The Near Simultaneous Loss of Three Torah Giants R”L

The Near Simultaneous Loss of Three Torah Giants R”L 1
Clockwise top left to right: HaRav Yitzchok Scheiner, zt”l, HaRav Dovid Soloveitchik, zt”l, HaRav Dovid Feinstein, zt”l

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

  • Rav Yitzchok Scheiner zt”l – late Sunday morning, January 31st.
  • Rav Dovid Soloveitchik zt”l – early Sunday morning, January 31st.
  • Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l – November 20th.

Within 72 days of each other, three outstanding Roshei Yeshivah, remarkable Torah giants, taken from Klal Yisroel.

One cannot but help correlate the loss to the verse in Zechariah 11:8:  “And I cut off the three shepherds..”  The Gemorah in Taanis 9a references this verse to the loss of Miriam, Aharon, and Moshe.

It has been said that such catastrophe can be either a three-fold atonement for the generation, or it can portend imminent disaster.    Regardless, it would behoove us to further understand who they were, and what it was that we had lost.

RAV YITZCHOK SCHEINER ZT”L

Let us look at a class list of Peabody High School in Pennsylvania.  The year is 1938.  The list includes, William Anderson; Miriam Bain; Thomas Beattie; Pierre Blommers; Camille Garnett Campagne; Elhart Flurry; Harold Levenson; Alfred Pflaum; Isadore Scheiner; John Louis Thompson and June Weiland.

What became of the others, we do not know.  But let’s go back to that list.  Why?  Because the young Isadore Scheiner, All-American baseball fan and spelling champion, on his way to the University of Pittsburgh, is about to be redirected.  His new trajectory will lead him to become Rav Yitzchok Scheiner of the Moetzes Gedolei Torah in Eretz Yisroel, and to be heir to great Torah traditions of the Yeshiva of Kamenetz – Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz and Rav Reuvain Grozovsky, as its Rosh Yeshiva.

Urged to attend a Yeshiva by none other than the grandfather of our own Rabbi Yaakov Bender of Yeshiva Darchei Torah, the 16 year old future Rosh Yeshiva went to Rav Yitzchok Elchonon and studied under Rav Moshe Aharon Poleyeff.

In 1938, he knew the batting averages of Pittsburgh Pirates starting lineup – Arky Vaughan (322), Lloyd Waner (313), and Johnny Rizzo (301).  By 1941, he knew quite a number of the shiurim of Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt”l, prime student of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik zt”l.

How so?  Having attended Camp Mesivta, he was then “kidnapped” in his own words to attend Yeshiva Torah V’Daas.  The kidnapping was done by Rabbi Dovid Bender, student of Rav Dovid Leibowitz zt”l – one of the first Roshei Yeshiva of Torah V’Daas.  Rav Scheiner soon studies under Rav Shlomo Heiman, Rav Boruch Ber’s greatest student.

Even then his greatness was apparent.  The Mishnas Binyamin (Siman 86), published some 72 years ago, deals with a question that the young Rabbi Scheiner first explores.  The exemption of monetary damages (according to one view) in dealing with an unintentional violation on account of negligence – does that exemption apply when he does not even know that he is even doing an action?

In 1949, shortly after his brother in law, Rav Moshe Bernstein, establishes the Kamenetz Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Reuvain Grozofsky (Rav Boruch Ber’s son-in-law) sends his Talmid, Rav Scheiner, to Rav Moshe Bernstein.  It said, “Take this bachur as your son-in-law.”  Rav Bernstein does.  Seven years later, after Rav Bernstein passes away, he and his brother-in-law, Rav Asher Lichstein, become Kamenetz’s Roshei Yeshiva.

Rav Scheiner also took time off from Kamenetz to give shiurim in the Etz Chaim yeshiva in Montreux, Switzerland in the 1960’s.

He was a modern-day Rabbi Akiva who never forgot his roots and was an inspiration to all.  Speaking at an Agudah event he said that his mother’s friends on his very own block lost children to intermarriage.

Rav Scheiner was a master pedagogue.  A favorite expression of his was, “Some things can be taught, other things must be caught.”  This meant that some aspects of one’s education can only be obtained by seeing a role model.    He himself had thousands of Talmidim and served as a role model to them and to all who came to know him.

