Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
The Trisker dynasty of chassidishrebbes was founded in Turisk, western Ukraine. Its present population is 30,000. Rabbi Avrohom Twersky, zt’l (1806–1889), founding Trisker Rebbe, was the second of eight holy sons of Rabbi Mordechai Twersky, zt’l (1770–1837), Chernobler Rebbe, son of Rabbi Menachem Nochum Twersky, zt’l (1730–1798), Chernobler Rebbe and author of Me’or Einayim, from whom the Chernoble, Skver, Machestrivka, Trisk, and other dynasties descend. Rabbi Avrohom of Trisk was recognized as a great chassidishrebbe and many other rebbes drew near to learn from him. He authored MagenAvrohom and his three sons expanded his holy work. Rabbi Menachem Nochum Twersky, zt’l (1839–1887), Rabbi Yaakov Leib, zt’l (d. 1918), and Rabbi Mordechai, zt’l (1840–1917), carried the mantle of Trisk.
On Thursday, 23 Shevat, February 22, chassidim around the globe were shocked and saddened to learn that Rabbi Mordechai Zusha Twersky, zt’l (1940–2015), London Trisker Rebbe, passed away suddenly. He was recognized as a Torah scholar, devoting his whole day to holy studies and chesed. His first shiur began promptly at 5:30 a.m. at the London Vizhnitz Beis Medrash. He was always the first person there, opening the doors, turning on the lights, and making all necessary preparations for the shiur.
That Thursday morning, participants of the shiur arrived at the shul and were surprised not to see the Trisker Rebbe seated at the table waiting for them. As previously arranged, a phone call was made to the Trisker Rebbe’s home. A short time passed, and the Trisker Rebbe had still not arrived. They called his cell phone, but there was no answer. The next call was made to the home phone and answered by the rebbetzin. She knew that he left his bedroom and had descended to the exit door on his way to the mikveh. She went down to follow his steps. As she descended, she was horrified to see the rebbe sprawled on the floor inside the front door.
A frantic call was made to Hatzalah. Almost instantly, Hatzalah volunteers arrived. Unable to immediately resuscitate the rebbe, they rushed him to the nearest hospital. A quick determination confirmed that rebbe had suffered a massive heart attack which was fatal. The sad news was swiftly and mournfully transmitted all over the world.
The late Trisker Rebbe was the son of Rabbi Chaim Menachem Avrohom Twersky, zt’l (1914–2010), London Trisker Rebbe; oldest son of Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Twersky, zt’l (1885–1979), London Trisker Rebbe who was forced to flee the Ukraine during massive pogroms, was the first to establish a chassidish court in the East End of London, who passed away in Bnei Brak; son of Rabbi Mordechai Zusha Twersky, zt’l (d. 1936), Trisker Rebbe in Yaas (Iasi), Romania: son of Rabbi Menachem Nochum Twersky, zt’l (1839–1887), Trisker Rebbe in Brisk; son of the Me’or Einayim, numbered amongst the founders of chassidism.
Rabbi Mordechai Zusha, the late London Trisker Rebbe, was privileged to grow up in the embrace of his esteemed grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh. Born in 1940, his parents were continuously uprooted due to war conditions. They found shelter in the East End, and later in Stamford Hill. As a young boy, Rabbi Mordechai Zusha was the first chassidish student accepted into the renowned Gateshead yeshiva, where he grew close to its noted roshyeshiva, Rabbi Leib Gurwicz, zt’l (1906–1982).
After studying for five years in Gateshead, Rabbi Mordechai Zusha went to study in the Vizhnitzer Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. There, he became an intimate of Rabbi Chaim Meir Hager, zt’l (1888–1972), fourth Vizhnitzer Rebbe and author of Imrei Chaim. The Imrei Chaim summoned Rabbi Mordechai Zusha and proposed a shidduch. Rabbi Mordechai Zusha indicated that he would have to discuss it with his father, Rabbi Chaim Menachem Avrohom. At that time, overseas calls had to be made from the central post office by appointment. The ImreiChaim told Rabbi Mordechai Zusha that he would stand in on the part of the chassan’s side. Rabbi Chaim Menachem Avrohom immediately consented and the shidduch was celebrated. The kallah, today’s rebbetzin, is the daughter of Rabbi Eliezer Chaim Schein, zt’l Hy’d, Vizhnitzer shochet who was murdered during the Holocaust.
Returning to London, he established his home immediately near his parents and grandparents, in order to assist and serve them. He also established a hardware shop through which unbelievable chesed activities were conducted. Accounts were established for those with low or no income to which purchases were charged but never billed. Through the hardware store, his hachnassaskallah activities were discretely camouflaged. His kimcha d’pischa (Pesach fund) helped innumerable families. Yeshivas, shuls, etc., had open accounts that were never billed.
When his father, Rabbi Chaim Menachem Avrohom Twersky, zt’l, London Trisker Rebbe, passed away in 2010, Rabbi Yisroel Hager, Vizhnitzer Rebbe in Israel, came to the shivah and crowned Rabbi Mordechai Zusha as London Trisker Rebbe. Though Rabbi Mordechai Zusha humbly accepted, he continued to conduct himself unassumingly. When chassidishrebbes from abroad came to visit London, he visited them as soon as possible so that the visitor rebbe would be saved the time and effort of formally visiting him.
The London Coroner Refuses To Accommodate Jews
The London coroner obligates that every deceased must have a death certificate issued by a doctor certifying the cause of death. In sudden death situations, doctors and hospitals are slow to issue death certificates until the cause of death is clearly defined. In such cases, the coroner takes over and is scrupulous in its investigation and consideration. Routinely, autopsies, called postmortems, are conducted and determinations are made. If a determination cannot quickly be arrived at, an inquest is made. If no suspicious possibilities are readily discerned, a burial order is issued.
The London coroner’s office is not sympathetic to the request of Orthodox Jews to use scans instead of autopsies, nor in keeping their offices open at off-hour schedules, such as weekends, Sundays, and legal holidays. Hatzalah has the private phone numbers of members of the coroner’s office with whom they have good working relationships. Often, a simple phone call would generate the requested accommodations.
Two years ago, Mary Hassell was appointed as London coroner. She immediately made known that she does not accepts scans in place of autopsies, nor will she have the office of the London coroner operate during off-hours. Despite requests to have her office opened during off-hours for special situations, with all extra costs to be paid, she has adamantly refused to acquiesce. In addition, the routine shemirah (guarding) of Jewish bodies has also been disrupted.
She further insisted on not only accepting a cause of death, but requiring the ruling out of any additional cause or causes of death, thus virtually eliminating scan results as determination and instead demanding a full autopsy. This past summer, Motel Weiss, z’l, of Jerusalem passed away in London. She absolutely refused to accept any determination other than an autopsy. The case was taken to superior court, which denied her attempt to interfere with acceptable determination by scan.
After that, the coroner’s office seemed to be working with Jewish activists until days before Yom Kippur, when an 86-year-old lady felt ill and was brought to a hospital, where she passed away. The coroner delayed issuing a death certificate because her office was supposedly “too busy.” After much delay, she insisted on an autopsy. Again, application was made to the courts charging that the coroner is not taking into consideration Jewish law and custom which requires burial as soon as possible. The coroner’s lawyers responded that her office is not in violation since it is busy with a heavy workload. Finally, she consented to accepting a scan instead of an autopsy, and burial took place late in the afternoon, right before the eve of Yom Kippur.
The family filed for a judicial review with the high court seeking to determine that the coroner’s office did not act in concert with established law. Such finding would force the coroner’s office to act lawfully, to comply with Article 9 (Freedom of Religion) in compliance with the Coroners and Justice Act, and not to perform an autopsy if an acceptable scan determination had been made. Three judges had previously ruled against her and all Jewish organizations in London joined the case.
The coroner’s office sought to have the judicial review dismissed, claiming that it was moot since the bodies had been released and that she was following established procedures. The case was broadened to include the acceptability of scans, allowance for shemirah, and the opening of offices during off-hours.
An offer was made to drop the judicial review if an accommodation could be made. She declined. The courts accepted the request for judicial review. Her attorneys made a motion for her not to sustain court costs. An offer was made by the Jewish activists, again, that she would be relieved of court costs if she agreed to make accommodations. In the midst of negotiations that appeared to resolve matters and to forgo costly legal costs, the London Trisker Rebbe passed away, and the coroner caused unacceptable delays. The rebbe passed away on Thursday but the body was first released on Monday. Though she was willing to accept a scan, she demanded another pathologist and another scan at another institute than that always used and accepted.
Attempt after attempt was made to contact the coroner directly, through her attorney, through her deputy, and through the police, after the Trisker Rebbe’s body was held, but she did not acknowledge them. An immediate campaign was launched whereby all members of London’s Jewish community contacted their political representative, demanding a resolution. The campaign obviously had its effect. Moments after the office opened on Monday morning, the body of the Trisker Rebbe was released.
After a tearful funeral attended by thousands, the Trisker Rebbe was escorted to the Jewish cemetery in Enfield, where he was laid to eternal rest. v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at email@example.com.