The Midnight Sun Of Benjamin Blech

The New York Jewish Week on a YU Professor of Talmud’s Encounter with Death

In Ernest Hemingway’s Havana days, several young men from New York approached the gatehouse of the great writer’s home, telling the guard: “Will you please tell Mr. Hemingway that three rabbis are here to see him?”

Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Rabbi Benjamin Blech is Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University

Hemingway was at home with Mary, his wife, and the American ambassador to Cuba, and he was not expecting rabbis, and they were barely rabbis at that, still dewy from their recent ordination at Yeshiva University. Hemingway let them in, for the sport, if nothing else.

One of the rabbis was Benjamin Blech, an English major. Blech remembers, “He started to talk to us, to see if it was worth his while. After about 10 minutes it was as if a cloud lifted and he said, ‘OK, I’ll talk to you guys.’”

Blech recalled Hemingway saying, “I’m not a religious man, but I’ve tried to learn something about religion, and the one I thought the most rational, was Judaism.” Other religions, said Hemingway, were too much about the afterlife and rejecting the world, while Judaism, he said, “is the only religion I know that is primarily concerned with life rather than death.”

“Mr. Hemingway,” said Rabbi Blech, “the Kohanim, the priests, who were the original rabbis, you might say, were not allowed to come into contact with the dead.”

Hemingway thought that was great, remembered Rabbi Blech, “and gave me a memento, ‘to my friend Ben,’ as he did to the other two guys.”

More than 50 years later, in 2010, Rabbi Blech, in his mid-70s, came into contact with death. Read full article in The New York Jewish Week

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