Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
As our Patriarch Jacob immigrated to Egypt, he sent his son Yehuda, in advance, to the fertile region of Goshen (Bereishis 46:28). Rashi there notes that Yehuda was dispatched to establish Beis HaTalmud, a house of Torah study. Many wonder why the name Beis HaTalmud is used. They note that after 22 years of being separated, Yosef sent a message to his father that they last studied together the sugya of Egla Arufa, thus communicating that he was indeed Yosef and that he was still studying Torah. In order to have a yeshiva where a sugya would be studied afresh for 22 years, a yeshiva such as Yeshiva Beis HaTalmud had to be established.
In the lofty realm of advanced Talmudic scholarship, Yeshiva Beis HaTalmud occupies prominence. The yeshiva is, effectively the true continuance of the legendary Mir Yeshiva that singularly, as an institution, survived Eastern European Jewry’s almost complete extermination during the Holocaust.
Short History of the Mirrer Yeshiva. The famed Yeshiva of Mir was established in 1815. During World War I, the yeshiva, finding itself at the battlefront, sought refuge in Stoivitz, Russia, and then in Poltava in the Ukraine. The yeshiva returned to Mir in 1921. With the advent of WWII, the yeshiva moved to Vilna in 1939 and to Kaiden in 1940. Siberia was next, and then to Kobe, Japan, and then to Shanghai, China. The story of the escape of Mirrer Yeshiva to Shanghai during WWII, thanks to visas issued by Chiune Sempo Sugihara, the Japanese consul-general to Lithuania, has been the subject of several books. In the annals of the yeshiva’s almost 200 years of glorious history of Torah learning, the five years that the yeshiva was housed in the Museum Road Synagogue in Shanghai are considered as its most prolific. Legends about the faculty and students in Shanghai are awe-inspiring. Among notable authors that focused their detailed attention on that time of miracles was Dr. David Kranzler, zt’l, in his “Japanese, Nazis and Jews: the Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai 1938–45” (Yeshiva University Press, 1976, reprinted three times, and translated into many languages including Chinese, in 1993).
After the Holocaust, the Mirrer Yeshiva re-established itself in Jerusalem and in Brooklyn. During its existence in Shanghai, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, zt’l (1879–1965), Mir Rosh Yeshiva, traveled to Palestine to obtain visas for his students and to reestablish the yeshiva in Jerusalem. The plan was suspended by the outbreak of WWII. In 1944, Rabbi Finkel opened a branch of the yeshiva with ten students from Yeshiva Eitz Chaim. Today, with its 7,500 students, Mir Jerusalem ranks gloriously as the largest yeshiva in Israel, and possibly in the world.
The Brooklyn yeshiva, established by Rabbi Avraham Kalmanowitz, zt’l (1891–1964), in 1946, is at 1791 Ocean Parkway, with affiliate buildings adjacent and across the street. Rabbi Kalmanowitz, who escaped to the United States in 1940, sustained the yeshiva during its existence in Shanghai. Once WWII ended, he arranged visas and passage for 250 students and faculty to come to the United States. The Brooklyn yeshiva matured quickly, outpacing the Jerusalem yeshiva.
The use of the name Mirrer Yeshiva caused some minor friction between the two yeshivas. The matter was brought to a beis din, which decided that the substance of a yeshiva is its students and that the Brooklyn yeshiva, therefore, had a greater claim to the name. Nevertheless, once the point was made, both yeshivas agreed to share the name.
Though the Brooklyn yeshiva rightfully carried the name Mir, several of the more advanced and respected scholars of the Shanghai phase of the yeshiva did not find the Brooklyn yeshiva conforming to the vision of the original founders of the yeshiva in Mir. To them, a yeshiva represented an entire world that existed independent of the entire outside world. “Outside” literally meant right outside the physical walls of the yeshiva. The Brooklyn yeshiva, they felt, had somewhat acclimated to its American environs.
Continuing the Legacy. In 1948, seeking to faithfully replicate the old Mir Yeshiva, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Malin, zt’l (1906–1962), premier Mir Yeshiva student, established Yeshiva Beis HaTalmud. The names of those that partnered in creating the yeshiva are a testament to its nobility. The princely names are Rabbi Sholom Menache Gottlieb, Rabbi Leizer Horodzhesky, Rabbi Levi Krupenia, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Levovitz, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Malin, Rabbi Baruch Leib Sassoon, Rabbi Leib Shachar, Rabbi Betzalel Tannenbaum, Rabbi Shmuel Wilensky, Rabbi Chaim Wysokier, Rabbi Aaron Zablotsky, and Rabbi Binyamin Zeilberger. In addition, renowned Talmudic scholars that lectured at the yeshiva were Rabbi Leizer Grodojesky and Rabbi Yisroel Perkowsky.
