Rabbi Shamai Kanter, 88, of Phoenix, passed away on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018. He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Jeannette, their three children, Raphael (Cindy), Elana (Michael) and Ethan (Sue), and nine grandchildren, Rebecca, Eli and Micah; Hannah, Gabi and Jonathan; and Ben, Charlie and Trevor. He was the brother of William Kanter and the late Barbara Fink.
Rabbi Kanter was born in Allston, Massachusetts, on March 27, 1930, to David Kanter and Celia Wexler Kanter, who died giving birth to him. He was first raised by his grandparents and Celia’s devoted sisters Sandra and Molly, and then by David’s seven brothers and sisters (“the folks“), before David’s marriage to Doris Cohen and the expansion of their immediate family with two more children.
Ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, and following a United States Air Force chaplaincy, Rabbi Kanter served congregations in Toronto, Canada; Sharon, Massachusetts; and Rochester, New York, where he retired. During his rabbinical career, he also obtained a Ph.D. in religious studies at Brown University in 1974. He published his doctoral research, entitled “Rabban Gamaliel II: The Legal Traditions,” in 1981.
In his spiritual leadership of synagogue communities, he touched countless lives at the most joyous and difficult of times, offering a characteristic blend of warmth, intellect and grounded wisdom within the practice of Jewish law. Quiet, thoughtful and reserved in nature, he preached to his congregants in Sabbath and holiday sermons, delivered extemporaneously from minimal notations, and drew upon a disparate array of subjects and disciplines, from philosophy, history, Bible and Talmud, to physics, psychology and pop culture. At these moments, forging an intimate bond with his listeners, he shared his unique interpretations of a world revealing God in the unlikeliest of places. He was beloved by his family and community and we mourn his passing. Donations in his memory may be made to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Hearing Loss Association of America, the Women’s Jewish Learning Center or The New Shul.