Rabbi Ze’ev Smason to retire in fall 


Judaism values a variety of interpersonal traits. Rabbi Ze’ev Smason of Nusach Hari B’nai Zion, a modern Orthodox synagogue in Olivette, sums them up in four words: “To be a mensch.”

“[Being a mensch] means being a person of scrupulous integrity, caring very deeply for others and expressing that care with compassion,” Smason said. “[It means] proactively seeking to perform acts of chessed and kindness for others, and being an exceedingly decent, civil person. All of that is part of what it means to be a mensch, and that is one of the great goals of Judaism.”

Those values are part of what led Smason to his career as a rabbi.

“I grew up in a very warm, loving Jewish family with strong Jewish values, but my family was not observant or religious,” Smason said. “When I graduated college, I did a fair bit of traveling, and my travels took me to Israel. I was introduced to Torah Judaism, and I found it absolutely fascinating.”

In his early twenties, Smason became observant.

“Not having had the benefit of a strong Jewish education when I was younger, I was really missing out on the wonderful blessing of knowing what it means to be Jewish, and a life of Torah observance,” he said. “So as I began to learn more about it, I decided that I wanted to share what I had missed [in my upbringing] with other people.”

For Smason, sharing that life-changing realization led him into the rabbinate and a career that has provided not only meaning to him but to his congregation.

“I realized how wonderful it would be to have the opportunity to share the joy of that discovery of people’s Jewish heritage with others,” Smason said. 

After 25 years of positively impacting the NHBZ community, Smason will retire from the shul in September.

“Thank God, with a tremendous amount of help from our members, the shul has expanded its number of members, and we have moved to a new location,” he said. “[I attribute that] first and foremost to Hashem’s blessings, and second to the very dedicated members who wanted to move forward to expand our spiritual community.”

Smason plans to remain in St. Louis and keep teaching in the Jewish community and be involved in projects that could use his expertise. “I plan to continue my rabbinic work,” he said.

He said his time at NHBZ was deeply rewarding, for himself and he hopes, for the community.

“I remember being at a bris, and I have this image in my mind of [the] mother and grandmother next to each other, and as the bris was about to take place, they both had tears in their eyes,” Smason said. “It’s just astounding [to watch people grow up].”