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Dayan Ehrentreu’s Almost-Jewish Friend on Ten Downing

David Damen

Before the days when the press corps had a round-the-clock tail on the new British Prime Minister David Cameron, he made a clandestine visit to Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu in search of his own Jewish roots. In a conversation laced with dignified discretion, Dayan Ehrentreu, now retired but busy as ever, shares some little-known facets of both the politicians and the gedolim whose time he shares.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Ehrentreu

The two-story home in Hendon’s Shirehall Park is indistinguishable from the other well-appointed homes of this peaceful London neighborhood. It is late afternoon and the sun, a rare visitor in general, is gathering up its last beams over the red tile roofs, quietly retiring for the night, which will soon spread its cape over this wealthy chareidi enclave.

By seven, London time, darkness already reigns. The streets are deserted as if it were already midnight. Nearby, however, in Golders Green, people are still busy shopping for Shabbos. The old Gozinsky bakery is selling challos like hotcakes, while in the big supermarket across the street, housewives are testing a newly arrived shipment of cherry toma-h-toes for just-the-right ripeness.

Nothing about the building where we are standing hints at the identity of its occupant. Even the name plate by the doorbell is all but anonymous. But we have the privilege and honor of being shown in by the resident himself, Dayan Ehrentreu, who opens the door for us and gives us a hearty handshake with just the right English correctness.

Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu has been residing here for the past twenty-five years, ever since he was summoned to London by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, and has been dispensing his documented halachic responsae to all corners of Europe. Twice a week he travels to Basel to serve as av beis din there. When he is home, he receives masses of visitors,  from nearby Stamford Hill and from all over London, issuing incisive daas Torah.

One of hismost surprising guests was Prime Minister David Cameron — while he was still head of the Opposition, who appeared in a clandestine visit to investigate his Jewish roots.

Dayan Ehrentreu, ever self-effacing, doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about, why we have come all the way from Belgium - myself, my friend Yossi Kornik, confidant of European rabbis, together with Dudi, our photographer. But since we are already here, the Rav is gracious about discussing the relationship with his well-placed friend,  a memorable dinner with the queen, his close connection with the gedolim of Eretz Yisrael, and other aspects of his fascinating past.

 

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