Obituary for Dayan Gershon Lopian זצ"ל
A prominent halachic expert, rabbinic mentor and empathetic spiritual leader with international influence, Dayan Gershon Lopian was rabbi, then emeritus rabbi, of the Edgware Yeshurun Synagogue.
Gershon Lopian, scion of a distinguished rabbinical family, was born in Portsmouth in 1938, the first child of Rabbi Leib and Tzippa (née Levy). Rabbi Leib, a founding member of Gateshead Kolel (Institute for Higher Rabbinical Studies), was subsequently co-head of Gateshead Yeshiva. His paternal grandfather Rabbi Eliyahu was a major figure in the ‘Musar’ (ethical discipline) movement, known for his incisive teachings and exceptional piety.
Rabbi Lopian studied first at Gateshead Yeshiva, then in Israel under his grandfather in Kfar Chassidim and at Chevron Yeshiva in Jerusalem, receiving semichah (ordination) from Rabbis Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Ovadiah Yosef and others. He pursued advanced studies at Sunderland Kolel, where he was learning when he married Judy Saberski in 1964. He also trained in practical rabbinics with the renowned halachic decisor Rabbi Henoch Padwa, whom he visited in London for extended periods. While in Sunderland, Rabbi Lopian officiated at a local Shul on festivals, supervised the mikveh and butcher’s shop, and delivered shiurim.
In 1974, on a trip to the USA, Rabbi Lopian was introduced to the world’s foremost halachist, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. He subsequently studied intensely for several months under the tutelage of Rabbi Feinstein, who conferred upon him an advanced semichah, allowing him to deliver complex rulings in a broad range of halachic fields.
In 1976, Rabbi Lopian was elected rabbi of the Federation’s Edgware Yeshurun Synagogue, a position he occupied with distinction until his appointment as emeritus rabbi at his retirement in 2006. For a period in the ‘80s, he also served as a judge on the Beth Din of the Federation of Synagogues; this appointment dubbed him ‘the Dayan’, a title by which he was affectionately known for the rest of his life.
The Dayan was known as an attentive and capable rabbi: compassionate pastor, expert educator and effective champion of greater halachic observance. His tenure at Yeshurun coincided with a tremendous development of the Edgware Orthodox community: an increase of Shuls and opportunities for Torah study; the construction of a mikveh in which he was a driving force; the influx of observant families and newly religious to the area and the consequent proliferation of Jewish shops and other facilities. This transformation is in large part attributable to the efforts of the Lopians, who gradually emerged as the senior Orthodox leaders in Edgware.
The Dayan's growing role as an halachic decisor of national and, ultimately, international significance reflected a unique confluence of outstanding scholarship, absolute conviction in the benevolent universality of the halachic system, a loathing for superficiality - what he called 'sartorial Judaism', a genuine love of people and a legendary sense of humour. He was renowned for an ability to identify intensely with an individual's circumstances and challenges, sometimes even crying with strangers who had unburdened themselves.
The Dayan's decision-making technique was bravely anthropocentric, although his reputation for blanket leniency is an oversimplification. He would actually start from the needs and context of the inquirer and move outwards to find a bespoke, yet irrefutably authentic, halachic response. He fielded questions from all over the world, especially in the areas of Jewish family law and the challenges of the newly religious. With a reputation for accessibility, he learned all day in a tiny study, constantly interrupted by calls, which he answered himself. He taught hundreds of bridegrooms and was the advisor to many organisations, especially the transformational ‘Family Week’ programme, through which he and Rebbetzin Judy became long-term friends and mentors to numerous families.
The Dayan was also friend, guru and counsellor to scores of rabbis, many of whom he trained in practical rabbinics and halachic methodology. A true 'rabbi's rabbi', he rejected rabbinic dependence, encouraging his students to make their own halachic and counselling decisions. Enormously influential in the current rabbinate, his students lead communities across the globe.
In recent years, Dayan Lopian suffered from a number of debilitating complaints which he bore with fortitude, supported tirelessly by the rebbetzin. Yet his increasing immobility scarcely impacted on his communal engagements and despite his obvious pain, he continued to attend events and teach shiurim, the last of which was delivered less than 24 hours before his unexpected passing.
He is survived by Rebbetzin Judy - his partner in every aspect of his communal work, two sons, three daughters, grandchildren, a great-grandchild and seven siblings.
Harvey Belovski is rabbi of Golders Green Synagogue and a long-standing student of Dayan Gershon Lopian
A version of this obituary first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle