Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
On Sunday evening, June 21, thousands of Orthodox Jews converged on the cavernous Palace Hall in Brooklyn to joyously celebrate the almost 96 years of Torah being taught and blooming in America. Amongst the impressive number of growing citadels of Torah learning today, Yeshiva Torah Vodaath towers with its long and distinguished history.
Honoring The Worthy
The evening was dedicated to honoring the yeshiva’s lay leadership of the last two and half decades and creating the setting for expansion and the passing the torch. Chaim Leshkowitz, Shiya Hollander, and Rabbi Gedalia Weinberger are the pillars of the yeshiva as well as pillars of the observant Jewish community. Each serves in multiple roles as captains of our most important organizations. Their leadership contributions are inestimable. Each is available community-wide, and called upon 24/7, for matters small and large. However, each breathes the oxygen of the yeshiva. They are the executive committee of the yeshiva and, wherever they are, convene daily–in person or by phone to surmount the challenges thrust upon the yeshiva. The greater Torah Vodaath community felt profoundly privileged to honor these three selfless founts of chesed and partisans of Torah. Their individual sources of strength, their noble wives, n’shei chayil, too, were honored.
Looking Back 25 Years
And 50 Years
The graduating classes of 1965 and 1990 were celebrated in their 50th year and 25th year tribute, respectively. Rabbi Yoel Ehrenreich, son of Rabbi Eliezer Ehrenreich, zt’l (d. 2013), Mahder Rav, and Rabbi Shmuel Glassman, yeshiva turbo-activists, led their class recognitions and honors. The members of the graduating classes that are no longer with us were remembered. Rabbi Ely Brudny, roshyeshiva Mir Brooklyn, a member of the 1965 class, was the evening’s guest speaker.
The acquisition of a building for the yeshiva’s preschool elementary division in Marine Park was cheerfully announced, as was the dedication of the principal’s office in the name of Rabbi Moshe Lonner, zt’l (d. 1995), the previous secular-studies principal. Presently, R’Â Chaim Schilit serves as the principal of secular studies.
Eight post-semichah students who dedicated the past six years to the study of Choshen Mishpat, Jewish jurisprudence, were ordained with Yadin Yadin, qualifying them to be judges for Klal Yisrael. Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, nursing-home magnate in California and son-in-law of Rabbi Belsky, expounded on the concept of sameach b’chelko, being content with what one has, casually mentioned that he is donating $1,000,000 to the yeshiva.
In September 1918, the yeshiva was founded by a small group of dedicated, observant immigrant parents, led by Reb Binyamin Wilhelm, zt’l (1886—1974), who strongly yearned for true Torah education for their children in their new host country. The United States was a haven to the industrious, pioneering immigrants, offering every liberty and opportunity except that of a Torah education. The parent group intensely desired that their sons have the same opportunity to mature in traditional Torah learning as their counterparts in their old European hometowns and shtetls. The name Torah Vodaath recalls the yeshiva founded in 1896 in Lida, Poland, by Rabbi Yitzchak Yaacov Reines, zt’l (1839—1915), which was unique in that it combined secular studies with Jewish studies and traditional intensive Talmud study. The opening class comprised twenty students. Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt’l (1886—1948), joining in 1920, served as the yeshiva’s first menahel and, to this very day, serves as its guiding spirit of growth.
As Jewish immigration continued, Rabbi Shraga Feivel worked ever harder. The yeshiva quickly outgrew its temporary home at a small shul on Keap Street in Williamsburg. Other short-term housing options were also quickly outgrown until a new building was erected at 206 Wilson Street. Since then, the yeshiva has grown considerably. It now effectively occupies a campus on East Ninth Street in the Kensington area of Flatbush, a beismidrash facility in Monsey, an elementary-school division in Marine Park, and two summer camps serving a student body–from nursery to post-graduate kollel–in excess of 2,000 students, kein yirbu.
The yeshiva has had a profound effect on American Jewry. Its alumni continue to be found in every facet of observant religious life, as spiritual leaders of congregations, as teachers in yeshivas, and as officers of religious organizations. Alumni are found in the leadership of almost every observant Jewish organization in America.
Other alumni are pious businessmen and professionals, fully participating, contributing members of the larger Jewish community. Some have also served and continue to serve as political statesman, enhancing the settings for all yeshivas and for Jews throughout the world. The predisposition to serve all of KlalYisrael is directly attributable to Rabbi Shraga Feivel’s driving leadership. That dynamic permeates to this very day.
The succession of roshei yeshiva that have contributed to YTV’s Torah glory, an ongoing golden chain of tradition, were, in order of their association with YTV (note that some joined at the age of 12 and remained for the rest of their lives): 1920: Rabbi Uri Meir Kahanow, zt’l (1885—1960); Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt’l (1886—1948), menahel; 1922: Rabbi Nesanel Quinn, zt’l (1910—2007); 1926: Rabbi Dovid Lebowitz, zt’l (1889—1941), first roshyeshiva; 1933: Rabbi Yaakov Kantrowitz, zt’l (d. 1945), second roshyeshiva; 1930: Rabbi Moshe Dov Ber Rivkin, zt’l (1895—1976); 1931: Rabbi Nosson Eliyahu Gertzulin, zt’l (1919—2005); 1931: Rabbi Gedalia Schorr, zt’l (1910—1979); 1935: Rabbi Shlomo Heiman, zt’l (1892—1945); 1938: Rabbi Mordechai Wulliger, zt’l (1895—1995); 1939: Rabbi Moshe Steinmetz (1912—2009), zt’l; 1939: Rabbi Avrohom Pam, zt’l (1913—2001); 1939: Rabbi Elazar Kahanow, zt’l (1917—2002); 1941: Rabbi Aaron Yeshaya Shapiro, zt’l (1910—1981); 1941: Rabbi Simcha Sheps, zt’l (1908—1999); 1944: Rabbi Reuven Grozovsky, zt’l (1896—1956); 1945: Rabbi Elya Chazan, zt’l (1908—1982); 1945: Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt’l (1891—1986); 1946: Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Yoel Traube, zt’l (1918—2008); 1949: Rabbi Asher Katzman, zt’l (1916—2004); Rabbi Moshe Rosen, zt’l (d. 1957); Rabbi Shmuel Kushelevitz, zt’l (d. 1963); Rabbi Elya Moshe Shisgal, zt’l (d. 1973); 1982: Rabbi Reuven Fain, zt’l (1924—1993); and Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Waintraub, zt’l. They were all preeminent rosheiyeshiva whose names reverberate throughout the entire world whenever mentioned. Many authored important sefarim that are to be found today on the shtenders of rosheiyeshiva and students of yeshivas around the world.
They were the predecessors to and colleagues of Rabbi Chaim Yisroel Belsky (grandson of Reb Binyamin Wilhelm), Rabbi Elya Katz, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Rabbi Yosef Savitsky, Rabbi Yitzchok Sekula, and Rabbi Moshe Wolfson, princely names (in alphabetic order) of today’s rosheiyeshiva of YTV. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.