Rabbi Malin was an intimate of Rabbi Yitzchok Zev “Velvel” Soloveichik, zt’l (1886–1959), revered Brisker Rav, and favored by the leading gedolim of the pre-WWII yeshiva world. He authored Chidushe Aryeh Leib and served as the principal rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Beis HaTalmud.
Rabbi Shaul Brus, zt’l (1919–2008), author of Minchas Shaul, lead disciple of Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibowitz, zt’l (1864–1939), Rosh Yeshiva Kaminetz and author of Birkas Shmuel, served as the Rosh Yeshiva for incoming students.
Today, Yeshiva Beis HaTalmud rigorously continues to maintain its lofty level and intensity of Talmudic scholarship. Its unique method of in-depth Talmudic analysis and study earn the respect of the entire world of Torah scholarship. Rabbi Chaim Leib Perkowsky and Rabbi Moshe Mendel Brus serve as the roshei yeshiva. Rabbi Yeruchim Zeilberger, son Rabbi Binyamin Zeilberger, zt’l, had served as a rosh yeshiva. However, with the passing of his father-in-law, Rabbi Simcha Shustal, zt’l, the rosh yeshiva of Stamford, Rabbi Zeilberger has accepted the invitation to succeed his father-in-law.
Of The Decade
On Tuesday, May 21, a royal chasunah was grandly celebrated in Kiryas Belz in Jerusalem. Sholom Rokeach, oldest grandchild of Rabbi Yesochor Dov Rokeach, Belzer Rebbe, the chassan, is the son of the Rebbe’s only child, Rabbi Aaron Mordechai. The kallah is Batya Paneth, the daughter of Rabbi Yechiel Meir Paneth, Nadvorna Rosh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. The chassan, after his father, is second in the line of royal succession of the Belzer dynasty.
After the Holocaust, Rabbi Aaron Rokeach, zt’l (1877–1957), fourth Belzer Rebbe, and his brother, Rabbi Mordechai Rokeach, zt’l (1902–1949), Bilograyer Rav, were the only survivors of the family. Both had lost their wives and children, murdered in the Holocaust. The two escaped together. They were specifically targeted by the Nazis, and their multiple escapes, from September 1, 1939, the day the Nazi attack on Poland began, until the safe passage of Rabbi Aaron and Rabbi Mordechai into Palestine on February 3, 1944, the two were barely one step ahead of their murderous pursuers. Against all odds, the two brothers together were poised to rebuild the Belzer chassidish dynasty. Both remarried.
Their daily evasion of Nazi capture was harrowing. One of their escapes had the brothers driven out of Nazi occupied Poland and into Hungary in the car of a Hungarian counter-intelligence agent who was friendly to Jews. The Rebbe, his attendant, and Rabbi Mordechai, were shorn of their distinctive beards and payos, disguised as Russian generals who had been captured at the front, and were being taken to Budapest for questioning. Budapest, at that moment, was still a safe haven for Jews.
After having lost his entire immediate family, wife, children, and grandchildren in the Holocaust, Rabbi Aaron remarried in 1947 to Rebbetzin Chana Labin-Pollack-Rokeach, a’h. The new Rebbeztin was the daughter of Rabbi Yechiel Chaim Labin, zt’l (1888–1985), Makava Rebbe.
Rabbi Aaron did not have any children from his second marriage. Sadly, Rabbi Aaron passed away in 1957 without any living offspring.
