|W. Gunther Plaut|
Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, a refugee from Nazi Germany who became a rabbi in the United States before serving at a major Toronto congregation for four decades and authoring a Torah commentary that has become a standard text in the Reform movement, died Feb. 8, at 99, a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The rabbi’s “The Torah: A Modern Commentary” was a forerunner of the denomination’s shift toward tradition, stressing the importance of advanced Torah study while offering a unique, Reform perspective on Jewish scriptures. The book — commonly known as the Plaut Torah — has sold nearly 120,000 copies. Rabbi Plaut, a major public figure in Canada, was vice chairman of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress; he was named both an officer of the Order of Canada and a recipient of Germany’s Commander’s Cross. What follows is a Reform rabbi’s reflection of the influence Rabbi Plaut and his Torah commentary had on him.
In his commentary on Genesis 28:10, “Jacob left Beersheva and went toward Haran,” Rashi teaches that when a righteous person dwells in a place, he brings splendor and glory in his wake. When that person departs, the splendor and glory do as well. This week the light of Jewish learning might seem to burn with a bit less splendor and glory as a result of the passing of W. Gunther Plaut.