Rabbi Shmuel Goldin is accustomed to dueling perspectives, a result of a family history emblematic of the Jewish immigrant experience in the early ‘0th century.
In the dedication that opens his new book, "Unlocking the Torah Text: An In-Depth Journey into the Weekly Parsha," Goldin credits the influences of his paternal and maternal grandfathers, both towering Judaic scholars in their day, but with divergent world views that Goldin said melded his own into a blend of tradition and modernity. "They didn’t see eye to eye," he observed, adding, "I like to think my gestalt is somewhere between the two."
Rabbi Hyman E. Goldin, he recalled, was an "exceptional talent," a prolific author whose works, including the English translation of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law, people continue to study. Among his other seminal works was the classic legal treatise "The Case of the Nazarene Reopened," in which the elder Goldin put the Jews on trial for the death of Jesus, using the Gospels as witnesses. It was a bold response to the church’s historic claim that gave rise to centuries of anti-Semitic violence.
An immigrant from the famed Eishyshok shtetl in Lithuania, in the early 1900s, the elder Goldin bought 360 acres in the Adirondack Mountains, where he established separate boys’ and girls’ summer camps and the Blue Sky Lodge Hotel, which became a meeting ground for the modern Orthodox thinkers of his generation. So forward-thinking was his outlook that a possibly apocryphal story circulated that he was dismissed from yeshiva for studying Darwin. In another departure from traditional behavior, later on, as a chaplain in the upstate New York Comstock Prison, Hyman Goldin teamed up with two convicts to edit the "Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo."
By contrast, Goldin’s maternal grandfather, Rabbi Avraham "Alter" Poplack, was a talmudic scholar, a graduate of the famed Slobodka Yeshiva who studied with Europe’s great gedolim. He, in turn, inspired the next generation of rabbis and Orthodox communal leaders who came under his influence as the top instructor of Judaic thought, in Seattle, where he first settled after immigrating to the United States in the 19’0s and later in Borough Park, Brooklyn. Near the end of his life, Poplack made aliyah, making his home in B’nai Brak. (Goldin’s mother, Pearl, still lives there.)
"He was a close associate of luminaries from the yeshiva world, including Ya’akov Kaminetsky, whose life he saved by bringing him to the United States, Rabbi Aharon Kotler, Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, and many others," noted Goldin. "While more rigid and insular" than his Goldin grandfather, "he knew a lot about the world around him, getting up at 5 every morning to study. When he visited us, he always tested me on Gemara, which I didn’t like, but I liked it when he said he was proud of me."
Ironically, it was Kaminetsky, Goldin related, who united his own parents in marriage at the Blue Sky Lodge a year after the summer they met there, in a romantic collision of the yeshiva world of Pearl Poplack, who was employed at the lodge as a nanny for the Goldin clan, and the modern, less-observant sensibility of his father, the late Isaac Goldin. While Alter Poplack was initially against the match, Goldin said, his grandfather consented to it on the condition that his future son-in-law commit to be fully observant, which Goldin said his father, smitten, willingly did.
While Goldin said he had not consciously thought about the impact of his grandfathers until recently, he ends his book’s dedication with this statement: "The balance of their combined legacies has helped shape not only my religious vision but my life path."
For years, he said, he had wanted to write. But were it not for the sabbatical he took from Englewood’s Cong.Ahavath Torah in ‘005, the project might never have gotten under way. It was his wife, Barbara, said Goldin, who insisted he take the time, which the couple spent in Israel. "I dreamed about it for a long time," and with a commitment to the publisher to complete the series, Goldin said, "Now I have to find a way to do that. But, at least, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to say that this first step was able to be accomplished. As for many of the best things in my life, I have my wife to thank."