Noah Golinkin, 89, the rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Shalom in Columbia and the founder and promoter of a national program to teach adult Jews enough Hebrew to read a prayer book, died Feb. 27 at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore of complications related to cancer surgery.
From 1950 to 1965, Rabbi Golinkin was the rabbi of the Arlington-Fairfax Jewish Congregation. He was founding director of the board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington from 1965 to 1970.
Nationally, he was known as a leading advocate and supporter of the teaching of enough Hebrew to permit Jews to understand the language of prayer books and the liturgy of Sabbath services. He was president of the National Institute of Hebrew Literacy, under whose auspices an estimated 150,000 American Jews have learned to read the Hebrew of prayer books.
He began his campaign to promote Hebrew literacy in the early 1960s as rabbi of the Arlington-Fairfax Jewish Congregation, when he developed a two-year program to teach Hebrew to every adult in the congregation. In 1963, he shortened the program into an intensive 12-week course in Hebrew that drew 200 participants and won recognition from the United Synagogues of America.
The Hebrew language, Rabbi Golinkin had long feared, was losing its place in the culture of an increasingly well-educated but also increasingly secular Jewish community. He did not want Hebrew to go the way of Latin in the Roman Catholic Mass, abandoned altogether or understood only by a shrinking minority of worshipers.
In 1967 and 1968 as director of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington, Rabbi Golinkin launched a 12-week program at 18 Jewish congregations and synagogues in the Washington area to teach 1,100 adults the Hebrew of the prayer book and Sabbath services. This effort involved 105 small classes, all taught by volunteers and scheduled during morning, afternoon and evening hours every day of the week.
Rabbi Golinkin described this as an "attack on 'Hebrew illiteracy' among American Jews," which, he said, was "not geared at acquiring conversational ability but, geared at reading fluency. The true meanings come later, after repeated readings at the Friday services."
His teaching methods included instructing his students to move a finger along an imaginary line under each Hebrew word they were reading. "If they have their finger and their eyes on it, they will read it and they will learn it. If they take their fingers off the book, they will say it by heart, and saying it by heart will teach them absolutely nothing."
Rabbi Golinkin, a resident of Columbia, was born in Zhitomar, Ukraine, in what then was Imperial Russia. He was the son and grandson of rabbis. He grew up in Vilnius in what now is Lithuania, where he earned a law degree at Stefan Batory University. In 1938, he immigrated to New York, where he studied at Yeshiva University. Later, he graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Mass. He was ordained at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
During World War II he participated in activist organizations aimed at raising public awareness of the slaughter of European Jews in the Nazi death camps.
Before coming to the Washington area, he was rabbi at Jewish congregations in Lincoln, Neb., Pittsburgh and Meriden, Conn. After his years at the Arlington-Fairfax Jewish Congregation and the Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington, Rabbi Golinkin was rabbi at Heska Emunah Congregation in Knoxville, Tenn.; then in 1978 became rabbi at Beth Shalom in Columbia, where he served until 1986, when he became rabbi emeritus.
In 1978, the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs took charge of promoting Rabbi Golinkin's 12-week Hebrew literacy course, for which the rabbi wrote a textbook. In the mid-1980s, the rabbi developed an intensive eight-hour Hebrew literacy crash course, which he called "The Hebrew Reading Marathon." He wrote a 120-page text for that course, which he called "While Standing On One Foot."
In recent years, Rabbi Golinkin and his wife, Dvorah, had traveled across the country teaching the course in synagogues and Jewish community centers. In 1995 and 1996, he trained a group of teachers to teach the course in Canada.
In addition to his wife, of 51 years, of Columbia; survivors include two sons, Cantor Abraham Golinkin of Columbia and Rabbi David Golinkin of Jerusalem; and three grandchildren.