two lines before and the two lines after by heart, and he would just read it like it was right there in the text,” Rabbi Bixon said.

Speaking last year at the shloshim, Rabbi Bixon related a story about Rabbi Weberman’s days as chaplain for both the Miami Beach and Miami-Dade police departments. Appreciating his intuitive understanding of human nature, police would call on him to help deal with disorderly conduct. On one occasion, Rabbi Weberman intervened with a German tourist, using his Yiddish to deliver a stern warning. Another time, he dealt gently with a boisterous South American man, telling him that he didn’t really care for the police either, but it was best to avoid trouble.

When asked to explain the contrasting tones, Rabbi Weberman said that Germans respect law and order, so he thought he could bring the man to his senses by being strict. South Americans, on the other hand, learned to disrespect law enforcement, so he figured that he could calm the man down by empathizing with that sentiment.

Rabbi Weberman also worked closely with the coroner’s office to ensure that Jews who passed away were treated with the dignity required by halachah, often facilitating burials in Eretz Yisrael.

He also founded the Orthodox Rabbinical Council (ORC) of South Florida and served as its first president. He welcomed every contribution that other rabbanim could make, and he was willing to pave the way for their successes.

“He was the most welcoming rabbi in town, and he had zero ego,” said Rabbi Yisroel Janowski, who studied in Ner Israel, moved from Baltimore to Miami in 1983, and now is head of the Yeshiva Elementary School in Miami Beach. He remembers Rabbi Weberman taking the school’s mesivta students on a boat to tour the seawall, which formed part of the eiruv, so they could understand the issues firsthand.

“He was willing to teach everyone and develop understudies and celebrate their successes,” said Rabbi Janowski. “He was very proud of the trajectory of Miami Beach as a makom Torah.”

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Schapiro, the rav of Congregation Beis Menachem and rosh yeshivah of the Yeshiva Gedolah of Greater Miami, recalled how Rabbi Weberman supported him when he was just a “start-up.”

“When I first opened my yeshivah and we only had a small number of bochurim, Rabbi Weberman sent his older sons to learn with us,” Rabbi Schapiro said. “And he would come to the yeshivah to speak to the bochurim, and that helped push the yeshivah forward.”

Today, Jews in Miami Beach take carrying on Shabbos for granted, but it’s only because Rabbi Weberman took charge of the eiruv reconstruction project. Every Erev Shabbos would find him atop an ATV, inspecting every inch of eiruv wire

True Kindness

Rabbi Weberman’s chesed wasn’t confined to Jews, and sometimes that chesed rebounded in his favor, middah k’neged middah. The family archives contain a story about Rabbi Weberman that took place when he was preparing to marry off two children in quick succession.

He had always told the local medical examiner to inform him if they ever dealt with the body of a poor Jewish person. One day, the medical examiner called and said they had a woman in the morgue who they assumed was Jewish and impoverished, with no known next of kin.

The court appointed Rabbi Weberman as her executor. Rabbi Weberman entered her apartment and made a few discoveries. One, she wasn’t Jewish, she was Serbian. She was also far from impoverished, holding some $750,000 in assets and a burial plot next to her sister. She had also written some memoirs about how her father was mistreated by Tito’s Communist regime in Yugoslavia after World War II. Armed with those clues, Rabbi Weberman retained a lawyer and an accountant to attend to her affairs, and helped track down the woman’s heirs in Kosovo so that they could claim their inheritance.

For his work as executor, Rabbi Weberman earned almost the exact amount of money he needed to marry off those two children.

Rabbi Weberman and his wife were always generous with their tzedakah, even though the household budget was always tight due to the cost of raising 15 children. Rebbetzin Weberman was a true partner in the hospitality, lending a supportive ear to anyone who showed up at the door.

Once, someone knocked on their door shortly after Rebbetzin Weberman had lit Shabbos candles. It was a needy man who had suffered a lot of trauma in Europe, and he needed some money. Since she had already accepted Shabbos, she couldn’t give him anything, but she did open the house to him, and the Webermans allowed him to stay for a week or two until he could get his bearings and move along.

Rabbi Weberman also happened to be a talented chef who always cooked the main course for the Shabbos meals. Like father, like son; two of his sons would open their own catering business in Miami.

Inspecting the new mikveh in Miami Beach. (From left) The Beirach Moshe of Satmar, Rabb Leib Shapiro, and Rabbi Weberman. Rabbi Weberman scrapped the builder’s plans for the sake of a mehudar edifice

No matter how good the food was, everyone had to say a devar Torah at the Shabbos table, even if it was only one minute long. No matter how long, short, or deep, Rabbi Weberman would put his arm around each child and make them feel like they were scholars.

Personal inconvenience was never a consideration for Rabbi Weberman. For a period of time, he taught a weekly halachah shiur in the local Bais Yaakov high school. One day, as he was about to enter the building, he noticed three girls in the parking lot looking stressed out. He asked them what the problem was, and they told him their car had a flat tire. Rabbi Weberman took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, changed the tire, and then washed his hands and put his rabbinical garb back on before going inside to teach.

The Webermans were close to a family with three young children whose parents had trouble working out their schedules to get them to school. Rabbi Weberman went out of his way to take them, telling the parents that making sure their boys got to cheder would be his most important task of the day.

Family members fondly recall trips to Disney World, to Epcot Center, or boat rides for which Rabbi Weberman would drop them off and remain in his car with the seforim he had brought along for company.

When the family would drive back to New York on occasion, Rabbi Weberman always planned his stops and overnight stays carefully to make sure he could daven with a minyan. After checking into a motel, he would search the room for the dresser drawer that contained the “Holy Bible” and hide it, but he would also peruse the local phone directory for Jewish names. The Lubavitcher Rebbe advised him to take mezuzos and other klei kodesh with him on these trips, in case he were to encounter Jews in need of a spiritual lift.