RAV DOVID SOLOVEITCHIK ZT”L

Rav Meshulem Dovid Soloveitchik was the last remaining grandson of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik zt”l.  He was born on October 21st, 1921 to Rav Velvel Soloveitchik in the city of Brisk.  This was three years after Rav Chaim Soloveitchik had passed away.  Rav Dovid had studied under Rav Boruch Ber in the Yeshiva in Kamenetz.  He escaped Europe with his father and came to British Mandate Palestine in 1940.

He gave shiurim to students who became top Gedolim themselves: Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi; Rav Moshe Shapira; Rav Shimon Moshe Diskin; Rav Moshe Mordechai Schlesinger.  In the 1970’s Rav Dovid opened up his own Yeshiva in the Givat Moshe section of Yerushalayim.

In 1955, he took a leadership interest in an orphanage – Bayis LaPleitos.

Rav Dovid was humble and soft-spoken, and expressed a true love for his students.  He lived humbly on Rechov Amos in geulah.  Anyone who walked by would hear him reciting Tehillim in loud tears, crying like a baby.

Firm in the traditions of Brisk, his dedication to Torah inspired thousands of his talmidim.  A member of Rabbi Rand’s Kollel was once driving him to a chasunah.  He recalled how Rav Dovid asked him to pull over so that he can say Tefilas HaDerech properly – while standing up and being able to concentrate fully.  He did not hold of Eruv’s that did not accord with the Rambam’s view and also did not hold that a talis kotton is a true begged.

He explained his grandfather’s explanation of the future of the remembering and recounting Yetzias Mitzrayim.  In Messianic times there will be such great miracles that the previous Yomim Tovim will be negated.  Rav Chaim explained that zaicher yetzias Mitzrayim will be negated – but not sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim.  Sippur is formative – it is how we left Egypt and became servants of Hashem.  That Mitzvah will never be negated.

He came out strongly against the use of new-fangled Gemorahs – believing they undermined yegi’ah – working hard in Rashi and understanding the Gemorah.

Rav Dovid’s halachic practices were carefully observed.  For Pesach Matzos he was careful to draw the water  called Mayim shelanu exactly 20 minutes before sunrise.

He answered a fascinating question on the Rambam (Tumas Tzaraas 16:10).  The Rambam writes that Miriam equated Moshe Rabbeinu with the other prophets.  The question is – is this not a complete negation of the 7th of the 13 principles of faith of the Rambam – that one must believe that Moshe was the greatest of the prophets?

Rav Dovid explained that Miriam certainly believed he was the greatest.  Her error was that she incorrectly thought that he could not speak to hashem at any time.  In this matter, he was similar to the other neviim, she thought.  Rav Dovid held that in this part of the Rambam it is not considered Kefirah to maintain an incorrect perception.

He also had a good sense of humor.  He explained that if students use the expression, “sheigetz – arois fun der Beis Medrash!” – then you can tell that they are really learning.

RAV DOVID FEINSTEIN ZT”L

Reb Dovid Feinstein zt”l became the Rosh Yeshiva of Mesifta Tiferes Yerushalayim after his father, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l passed away in 1986. Even before that, he was the Rosh Kollel of the Yeshiva in Staten Island. Reb Dovid headed the Yeshiva for 34 years. Rav Moshe zt”l had said about his son that he knew the entire Shas b’al peh and b’iyun – with great depth. He also knew the shitos rishonim on every sugya and he knew it in great depth.

And while it was not so well known, almost every difficult halachic question posed in the United States that was referred elsewhere – was sent to Reb Dovid zt”l. He grasped the essence of the shailah in seconds. Often, he answered with just a few words.

Reb Dovid was once asked how hatzolah organizations should rule in regard to a dispute between the Mishna Brurah and the Aruch haShulchan. The issue is in a case of Pikuach Nefesh, a life- threatening matter, but it is not exactly an emergency – in other words there is plenty of time to deal with the situation and no one is in a state of panic or chaos. Do we attempt to minimize the Shabbos violation in such a case? Should we try to do it through a gentile, or to perform what needs to be done in a manner that only involves a Rabbinic violation?

When there is plenty of time, and there is no concern of danger of any sort if there is a delay, the Ramah rules (OC 328:12) that we do attempt to minimize the Shabbos violations. While the other view (that of the Bais Yoseph and the Rambam 2:11) is that no minimization is required, Ashkenazic Jewry has followed the custom that we do minimize Shabbos violation when no delay or confusion will be incurred on account of the minimization. This is the view of the Raavya cited in the Ohr Zaruah, the Shiltei Gibborim, and the Maggid Mishna (Hilchos Shabbos 2:11 citing the Ramban) and is cited by the Ramah as the authoritative halacha. This also seems to be how the Mishna Brurah rules. The Aruch HaShulchan adopts the Beis Yoseph’s view.

Reb Dovid answered that the question cannot be answered across the board – each Posaik of each hatzolah should pasken in accordance with his community. However, Reb Dovid stated that he himself would pasken like the Aruch HaShulchan.

Years ago, the community in Kew Gardens had lost a precious gem – who had left a wonderful family.  The doctors had made an enormous mistake, and had they caught that mistake earlier, medical science said that he probably would have survived.  The community Askanim had taken upon itself to raise an enormous sum for the well-being of the family.  But first they needed to know whether a lawsuit should be brought.  The doctors who had failed would not have had to pay, it would have been the insurance company.  Reb Dovid did not answer affirmatively.  The askanim at first did not understand.  But then they slowly realized that this was how Reb Dovid zt”l often paskened.  Instead, they raised the money.

Reb Dovid went through Shas several times. As he learned through it, he kept a notebook and wrote down his insights and chiddushim. A few years ago, this author drove the Rosh Yeshiva upstate to a meeting. Noticing that the Rosh Yeshiva was up to Kesuvos daf nun gimel, I asked the parameters of a fascinating Gemorah on the previous page. The Gemorah dealt with the propriety of providing assistance to one side in a dispute.

Rav Yochanan once had relatives that he had advised in a dispute. After he did so, he regretted it. The Gemorah asked what his rationale for doing it in the first place was and why he changed his mind. The Gemorah seems to provide three fundamental concepts:

The first is that, generally speaking, one should avoid taking sides in a dispute. Doing so is a violation of “asinu atzmeinu k’orchei hadayanim.”

The second concept is that when it comes to family, one should actively advocate for your own flesh and blood.

The third concept is that regarding an illustrious Torah scholar – the idea of actively advocating for one’s own flesh and blood must be set aside.

What were the parameters were for the second concept? How far is “one’s own flesh and blood?” Does it include friends? Does it include a lantzman or a helping the same gender?

The Rosh Yeshiva answered that the precise parameters here only refer to relatives. Which relatives? He answered the ones that you feel close to – those that you would invite to your child’s wedding.

Why is it different for an illustrious Torah scholar? Why can he not take sides? Reb Dovid gave two responses. Firstly, people may be unaware that he is related to that one side and see a great man taking sides in a dispute. He referenced a Rashi to that effect. A second explanation he gave was that it was unfair. People would see the great Torah scholar being involved in one side and help that position along.

One Rosh Hashana, a man had asked Reb Dovid whether his wife could use his office to nurse the baby.  Reb Dovid delayed the shofar davening to ensure that the woman was ready, since she had come to hear the shofar.

Another time, a man had asked a number of Gedolim and famous personalities the following question:  If you had a choice to invite any of three people throughout history to your Shabbos table – who would it be?  Some answered the avos, others answered Dovid HaMelech, Rav Chaim Oizer and another Gadol.  Rav Dovid answered simply, “three aniyim.”

Once a Ger posed the following question: his biological father passed away and his brothers wanted to cremate the body. Is the soul of a gentile negatively affected by cremation? Should he argue with his brothers? Reb Dovid responded that it is, in fact, negatively affected and that he should use as much influence as possible to stop the cremation.

Someone with a daughter named Shira had asked him about Reb Chaim Kanievsky shlita’s position that “Shira” is not a name and that girls named “Shira” should adopt a different name. He answered that he would never publicly dispute with such a Gadol baTorah – but that he had never understood it. He then brought four instant proofs that it would be permitted.

A few years ago, Reb Dovid issued a psak that Rav Moshe’s ruling on smoking not being technically forbidden was only valid based upon the limited scientific knowledge available at the time. However, he explained, that he would certainly rule that in modern times it would be absolutely forbidden. The psak was promulgated by Rabbi Boruch Moskowitz, author of two seforim, veDibarta Bam, that discusses in-depth-sugyas upon which Reb Dovid zt”l ruled upon.

Reb Dovid was not just a brilliant Posaik and Talmudic scholar. He was extremely careful in matters of respecting others and never embarrassing another person.  He was concerned about the kavod of others to a remarkable degree.  Reb Dovid also combined his remarkable knowledge and erudition with an abiding sense of humility and strong degree of, well, utter simplicity.

The Yeshiva building in MTJ is old, reminiscent of the buildings that have not been upgraded since the 1930’s. The Yeshiva had a soda machine that no one was refilling. As his active chessed Reb Dovid took it upon himself to refill the soda machine with sodas each night – so that the bochurim would have access to something to drink. Eventually, the yeshiva realized that the Gadol haDor should not be the one to be refilling the sodas.

Once, out of town parents were driving their daughter to Camp Hedvah in Liberty, New York. They needed to get to the FDR, and saw a Jewish man on the street. They asked him directions to the onramp. He explained that it was somewhat complicated, but he could get in the car and direct them. That man did and then prepared to leave. The parents asked him what his name was, he replied, “Dovid Feinstein.” They did not realize that they were in the presence of the Rosh Yeshiva himself.

The Rosh yeshiva was very close to the members of the Jewish community in the Lower East Side. He made sure to attend their simchos whenever it was possible. One could always meet him at such a wedding, and this practice inspired many Rabbonim to do likewise. If Reb Dovid attends such simchas – how can others not do so?

These stories reflect upon the Rosh yeshiva unassuming nature.

The Rosh Yeshiva also had a sense of humor. Once a videographer at a wedding asked the Rosh yeshiva for a bracha for the Chosson and Kallah. The Rosh Yeshiva responded, that he would gladly do so and that he could leave out the particular names of the Chosson and Kallah so that the videographer could reuse the footage for future weddings.

Reb Dovid did not speak publicly and had a reputation of having a quiet personality. He gave shiurim, but never publicly addressed large forums. Yet, when it was necessary, he rose to the occasion.

Once, while Rav Moshe zt”l was alive, there was an emergency Chinuch Atzmai meeting. Rav Moshe was ill, and could not attend the meeting. Reb Dovid attended in his stead. Apparently, Chinuch Atzmai was undergoing a severe financial crisis. There was a deficit of some two million dollars – a large sum in the early 1980’s.

Reb Dovid knew what to do. He remarked, “There are twenty of us here. If each of us is mekable to take achrayus for raising $100,000 – the problem will be resolved. I will begin and take upon myself to raise my $100,000.”

When someone related what had transpired to his father, Rav Moshe, the latter responded, “That’s not my Dovid’l.” But, when necessary, Reb Dovid knew what needed to be done. He stood up for the needs of Klal Yisroel.

THE THREE PREVIOUS SHEPHERDS

Immediately before the holocaust, Rav Shimon Shkop zt”l had passed away on October 22nd, 1939.  Twenty six days later, on November 17th, 1939, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz passed away.  According to Rav Chaim Avrohom Pincus (Mashgiach in Yeshiva Torah VaDaas and Mir Talmid in Europe) and Rav Yonah Bromberg, upon hearing of Rav Boruch Ber’s passing, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky remarked, “Now that Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Boruch Ber are gone, the Ameilus baTorah that has protected the generation is also gone.  I am worried that the way now will be open for the accursed Germans.”   On August 9th, 1940, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky zt”l himself passed away.  Three shepherds of Klal Yisroel had died.

Six days later, Adolf Eichmann y”s sets into motion a plan to murder the Jews of Europe.   On the other hand, the Gemorah in Moed Kotton 28a states:  “Why is the death of Miriam placed next to the laws of the Parah Adumah? This teaches that just as the Parah Adumah brings atonement, so too, the death of the righteous brings atonement.”

How does this work?  Because stories of their midos, Mitzvos, learning, and harbotzas haTorah inspire us to follow their paths.  May this be the outcome of our huge loss rather than the other alternative envisioned by Rav Chaim Ozer.

We must also point out the tremendous loss of Rav Avrohom Twersky zt”l – a remarkable individual who inspired thousands in their yiddishkeit, who helped save the lives of thousands, and who was mechadesh remarkable insights in kochos haNefesh.

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