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Dr. Yitzchok Block, 86, Professor of Philosophy and Chabad Campus Emissary

Dr. Yitzchok Block, 86, Professor of Philosophy and Chabad Campus Emissary

He wrote and lectured on classical philosophy and Judaism

Dr. Yitzchok Block
Dr. Yitzchok Block

Professor of philosophy Dr. Yitzchok Block, an expert on Aristotle and Wittgenstein who spread Judaism as one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s first campus emissaries, and as a speaker and teacher at Chabad-Lubavitch programs around the world, passed away on Oct. 4. He was 86 years old.

Born in Nashville, Tenn., Block earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University in 1958 and taught philosophy for 36 years at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., Canada. He ran a popular campus Chabad House at the university with his wife, Leah, and the couple established the London Hebrew Day School. He was also a founder of the city’s Orthodox synagogue, Congregation Beth Tefilah.

A popular speaker at Shabbaton pegisha weekends in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., during the 1970s and 1980s, Block helped prepare college students and young adults for their first farbrengen with the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. To that end, he shared stories of how he personally benefited from the guidance and inspiration of the Rebbe since Block himself was a student.


In an interview with JEM, Block related how it was the Rebbe’s advice about how he should respond when a paper that he had written about Aristotle was rejected by a prestigious journal that established his reputation as a “famous philosopher.”

Block would frequently speak and write on the interface between classical philosophy and Judaism, in particular on the relationship between G‑d, rationality and mysticism.

A Lifetime of Learning

Marc Halawa, who grew up as a Muslim in Kuwait but had a Jewish grandmother, recalls meeting Block at the University of Western Ontario. “From his dress, he looked Jewish, so I went up to him and asked him straightforwardly, ‘Hi, are you a Jew?’ ”

The two started to converse, and Block informed the student that he was indeed a Jew and invited him to attend Shabbat services at Beth Tefilah. There, the young man found the elder man studying Torah.

“Aren’t you done studying by now?” asked Halawa.

He answered: “Even if I would live another lifetime, I wouldn’t be done learning.”

During another exchange between the two men, after a Shabbat dinner at Block’s house, Block told Halawa that “every Jew is born with a little Torah and a little menorah inside. All it takes is for another Jew to bump into him to light it up.”

With the professor’s guidance, the young man rediscovered Judaism and now lives in Jerusalem.

Block is survived by his children: Rabbi Chaim Block (San Antonio); Rabbi Levi Block (Westfield, N.J.); Rabbi Mendy Block (Plano, Texas); Chani Zalmanov (Queens, N.Y.); Rabbi Shmuli Block (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Rivkie Baron (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Abraham Block (London, Ont.); Bassie Gurkow (London, Ont.). He was predeceased by his wife in 2013.

As is customary, due to the holiday of Sukkot, a full shiva mourning period will not be observed.

By Staff
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J. Weiner October 11, 2017

To Rabbi Block in Westfield, NJ I offer my condolences on the passing of your father. My children attended your Hebrew School in Westfield, NJ and we attended services for the High Holy Days with you as well. At the time we lived in Cranford, NJ and now we reside in Delaware. May you find comfort, peace, and compassion as you mourn with your loved ones. Reply

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