Heifetz & Judaism

Heifetz & Judaism

Jascha Heifetz, the great Jewish violinist, was no intellectual giant. He read the Reader’s Digest-and virtually no books.

As for his religiosity, “In spite of his reservations about organized religion, Heifetz did believe in God, perhaps even in an afterlife, and on occasion he explained to me in his bumbling and roundabout way that there is no effect without a cause and the world would not exist unless somebody had made it….

The only practical result of his belief in a Supreme Being was that of all the Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was the only one he faithfully observed…. Heifetz told me that, as far back as he could remember, he always fasted on this Jewish holiday according to the religious prescriptions and celebrated the passing of the fast with dinner at the house of one or another of his Russian Jewish friends.”

In 1987, on Oct. 3, Yom Kippur, Heifetz was 86; still, he abstained from food and drink all day.

When he died, his body was cremated-according to his wishes. A kaddish is not said at a synagogue after a cremation. But an orthodox rabbi told Heifetz’s associate, Ayke Angus (who is quoted above), that a kaddish was acceptable-perhaps Heifetz had not known any better.

Angus finally found a rabbi willing to do the ceremony-a woman rabbi–so long as Angus could put together a minyan.

“I’m sure Heifetz would have raised an eyebrow or two at the idea of a lady rabbi, considering his uneven and sometimes combative attitude toward women’s roles…. But a woman rabbi was also out of the ordinary in traditional Jewish religious practice, and that would have pleased him.”

From “Heifetz: As I Knew Him” by Ayke Agus, 2001.

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