Rabbi Mordechai, having lost his wife and children, remarried in 1947 to Rebbetzin Miriam, the daughter of Rabbi Zvi Hershel Glick, zt’l, of Satmar, son-in-law of Rabbi Yaakov Yechezkel Greenwald, zt’l, brother of the Arugas Habosem. They had only one child, Yesochor Dov, in 1948. Sadly, on November 17, 1949, Rabbi Mordechai, at the young age of 47, passed away. The orphaned child, Yesochor Dov, was raised by his uncle and was clearly designated as the future fifth Belzer Rebbe. After Rabbi Aaron passed away, Yesochor Dov was taught Torah and Chassidus by an inner circle of Belzer chassidim. At his bar mitzvah, celebrated by hundreds, Yesochor Dov sat on the dais by himself. In 1965, he married Rebbetzin Sarah, the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, today’s Bnei Brak Vishnitzer Rebbe. At the time of the wedding, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua’s father, Rabbi Chaim Meir Hager, zt’l (1887–1972), Vishnitzer Rebbe and author of Imrei Chaim, was still alive. The Belzer Rebbe resided in Bnei Brak for one year, being near the then Vishnitzer Rebbe and to his own father-in-law. In 1966, the Belzer Rebbe moved his residence to Jerusalem, where he assumed leadership of the growing Belzer Kehilla. In 1972, the Vishnitzer Rebbe passed away and Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua succeeded his father as Vishnitzer Rebbe in Bnei Brak.
Childless for several years after their marriage, the Belzer Rebbe and Rebbetzin visited the United States to seek the blessing of the Divrei Yoel and, presumably, to seek medical assistance. In 1975, with Heavenly beneficence, they had a son, Aaron Mordechai, their only child. The two names are in honor of the child’s great-uncle, Rabbi Aaron Rokeach, as well as of the child’s grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai Twersky, zt’l (1902–1949) Bilograyer Rav. His birth was a yom tov for Belzer chassidim, his being an heir to the Belzer dynasty.
In 1993, the son, Rabbi Aaron Mordechai married Rebbetzin Sarah Leah, the daughter of Rabbi Shimon Lemberger, Makova Rebbe, in Kiryat Atta. The chuppah was celebrated by 60,000 and more than 30,000 partook of the wedding dinner. Rabbi Aaron Mordechai and Rebbetzin Sarah Leah are parents of 11 children. The chassan, Sholom, their oldest, was born in 1995.
The kallah is the daughter of Rabbi Yechiel Meir Paneth; son of Rabbi Aaron Dovid Paneth, Zibenbergen Rosh Kollel Jerusalem. Rabbi Yechiel Meir. is the son-in-law of Rabbi Boruch Halberstam, zt’l, Gorelitzer Rebbe in Bnei Brak; Rabbi Aaron Dovid Paneth is the son-in-law of Rabbi Yehuda Tirnauer, zt’l (1923–2001), Rav of Beis Medrash Shomrei Shabbos on 13th Avenue at 53rd Street in Boro Park; son-in-law of Rabbi Chaim Shlomo Lowy, zt’l, Chuster Rebbe.
Vishnitzer Rachmestrivka Skever Chasunah
On Shabbos Behaloscha, May 24–25, the aufruf of Mordechai Twersky took place in the Skverer Beis Medrash in Monsey. The chassan is the son of Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel Twersky, Monsey Rachmestrivka Rosh Kollel, and grandson of Rabbi Chai Yitzchok Twersky, Rachmestrivka Rebbe, and of Rabbi Dovid Twersky, Skverer Rebbe. A traditional forshpiel took place on Motzaei Shabbos. The seudas aniyim (poor meal) was held on Sunday evening in the Heichal Rina V’tefila Hall in Monsey and the Chasan Muhl took place in the Vishnitzer Beis Medrash in Monsey.
The chasunah was celebrated in the main Skverer Beis Medrash with the chuppah being held on a raised platform, on Tuesday, May 28. The kallah is the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchok Yochanon Hager, Williamsburger Vishnitzer Rav and son of Rabbi Mordechai Hager, Vishnitzer Rebbe. Sheva berachos was celebrated on Wednesday evening in Boro Park in the Rachmestrivka Beis Medrash, honoring the Rachmestrivka Rebbe, grandfather of the chassan. Thursday evening, the sheva berachos will be held in Rachmestrivka Kollel in Monsey, where the chassan’s father serves as Rosh Kollel. Shabbos Shelach sheva berachos is scheduled to take place in the Main Vishnitzer Beis Medrash in Monsey, honoring the Vishnitzer Rebbe, grandfather of the kallah. Sunday evening will have the sheva berachos in the main Skverer Beis Medrash in Monsey. The final sheva berachos, Monday at noon, will be grandly rejoiced in the Williamsburg Vishnitzer Beis Medrash, where the kallah’s father serves as rav. 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. Rabbi Tannenbaum can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.