Rabbi Weberman was hospitalized during his last Succos, some nine months before he was niftar. Due to Covid restrictions, the hospital administrators declared the succah on premises off-limits to patients. Rabbi Weberman knew that he was exempt from the succah because of his illness, but he couldn’t bear the thought of not at least making the brachah on the arba minim in the succah. He managed to pull some strings and get in; he made the brachos and belted out the special Yom Tov song he always remembered singing with his father.

Rabbi Weberman understood well that Covid had not only taken a physical toll on the country but had spiritual ramifications as well.

Just as his wife decades before had fretted about America’s security and physical existence during the Cold War, Rabbi Weberman was certain that the Covid pandemic was a wake-up call to America.

He expressed concern over the cardinal sins that America was violating as a nation, with new laws and judicial rulings that were undermining the fabric of family life by loosening or abolishing longstanding moral standards. He said that Chazal warn that a nation committing such sins will face an existential threat.

Recalling his own battles in Tallahassee in the 1970s, he hoped and prayed that the merits he earned would protect his family, and before he passed away last year at 92, he left them with a message that he also hoped would resonate with Am Yisrael.

“You’re not in control of the storm that’s raging outside. You’re only in control of the weather gear you have to protect you and how strong your boat is. The Torah and mitzvos are our lifeboat and weather gear, and that’s the only thing that’s going to protect us.”

May his memory serve as a blessing.


—Mishpacha wishes to thank Rabbi Yossi Weberman, rav of The Beach Shul in Far Rockaway and grandson of Rabbi Pinchas Weberman, for providing access to the family archives for this article


A Family of Malachim

Even before he was born, Rabbi Pinchas Aharon Weberman’s strength of character and hasmadah were already being built by a family that clung to an uncompromising brand of Yiddishkeit that was based on a strong foundation of kavod habri’os.

Almost everyone who grew up in America in the 1960s ate Horowitz-Margareten matzahs on Pesach. Those matzahs had their origin in the 1890s. The Horowitz family lived then on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. One of their sons, Shmuel Yitzchok, married Breindel Ehrenfeld, a daughter of Rabbi Meir Ehrenfeld, a talmid of the Ksav Sofer.

Rabbi Weberman’s mother, Yittel (Julia), was a daughter of Shmuel Yitzchok and Breindel. Yittel married Rabbi Weberman’s father, Benzion, in 1920, and the Webermans settled in Williamsburg.

Benzion’s father, Reb Moshe Weberman, owned a restaurant on the Lower East Side that also doubled as a shul, with minyanim three times a day.

Benzion was a graduate of Fordham Law School with honors and established a legal practice focused on family, business, and immigration law to serve the rising numbers of new Jewish immigrants fleeing to America. While still in law school, he was involved in the Young Israel of Williamsburg and was one of the founders of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.

Benzion took an uncompromising stance when it came to Torah observance and stubbornly fought to preserve the European way of dress and appearance, which included long beards and peyos worn in front of the ears.

Benzion and some of his brothers became followers of Rabbi Chaim Avraham Ber HaKohein Levine, a saintly gaon from White Russia known as “the Malach.” A talmid of the Maharash of Lubavitch, and his son and successor, the Rashab of Lubavitch, the Malach also formed close connections with many litvish gedolim, including Rav Chaim Brisker and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, and had earned his semichah from Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector.

The Malach’s followers in the US became known as “malachim,” and he encouraged them to dress in chassidic garb, grow beards and long peyos, and wear their tzitzis outside, over their shirts. This was very controversial at a time when Orthodox Jews in many other streams were looking to minimize differences in appearance with other Americans.

The Malach was niftar when Rabbi Weberman was eight, and family members say he had met the Malach twice, but by then his two older brothers were ardent followers. At the time, the brothers were learning in Torah Vodaath — the yeshivah that their father co-founded. But they soon came into conflict with Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the menahel of Torah Vodaath.Although Rav Mendlowitz had the highest respect for chassidus, and had introduced the talmidim to the Malach, he was concerned that the old-fashioned European style of dress and hanhagos would be disruptive to the yeshivah.

While this conflict was churning, Rabbi Mendlowitz and Benzion Weberman once engaged into a somewhat heated conversation, with the rosh yeshivah asking Benzion, the attorney, “You went to college, what’s the problem with that?’

Benzion replied: “I’m like Yisro. I did all the avodah zarah, but I don’t want that for my children.”

In 1936, Rabbi Mendlowitz expelled all of the malachim, including Benzion’s two sons, Meir and Yehuda. As a result, Benzion was also ostracized by some segments of the community. His clients left him in droves and in 1940, when his son Pinchas was ten, he moved to the Bronx hoping to rebuild his business.

The breakaway sect of the malachim opened their own institution, Nesivos Olam in Williamsburg, and two years later, when he turned 12, Pinchas Weberman joined them, immersing himself in Torah studies.

He finished Maseches Keilim with the Tosafos Yom Tov by the time of his bar mitzvah. Before he married Gittel Leah in 1952, he had finished Seder Moed with Rashi, Tosafos, and the Rosh, and learned other masechtas b’iyun that he would need to be a rav and posek, including Chullin and Avodah Zarah.

Since his mother had homeschooled the boys in English before he joined Nesivos Olam, young Pinchas and his brothers enjoyed a good grasp of the language.

On occasion, when traveling on the New York subways, people would look askance at the boys for how they looked. When Mrs. Weberman was with them, and saw that happening, on cue, she would signal them to start speaking aloud in English. When people heard how proficient they were, it always seemed to do the trick and silence the critics.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 970)

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