A Reason to Remember
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the yahrzeit of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, arguably the most famous of YU roshei yeshiva. To commemorate the yahrzeit there were lectures given about his character as well as shiurim about his Torah. Last summer also marked the 25th anniversary of Rabbi Dovid Lifshitz, another former rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. During one of the speeches commemorating Rabbi Soloveitchik’s yahrzeit, one of the roshei yeshiva mentioned that “Rabbi Soloveitchik was such a powerful figure that other greats of the generation were overshadowed and had Rabbi Lifshitz been anywhere other than YU at the time he would have been a superstar.”
Rabbi Lifshitz was appointed as a rosh yeshiva in 1944 and served in that position until he passed away in 1993. He was a leader in Agudath Israel and headed the Ezras Torah. Rabbi Lifshitz lived in Washington Heights and was noted to be in YU seven days a week. Even today, many students have no idea who Rabbi Lifshitz was. Every few weeks RIETS posts a different historic rosh yeshiva on a bulletin board, with a small biography of the rosh yeshiva attached. This is only the first step in sharing the history of Yeshiva University.
Recently, Rabbi Shlomo Drillman was featured on the RIETS board, and the accompanying biography mentioned that someone published a book of his weekly divrei Torah. After looking through the library and finding the book, I found his works were both thoughtful and brilliant. The divrei Torah included stories of the many great rabbis of Europe he knew before the war. RIETS also has a website with all the previously featured rabbis, sometimes with links to hespeidim, yet many people still do not realize the rich history of Yeshiva University. Through the doors of YU have walked numerous rabbis who learned with Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (“The Chofetz Chaim”), Rabbi Baruch Ber Lebowitz and Rav Itzele Peterburger.
These roshei yeshiva had come from a wide variety of the largest and most successful yeshivot of Europe. Many of them were very influential in the foundation of religious Judaism in America. Many of them were founders or heavily involved with institutions like the OU, Mizrachi, Ezras Torah and Agudat Israel. Schools like Ramaz, Yeshivat Chafetz Chaim, Maimonides and Brisk Yeshiva were founded by YU roshei yeshiva. Many of the major Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey only exist because of the actions of these roshei yeshiva. They are all great geniuses who have writings of Torah and hashkafah of their own and helped continue the traditions of the many great rebbeim from past generations.
Besides the individual greatness of these rabbanim, many of them have incredible stories of escaping the war. Several of the roshei yeshiva escaped through Japan with the Mir Yeshiva. Others received papers from YU to help them escape Europe. Rabbi Fulda used to give a speech every year about his experience in Europe, but he is no longer with us to continue telling his story. It is our job to make sure the stories of the survival stay alive.Unfortunately, many of these stories have been all but forgotten. Upon further research, I have found only a handful of obscure books that mention some of these revered roshei yeshiva. We really do not realize how influential these people were in many of the things we take for granted today, such as the communities we live in, the schools we go to and the shuls we pray at. There needs to be some type of written work or class that can preserve their history to ensure that their legacies will be remembered by future generations. Also, their sefarim should be made more easily available so that we can learn the Torah of the people who have indirectly influenced where we are today. Yeshiva University has wonderful traditions from these incredible rabbis and there needs to be a greater effort to spread the Torah, stories and character of these great people so we can keep their tradition and the tradition of YU alive.
Photo Caption: These roshei yeshiva had come from a wide variety of the largest and most successful yeshivot of Europe.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons