“Torah Vodaas and Lubavitch” (234 pp., Jewish Enrichment Press, September 2019) is an impeccably researched, masterfully written literary work that continues Rabbi Chaim Dalfin’s study of Jewish personalities and movements that have impacted the global Jewish community in various ways. Following years of research, Rabbi Dalfin, the author of over 60 books, including Rav and Rebbe, Satmar and Lubavitch, and Lakewood and Lubavitch, has published another bestseller. He looks at two illustrious and dynamic Torah movements in the United States, Chabad-Lubavitch and Torah Vodaas, and examines the relationship between them. This book provides a detailed documented presentation of facts, not fiction, for the purpose of showing how far the two groups have come in uniting.
Committed to honoring the truths of history, the author has crafted an excellent book that is erudite and fascinating, comprehensive in scope, yet compelling. Drawing on his vast knowledge, he brings to the attention of layman and scholar alike many personal stories and historical facts that speak for themselves. Released in conjunction with the centennial of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas (1919–2019), the volume explores the connection between the illustrious yeshiva and Lubavitch.
Torah Vodaas and Lubavitch makes a unique contribution to this ongoing analysis. Much of what Torah Vodaas has become today, and its place in the world of great yeshivas, is due to the vision of its former dean, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz. His roshei yeshiva and staff, including Rabbis Yisroel Belsky, Nosson Eliyahu Gertzulin, Reuven Grozovsky, Shlomo Heiman, Yakov Kuselewitz, Dovid Lebowitz, Alexander Linchner, Nesanel Quinn, Moshe Dovber Rivkin, and Gedalia Schorr, among others, helped in the implementation of the dean’s vision. Reb Shraga Feivel assumed his leadership role in 1923, when Torah Vodaas was yet a fledgling institution. He almost singlehandedly made it thrive.
“The importance of Torah Vodaas, however, is more than merely quantitative; generally, its alumni and students are identifiable by their good nature and non-combativeness,” Rabbi Dalfin opines. “Reb Shraga Feivel came from Hungarian Chassidic stock, and this impacted his students. Because his primary goal was to educate American boys in Torah, devoid of any pretensions, even after his 1948 passing, the yeshiva continued to mold such students.”
Included in the above vision of Rabbi Mendlowitz was that Torah Vodaas would develop students who would respect, live, and emulate Chassidic Judaism. And because this was at Rabbi Mendlowitz’s heart, although he hired Litvish roshei yeshiva, the true ruach ha’chaim of the yeshiva was Chasidic staff such as himself and Rabbis Rivkin, Schorr, Moshe Wolfson, and Leibel Williger. They are not an adjunct to the yeshiva; rather, they are the yeshiva.
This, states Rabbi Dalfin, can be compared and contrasted with the Lubavitcher yeshiva, Tomchei Temimim, originally founded in Byelorussia in 1897, and reestablished in Brooklyn in 1940 by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (“Raayatz,” 1880–1950). Its mode of operation was and is different from Torah Vodaas in that even its roshei yeshiva were, for the most part, Chabad Chassidim. Moreover, Rabbi Dalfin explains in his introduction, “The ethos of the yeshiva was, by and large, by design of its founder, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Sholom Dovber Schneerson (“Rashab,” 1860–1920), to be conveyed through its mashpi’im, its spiritual guides.”
He continues, “This premise will be proven throughout this book. It is a central theme that will be appreciated only by reading and studying the material carefully.”
Rich in historical documentation, the book presents fascinating firsthand accounts of the ongoing relationship between the two distinguished citadels of Torah — Torah Vodaas and Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch. “They are not only yeshivos, but movements, each with an ethos, character, leadership, and set of opinions,” the author explains, as exemplified in the following event:
In 1957, on the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shlomo Heiman, a distinguished Torah Vodaas rosh yeshiva, the entire student body was addressed by Rabbi Shmuel Kuselewitz. Rabbi Kuselewitz opened with the Talmudic statement that the Torah is preserved only by one who sacrifices his life for it, meaning that an individual must be ready to give everything he owns for Torah — everything — and not hold anything back.
Captivated, the students listened as he continued, “I am going to tell you about somebody who did just that … right here in this building where we are gathered today. It happened in the war years, ’42, ’43, or even ’44.
“At that time, Torah Vodaas was in trouble. They owed a lot of money to the bank, and the bank called in the loan. The yeshiva could not pay. The bank went to court and got a judgment that, if the loan was not paid in full, it would foreclose and take all the buildings away from Torah Vodaas. The yeshiva’s financial officer … tried everything he knew to remedy the situation. He placed appeals in newspapers, but very little came in, and the deadline was approaching. And then one day, he gets a telephone call from the office of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (Raayatz), asking him how much money he had managed to raise. Now, he knew that Lubavitch had its own hardships, so he expected no help from the Rebbe. He thought, ‘The Rebbe cannot manage his own. How is he going to help me?’
“But a few days later, a Chabad chassid walks through the door with an envelope in his hand and says, ‘This is from the Rebbe,’ The man is stunned. He is speechless. And then the chassid says, ‘The Rebbe asked that before I give you this envelope, I advise you of some facts. When he was in Russia, he had to fight against the strongest country in the world so that the Torah not be extinguished. The biggest tyrant in the world was Joseph Stalin, and the Rebbe paid him no attention. Whoever needed help in order to strengthen Torah, he helped (them). He never asked if it was Chabad or not. Whatever was needed — a mikveh, a kosher butcher, a teacher — he tried to supply it, He did whatever he could so the light of Torah would not be extinguished. And now Divine Providence has brought him to the United States of America where there is freedom of religion and he is pained to learn that a major yeshiva of students is going to be closed down. Not because Stalin in Russia wants to get rid of Judaism, but because the Jews in America don’t care. He is willing to put his own movement in danger because he also has debts to repay — but he is giving you a check for the whole amount you need, in order that the Torah not be extinguished …’”
Rabbi Kuselewitz concluded: “The Torah is preserved only by one who gives his life for it. And that is what the Rebbe did! When the Rebbe got off the boat in America…he was half paralyzed by the tortures he endured in Stalinist Russia. Then he lost his yeshiva in Poland to the Nazis. And since he arrived here, he has had to deal with a lot of hardships and opposition…Find me someone like that, who is willing to put everything on the line for no personal gain. The check he sent to Torah Vodaas put his own movement in serious debt and in grave danger. But, thank G-d, Torah Vodaas made sure it was repaid quickly. So the Rebbe got his money back, but when he gave it, he could not have been sure that would happen. That’s real self-sacrifice.”
This monumental work features extensive notes, which are not merely an adjunct to the book but serve as a complementary source for better understanding the text. Additionally, Torah Vodaas and Lubavitch includes a first-ever letter published from Rabbi Moshe Wolfson, the mashgiach of Torah Vodaas, to the Rebbe, regarding two of Rabbi Wolfson’s top students leaving Torah Vodaas to attend the Lubavitcher yeshiva, Tomchei Temimim.
Featured as well are unique photographs and documents from Rabbi Shmuel Kuselewitz, the former masmich, who gave rabbinic ordination at Torah Vodaas from the 1940s to 1960s. A partial of his will is included, showing he left money to Lubavitch. Finally, the book mentions over 100 students who learned either in Torah Vodaas, Lubavitch, or both from 1919 to 2019.
Elegantly written and meticulously researched, Torah Vodaas and Lubavitch is truly a literary treasure; a book that belongs in every Jewish home and library. It is available at fine Judaica stores. For further information, please contact email@example.com or visit JewishInfo.org.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.