יום רביעי כ' באב תשפ"ב 17/08/2022
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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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Reflections

Yeshivas ‘Shaar haTorah – Grodno’

Yeshivas ‘Shaar haTorah’ existed in the city Grodno for a relatively short period of twenty years, but in that time succeeded in leaving its indelible mark on the Yeshiva world. The methods of Torah study used in Grodno have been adopted in many of the Litvishe Yeshivos of today

Motty Meringer 27/10/2009 10:32
The city Grodno (Hrodno), standing peacefully on the banks of the Neiman River near the border between Poland and Lithuania, was home to a vibrant Jewish community for hundreds of years. Famous Rabbanim served there over the years, amongst them the Gaon Rav Nosson Shapira Ashkenazi zt’l, author of the ‘Mevo Shearim’, and the Gaon Rav Mordechai Yaffe zt’l (the ‘Baal haLevushim’) who erected a large Shul in the city. Another saintly personality who graced the city with his presence was the Gaon Rav Nachumke of Horodna, the Rebbe of Rav Yisrael Meir haCohen of Radin zt’l, the Chafetz Chaim.

In the difficult years of the First World War, a time when many Yeshivos were uprooted and the sound of Torah diminished from the streets of Europe, scores of Yeshiva students wandered from city to city as they tried to escape the fearsome battlefields. The city of Grodno, situated as it was at a crossroads, served as a way-station for many of these young students on their perilous flight deep into the Russian continent. At one point during the war, the German army conquered Grodno and closed off the eastern avenue of escape. As such a large group of elite Yeshiva students were forced to stay in Grodno for the duration of the war, abandoning their escape plans in face of the German occupation.

For these Yeshiva students, Torah was their life and the essence of their being, and they were not about to let the war divert their attention from their studies no matter how isolated they were. When they realized that their stay in Grodno was to be lengthy, they decided to establish a Yeshiva where they could study together until the storm passed. So it was, the students set up a Yeshiva in the local Beis haMedrash ‘Yesod v’Shoresh ha’Avoda’. The Jewish community in Grodno accepted the new Yeshiva graciously, and the presidents of the town in fact formed a committee to help the Yeshiva with its various needs. Amongst the noted members of the committee was Rav Reuven Soleveitchik, one of the pivotal members of the community, as well as the noted Rav Yaakov Lubitz.

Another personality who helped considerably with the needs of the Yeshiva was Rabbi Dr. Winter, a military Rabbi in the German army that had occupied the city. Rabbi Winter made use of his ties with Germany to acquire assistance for the fledgling Yeshiva, obtaining funds from the German Jewish relief organisation ‘Ezrah’. This financial support assisted the Yeshiva greatly.

One of the first Rabbanim to lead the Yeshiva was the Gaon Rav Alter Shmulevitz, son in law of the famed Rav Yosef Yozel Horowitz, founder of Novardhok. Rav Alter lived in those days in Grodno, and answered the request of the Yeshiva to serve as a Maggid Shiur in the Yeshiva. A short while after the Yeshiva was founded, Rav Yosef Leib Nandik was called upon to serve as Mashgiach in the Yeshiva. He had originally been the Mashgiach for many years in the Yeshiva in Radin.

At the close of the First World War, the city Grodno was part of Polish territory. The situation of the Yeshiva then was dire; the German ‘Ezrah’ organisation ceased providing support as it was hard hit during the German defeat. The students began to taste the acrid bitterness of real hunger. Appeal letters were sent by the committee to America with desperate requests for assistance in sustaining the sole lighthouse of Torah in the entire Lithuania – Yeshivas Grodno. At the helm of the committee stood a young student by name of Reb Yosef Bigun hy’d, who decided to take upon himself a role in the financial sustenance of the Yeshiva. Reb Yosef took to the roads and plodded through villages and towns to plead for help and support from Jews whose love of Torah was great, and they opened up their hearts and purses for the sake of the Yeshiva.

A short while after the end of the war Rav Alter Shmulevitz returned to his city Shatzutzin, and the Yeshiva remained with no mentor to guide the students. The Yeshiva’s committee was dismayed at the inevitable spiritual decline of the Yeshiva, and they began to search for a new Rosh Yeshiva. At the advice of Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zt’l, they turned their sights on the great Rosh Yeshiva of the generation, the Gaon Rav Shimon Shkopp zt’l.

Rav Shimon Shkopp began his career of disseminating Torah in Yeshivas Telz, when he was merely 24 years of age. The Rosh Yeshiva of Telz, Rav Eliezer Gordon zt’l had his eyes on the young genius and appointed him as Maggid Shiur in his Yeshiva. Rav Shimon’s name quickly grew famous in the Yeshiva world as a teacher of new methods of Torah study, which with time would be adopted in many Yeshivos. After Telz, Rav Shimon moved to Moltash to teach in the Yeshiva there, and during the years of the First World War he lived in Bransk, where his soul was bound up with the members of the community there. An impressive delegation headed by Rav Yosef Leib Nandik, spiritual leader of the Yeshiva in Grodno, left for the city of Vilna where Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski lived, to plead their cause.

In Vilna a conference was held to decide about the future of the Yeshiva world, which had declined alarmingly in the course of the Great War. A description of this gathering was recorded by an eye witness who was present: “They gathered then in Vilna the leaders and shepherds of the people, to garner ideas as to how to rebuild the shattered lives of the people. It was then that the fearsome devastation of the Yeshivos was revealed. Not [just] one day and one night did they discuss the issue with heavy hearts. They had a wonderful plan of founding a large central Yeshiva that would concentrate within the exemplary students, which would serve as the central pole for the other Yeshivos which needed to be established or strengthened. The resources for the implementation of this plan they had already found – for who is the man whom they trusted fully that he would fulfil the task to its completion? All raised their eyes towards one man, to you – the ‘high priest’, to you – the prince of Torah and leader of the nation… our eyes are lifted at this hour, in your hands the responsible mission is entrusted, to accept the position as Rosh Yeshiva in the Yeshiva of Grodno, and to transform it into a sublime Torah kingdom.”

Rav Shimon answered their request, though not with a light heart. In his words of parting to the community of Bransk, he said: ‘…It is not in order to improve my personal lot that I decided to leave you, G-d forbid, only to answer the call for help of leaders of the generation to save the Torah which is now in great danger of being forgotten altogether. They turned their eyes to me and deposited the mission on my shoulders, and I am not a free person anymore…”

Rav Shimon did however stipulate one condition to Rav Chaim Ozer, before agreeing to take on the awesome mission. He declared that he would only be able to invest all his efforts in disseminating Torah if he were not thrust with the financial responsibilities of the Yeshiva too. Rav Chaim Ozer agreed, and accepted the responsibility to care for the financial maintenance of the Yeshiva.

In the year 5680 (1920) a new light began to shine in Grodno, with the arrival of Rav Shimon Shkopp in the city. It was an event that was to signal the beginning of a glorious era for the Yeshiva. Rav Shimon began to disseminate Torah in the Yeshiva ‘Shaar haTorah’ as throngs of students gathered in his shelter, and drew words of Torah and wisdom from his mouth. They delved into his words and dug into the passages of the Gemara and the Rishonim, until they clarified each nuance and uncovered the truth in its full glory, clear and radiant like a scrap of gold as it leaves the melting pot.

Not a full year had gone by with the Yeshiva at its fullest strength, when war broke out once again between Poland and Russia. The Russians conquered scores of cities sowing mayhem in all directions, and refugees arriving in Grodno from the east told of atrocities and carnage that could barely be imagined. As the front reached the city of Grodno, the students of the Yeshiva fled for their lives whilst the central group of the Yeshiva escaped with the spiritual mentor of the Yeshiva – Rav Yosef Leib, to the city Ponevezh. In Grodno itself only a small handful of students remained, guarding the glowing coal of the Yeshiva together with the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Shimon, who himself could not escape due to his ill health.

During the summer months of 5680 (1920) the Russians conquered the city Grodno, and the gates of the Yeshiva closed. But it was only for a short period of time that the sound of Torah was stilled in Grodno, because towards the end of the summer 5681 (1920) the Poles re-captured the city and the students of the Yeshiva gathered in the home of their teacher to decide how to proceed. A messenger was sent to Ponevezh to summon the students back to the Yeshiva, but the roads were treacherous and only a few students returned.

Rav Shimon did not give up, nor was he about to abandon the mission that was placed on his shoulders. The Yeshiva was established anew in the Beis haMedrash ‘Alshich’ in the city. At first the study hall was empty and only a scant few students studied there, but very quickly word spread around Europe that Rav Shimon was leading the Yeshiva ‘Shaar haTorah’ in Grodno once again, and swarms of Yeshiva students streamed to Yeshiva until the study hall was filled to the rafters.

Every so often Rav Shimon was asked from where he drew the phenomenal strength to build the entire Yeshiva again from scratch, and he answered: “At the time of the Beis haMikdash, there was a Kohen who knew how to write the Divine Name with his five fingers at once, and his name was recorded for eternity in disgrace because he did not reveal his secret to others. My strengths as an educator and Rosh Yeshiva obligate me, and I am afraid to be numbered amongst those who kept their secrets to themselves.”

The Yeshiva continued to thrive, eventually numbering several hundred students. Rav Shimon’s son Rav Moshe Mordechai joined the leadership of the Yeshiva, as a Maggid Shiur. Rav Shimon delivered in-depth Shiurim of two and a half hours each, twice a week, and in addition delivered a Mussar Shmuess each Shabbos during Seuda Shlishis.

In the year 5682 (1922) a new member joined the staff of the Yeshiva as Mashgiach – Rav Shlomo Harkavi, hy’d, a student of the Gaon Rav Yerucham Lebovitz zt’l. Rav Shlomo was born in Grodno and left his hometown to learn Torah in the Yeshiva of Radin and Mir. At the advice of Rav Yerucham, he travelled to Kelm to study the teachings of Mussar as taught by Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, the ‘Sabba of Kelm’. On his return to Grodno and his appointment as Mashgiach in the Yeshiva, he divided the Yeshiva according to levels - ‘Vaadim’, to which he gave separate Mussar shmuessen according to the strengths of each Vaad. Aside from this he also delivered Shmuessen four times a week – three on Shabbos and one during the week.

