America’s Forgotten Posek


rav-henkinHe was the Gadol haDor in the United States prior to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. And, unfortunately, his rulings and his seforim have, by and large, been completely forgotten.

Walk into any shul or Seforim store and you will be hard-pressed to find a sefer written by Rav Yoseph Eliyahu Henkin zt”l. Open up a contemporary Halachic work and you will rarely find a ruling quoted in his name.

Rav Henkin studied in Yeshiva Etz Chaim in Slutzk, Russia under Rav Isser Zalman Melter zt”l. He received Smicha from Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, the Ridbaz, and the Aruch HaShulchan and served as a Rav in Russia. He arrived in this country in 1923, and eventually founded and headed the organization called Ezras Torah. Rav Henkin issued tens of thousands of rulings and wrote responsa to Rabbonim across America and beyond. He published three Seforim.

Yet somehow, Rav Henkin has become “America’s Forgotten Posek.”

How did it happen? How did America’s leading Posek fall into such halachic obscurity? This author’s theory is that there were three factors. Firstly, Rav Henkin spent most of his time dedicating himself to others, through the vehicle of his remarkable organization Ezras Torah. He did not make photo offset copies of his letters or rulings or write them again for posterity because he gave every spare moment to raising much needed funds for Torah scholars. Secondly, Rav Henkin lived in a time quite different from ours. Then, the Torah scholars were refugees, suffering in misery and distress. They could barely put food on the table. Who thought to put out Seforim? Even those that eventually were issued rarely had the name of the recipient of the letter. Finally, Rav Henkin did not have a Yeshiva or an official Rabbinic Shteller like other great Rabbis and Torah leaders. He was the Gadol HaDor and headed Ezras Torah true, but without a natural constituency demanding the Seforim, it was difficult to bring them to the printing house again.

Boruch Hashem, this sad reality will soon be addressed.

With the encouragement of his Rosh Yeshiva, Moreinu HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, a Torah scholar with prodigious talents, Rav Daniel Osher Kleineman, has taken upon himself a remarkable project. Reb Daniel has started the painstaking task of reissuing, or rather newly issuing, Rav Henkin’s incisive and groundbreaking rulings that have been almost lost to oblivion.

Reb Daniel has carefully scoured the letters and archives found in the inner recesses of university libraries across the country for Rav Henkin’s letters. He has called nearly one thousand people from Maine to Los Angeles in his search for correspondences.

At times he has struck gold, finding a cache of letters back and forth from descendants of Rabbis who were active in the 20’s. 30’s and 40’s. Most of the time Reb Daniel comes up empty-handed, but he does not give up.

He has done a fantastic job in putting together the extant material. He has organized Rav Henkin’s writings in the order of the Shulchan Aruch, and has gathered all that is available in print. He has gathered material that has not been printed from Rav Henkin’s family and has found over 100 additional letters in his search.

He is now in his last stretch. This project needs our assistance. If anyone out there is a descendant of a Rav who may have corresponded with Rav Henkin zt”l, now is the time to speak up. If anyone has any such letters in their possession, please reach out to Reb Daniel at or by calling him at 732 370-0995.

The author can be reached at

{By Rabbi Yair Hoffman}

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  1. He has a beautiful pieace on, the Zemanim and Bein Hashmoshos in America.
    But he does clearly write, that, in the time of the Talmud and early Rishonim, they still believed, that, during the night, the sun travels from west to east over a non-transparent blanket called Sky. While at the same time the moon shines onto us with its own ilumination.
    There is a thin sefer Shalos Utshuvos in many Shuls.

  2. An early memory of mine is my mother shushing me because ‘der Alter’ (Rav Henkin) was speaking on the radio. The Aidus L’Yisroel which was a sefer hayovel for Ezras Torah is indispensable, where he asks why no one asks why we take and give interest to banks, tells us to say Go’al Yisroel out loud and many dinim that have become accepted are discussed by him. Unfortunately my copy is now moldy from Sandy but I can’t put it in shaimos.

    It’s good to see that R. Doniel Kleinman is putting in this effort. Alay V’Hatzlach!

  3. Reb Daniel should have much hatzlachah and brachah — siyata d’Shemaya — in this holy undertaking for HaRav Henkin who was a talmid chachom of rare stature and a baal chesed and tzeddakah whose activities really cannot be fully understood, appeciated and valued in the America of today. He was one of Hashem’s righteous warriors who, relentlessly and against so much, fought for kovod shomayim, kovod haTorah, kovod of talmidei chachomin and love and honor for every Jew.

  4. A wonderful biography, but I think of the Rav Z”L daily.
    I use the Ezra HaTorah luach, which has his p’sakim every day.

  5. Doesnt almost all shuls use the Ezras Torah luach which is based solely on harav Henkin’s psakos. Zmanim Minhagim molad times etc.?

  6. Have you gotten in touch with Rabbi Shmuel Zev Friedman living in Flatbush (East 28th St)? He learned under Rav Henkin.

  7. yasher koach to Rabbi Klienman. thanks for all the work your putting in. i hope he finds letters from the Rav that are in private collections.

  8. There is a two volume set of
    Kisvei Ran Henkin anybody can get from Ezras Torah.It includes many of the sformim and kuntrasim he wrote.
    Hi grandson Rab Yehuda Henkin also quotes psakim from hos grandfather alot in his four volume Shu”t Bnei Banim

  9. My grandfather was a good friend of his.

    The reason Rav Henkin zt”l has been neglected is that he was not a kanoi, he was tolerant
    That just doesn’t work anymor

  10. The reason I love Matzav so much is that I get to laugh at the moderators who consistently display their intolerance, narrowmindedness and lack of knowledge of English, their mother tongue. Keep it up, Matzav! You guys are hilarious.