By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Within a period of 72 days, three outstanding roshei yeshiva, remarkable Torah giants, were taken from Klal Yisrael. Rav Yitzchok Scheiner zt’l: late Sunday morning, January 31; Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, zt’l: early Sunday morning, January 31; Rav Dovid Feinstein, zt’l: November 20.
One cannot but help correlate the loss to the verse in Zechariah 11:8: “And I cut off the three shepherds…” The Gemara in Ta’anis (9a) references this verse to the loss of Miriam, Aharon, and Moshe.
It has been said that such catastrophe can be a threefold atonement for the generation, or it can portend imminent disaster. Regardless, it behooves us to further understand who they were and what we have lost.
Rav Yitzchok Scheiner, zt’l
A 1938 class list from Peabody High School in Pennsylvania 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 most of those students, we do not know. But let’s go back to that list, 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 HaTorah in Eretz Yisrael, and 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 the 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 Vodaas. Rav Scheiner then studied 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 doing an action?
In 1949, shortly after his brother-in-law, Rav Moshe Bernstein, established the Kamenetz Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael, Rav Reuvain Grozovsky (Rav Boruch Ber’s son-in-law) sent his talmid Rav Scheiner to Rav Moshe Bernstein, with the instructions: “Take this bachur as your son-in-law.” Rav Bernstein did. Seven years later, after Rav Bernstein passed away, Rav Scheiner and his brother-in-law, Rav Asher Lichtenstein, became 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 1960s.
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 21, 1921, to Rav Velvel Soloveitchik in the city of Brisk. This was three years after Rav Chaim Soloveitchik had passed away. Rav Dovid 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 1970s, 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 modestly on Rechov Amos in Geulah. Anyone who walked by would hear him reciting Tehillim loudly, in 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 Rav Dovid to a chasunah. He recalled how Rav Dovid asked him to pull over so that he can say Tefillas HaDerech properly—while standing up and being able to concentrate fully. He did not hold of eiruvin that did not accord with the Rambam’s view and also did not hold that a tallis katan is a true beged.
He explained his grandfather’s explanation of the future of the remembering and recounting of Yetzias Mitzrayim. In Messianic times there will be such great miracles that the previous yomim tovim will be negated. Rav Chaim explained that zecher 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 Gemaras, believing they undermined yegi’ah, working hard in Rashi and understanding the Gemara.
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 Tzara’as 16:10). The Rambam writes that Miriam equated Moshe Rabbeinu with the other prophets. 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 nevi’im, 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. Before that, he was the rosh kollel of the Yeshiva in Staten Island. Rav Dovid headed the Yeshiva for 34 years. Rav Moshe, zt’l, had said about his son that he knew the entire Shas ba’al peh and b’iyun, with great depth. He also knew the shitos Rishonim on every sugya 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 Rav Dovid, zt’l. He grasped the essence of the she’eilah in seconds. Often, he answered with just a few words.
Years ago, the community in Kew Gardens lost a precious gem who left behind 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 themselves 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. Rav Dovid did not answer affirmatively. The askanim at first did not understand. But then they slowly realized that this was how Rav Dovid, zt’l, often paskened. Instead, they raised the money.
One Rosh Hashanah, a man had asked Rav Dovid if his wife could use Rav Dovid’s office to nurse their baby. Reb Dovid delayed the shofar blowing to ensure that the woman was ready, since she had come to hear the shofar.
Rav Dovid was not just a brilliant posek 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. Rav Dovid also combined his remarkable knowledge and erudition with an abiding sense of humility and strong degree of utter simplicity.
[For other enlightening anecdotes about Rav Dovid, zt’l, please see Rabbi Hoffman’s tribute article, “Naflah Ateres Rosheinu: Rav Dovid Feinstein, zt’l” in the November 13, 2020 issue of the 5TJT.]
The Three Previous Shepherds
Immediately before the Holocaust, Rav Shimon Shkop, zt’l, passed away on October 22, 1939. Twenty-six days later, on November 17, 1939, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz passed away. According to Rav Chaim Avrohom Pincus (Mashgiach in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas 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 9, 1940, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, zt’l, himself passed away. Three shepherds of Klal Yisrael had died.
Six days later, Adolf Eichmann, yemach sh’mo, set into motion a plan to murder the Jews of Europe. On the other hand, the Gemara in Moed Katan (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 middos, mitzvos, and learning inspire us to follow their paths. May this be the outcome of our huge loss.
This article is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice or as a halachic psak. Readers are advised to consult their own physician and rav for guidance.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.