By Nathan Lewin
The Torah’s language early in Shemot appears superfluous. It relates that Moshe left Pharaoh’s palace and “went out to his brethren.” The verse continues that he saw an Egyptian striking “an Ivri man of his brethren.” Why the second “may-echov” – “of his brethren?” Because what made Moshe respond so emotionally and violently was the close brotherly affection he had for every Jew.
Fraternal love for every Jew was the hallmark of Herzl Kranz, z”l, who recently passed away at the age of 93 and was buried on the Mount of Olives in Israel. He is survived by his four children – Arye Kranz, Adina Greiniman, Chaya Zaks Kranz and Esther Ahuva Pinter. He was blessed to have 144 Torah-observant offspring.
I recognized Reb Herzl’s love for every Jew whenever we spoke, every time he asked me to join in combating threats he foresaw to Jewish survival in America, in Israel, or in other far-off sites.
I personally witnessed how, more than a half-century ago, as a young American rabbi, he exhibited the independence and fearlessness that marked his entire admirable career as a Jewish leader. In June 1972, Reb Herzl traveled to the then Soviet Union with a young woman who was an outspoken advocate of oppressed Soviet Jewry. She was the granddaughter of an important American Orthodox rabbi. They flew to Moscow together to perform a public Jewish wedding under a chuppah in Red Square for her and a leading Jewish activist who was a prominent refusenik.
When she and Reb Herzl returned, we began an intensive campaign for release of the Russian who was now married to an American, albeit in violation of Soviet law. We enlisted the support of powerful Ohio Sen. Robert Taft and a local D.C. court (where the Moscow marriage was formalized under American law, with me standing in for the groom). Bending to the international pressure that Rabbi Kranz had initiated, the Soviets allowed the refusenik in Nov. 1972 to emigrate to Israel.
Reb Herzl was no respecter of popular will or of media-esteemed credentials. He was ready and willing to fight for principle, even against enormous odds. Many a time he would call me to report outrageous immoral violations of Jewish rights. He would persistently urge that I initiate legal action and would not quietly retreat even if I told him that there was little chance of prevailing in court.
Reb Herzl was an early prophetic advocate for strong physical defense of the Jewish community. He publicly supported activities of the Jewish Defense League and Rabbi Meir Kahane, z”l, who I too represented in legal skirmishes. Separating himself from more establishment Washington Orthodox rabbis, Reb Herzl willingly associated with Kahane and his agenda in the U.S. and in Israel.
One respected lawyer who admired and learned from Reb Herzl years ago told me, on learning of his passing, that “polite Jews … would meet and debate” when Rabbi Kranz “would already be on the street.” In 2005, he was an outspoken public critic of Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gush Katif. His predictions of disastrous consequences have been proven correct.
Rabbi Kranz was devoted to Torah study, having spent early years at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn, N.Y., and then learned in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Telz Yeshiva. His mentor and lifelong model was Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zt”l.
No Jew encountering difficulty was too insignificant to win Reb Herzl’s concern and support. For 50 years he served as the president of the kashrut and Sabbath-observing Hebrew Sheltering Home in Kemp Mill, Md.
The Home provides residence and sustenance to needy Jews. It is operated today by his daughter, Chaya Zaks Kranz, and adjoins the Silver Spring Learning Center that Rabbi Kranz and his beloved wife, Miriam, a”h, founded in 1967. He also established the Leo Bernstein Jewish Academy more than a decade ago. They remain centers of Jewish learning for children until today.
Reb Herzl contacted me frequently to help Jews in prison. He was an individual forerunner of the Aleph Institute of Florida that continues to make major strides to enable Jews to observe Halacha and Jewish tradition while incarcerated.
With prodding from Rabbi Kranz, I sometimes succeeded in accommodating prison regulations for Jewish observance. Reb Herzl received some well-deserved public recognition for his efforts on behalf of prisoners when the media covered a dedication of a Torah Scroll in Allenwood Federal Penitentiary while Rabbi Kahane was a prisoner there.
His influence and personal impact on Washington’s Jewish community was belied by his otherwise modest personal demeanor. Reb Herzl’s views were often controversial, but he never failed to say calmly what he believed, even in the face of establishment opposition. We pray that these efforts will continue as his soul is an advocate for the Jewish people – a Meilitz Yosher – before the Heavenly Throne.
Nathan Lewin is a Washington, D.C., attorney with a Supreme Court practice who has taught at leading national law schools including Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown and the University of Chicago.