Rav Shimon’s famous methods of Torah learning, alongside his lessons in Mussar, forged his students into the image of a ‘Grodno Ben-Torah’ - the symbol of what a true Ben Torah really is.

In the year 5684 (1924) Rav Shimon called his son-in-law, the Illuy of Slutzk Rav Shraga Feivel Hindes zt’l, and requested of him to serve as Maggid Shiur in the Yeshiva. He asked him also to assist in the financial running of the Yeshiva, by taking on the job of ‘financial manager’. Rav Shraga Feivel was of the elite of Yeshivas Knesses Yisrael in Slabodka, and was a close student of Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel zt’l, the ‘Sabba of Slabodka’. Rav Shraga Feivel quickly earned the adoration and reverence of the entire student body, as well as the respect of the townspeople in Grodno.

Rav Shraga Feivel lightened the load considerably from his father-in-laws shoulders, with regards to the financial maintenance of the Yeshiva. However, by the year 5689 (1929) the situation of the Yeshiva reached dire proportions, and Rav Shimon himself decided that he must travel overseas to America to collect funds for the Yeshiva. Rav Shimon remained in America for an entire year, during which he indeed succeeded in enlisting the aid of many good Jews and amassing a considerable sum for the Yeshiva. Whilst there, Rav Shimon was asked to step in as the head of Yeshivas Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan in New York. Rav Shimon was undecided as to whether to accept, and sent a letter to Grodno regarding the issue. Whilst he waited for a response to his letter, he began delivering lectures in the Yeshiva. In Grodno they received the letter amid great dismay and shock; they immediately turned to the holy Chafetz Chaim and Rav Chaim Ozer for help, who in turn requested from Rav Shimon that he return in due haste to Grodno since the Yeshiva world in Lithuania cannot exist without him. Rav Shimon received the response from Europe and returned to Grodno. For two years the Yeshiva subsisted on the funds that Rav Shimon had collected in America, and in 5691 (1931) Rav Shimon travelled to England to enlist additional support for the Yeshiva.

On the 13th of Av 5697 (1937) after a short illness, Rav Shraga Feivel Hindes passed away and his son Reb Yeshaya hy’d began to assist his grandfather Rav Shimon with the running of the Yeshiva. At that point the Yeshiva had expanded considerably, with a group of students from America joining the thousands of students in Grodno. This blissful period, during which the Yeshiva was at its pinnacle of greatness, was also the ominous interlude preceding the outbreak of World War II, during which the Nazi beast would set its fangs on the Jewish communities in Europe and drown the glorious world of European Jewry in an ocean of blood, fire and smoke.

During the days between Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur in the year 5700 (1939), the Red Army captured Grodno and the Yeshiva students escaped towards Vilna together with the Mashgiach, Rav Shlomo Harkavi. Rav Shimon himself remained in Grodno since his advanced age did not allow him to undertake the rigors of travel. A handful of students remained at his side, refusing to leave their great teacher.

It was difficult for Rav Shimon to depart from his students, and about a month after the Yeshiva left Grodno, on the 9th of Mar Cheshvan 5700 (1939), Rav Shimon stood in his room to daven Mincha, and whilst praying the Amida his lofty soul left him, in holiness and purity.

Rav Shimon’s son, Rav Moshe, left Grodno after the passing of his father, and escaped over the border into Vilna where the rest of the Yeshiva had settled. Under difficult conditions the Yeshiva continued to function, in one of the large study halls of Vilna. As the sword spewed havoc outside, the sweet sounds of Torah were heard within. Students from other Yeshivos converged into Vilna, as countless Yeshivos closed its doors in fear of the approaching war and its students wandered aimlessly through Europe. Until the bitter end when the Nazis themselves entered Vilna, the students continued to learn Torah without pause.  It was the summer of 5741 (1941) when the Nazis finally occupied Vilna, and they raised their murderous hands against the holy martyrs. Amongst the first to be killed in Vilna was the Mashgiach of the Yeshiva, the holy Rav Shlomo Harkavi, together with a large majority of the Yeshiva – May Hashem avenge their blood.

A few lone survivors of the Yeshiva succeeded in escaping the sword of the Nazis, amongst them Rav Moshe Mordechai Shkopp, son of Rav Shimon, who escaped to America a number of weeks before the Nazis entered Vilna.

Alas the sword fell on the great Yeshiva ‘Shaar haTorah – Grodno’, and it is no more. In Eretz Yisrael Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh, established the Grodno Yeshiva in Ashdod - a memorial to the illustrious Yeshivas Shaar haTorah that glorified Europe years before. From this Yeshiva another Yeshiva was founded: Yeshivas Grodno – Be’er Yaakov. Together these two great Yeshivos fill the benches of the study halls and perpetuate the memory of Yeshivas Shaar haTorah, in keeping with the eternal promise: “So that it shall not be forgotten from the mouths of their descendents”.