תורה תורה חגרי שק • עולם התורה באבל • Hagaon Harav Yaakov Edelstein z”l

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It is with great sadness that Matzav.com reports the passing of Hagaon Rav Yaakov Edelstein zt”l, rov of Ramat Hasharon. He was 92 years old.

Rav Edelstein had been hospitalized since Monday at Laniado Hospital in Netanya, battling various ailments. He passed away early this afternoon.

For years, his name was mentioned amongst the bnei Torah of Eretz Yisroel in reverent tones. A gaon in all portions of the Torah and a leading posek. A mekubal renowned for his knowledge of chochmas hanistar. A tzaddik, whose brachos are sought after by older singles and childless couples. A poel yeshuos whose tefillos and aitzos have resulted in numerous stories of salvation…

Rav Edelstein managed to stay out of the international spotlight, but in Eretz Yisroel, he was acknowledged to be one of the senior leaders of our generation, and the multitudes flowed to his humble home in Ramat Hasharon at all hours of the day and night.

Born in 1924 in the Russian city of Shumietz, where his father, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Edelstein zt”l, served as mara d’asra, Rav Yaakov was born just a year after his older brother, Rav Yerachmiel Gershon, who serves today as the senior rosh yeshiva of Ponovezhh Yeshiva. Their mother was a daughter of Rav Mordechai Shlomo Movshovitz zt”l, mara d’asra of Milastoka.

Rav Tzvi Yehudah had learned as a young bachur in Volozhin under Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l and later attached himself to Rav Chaim’s great talmid, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt”l of Kamenitz. Rav Tzvi Yehudah published Hod Tzvi on Shas and a sefer of shailos uteshuvos, including halachic correspondence that he carried on with the Chofetz Chaim.

In those first years after the overthrow of the czar, the Bolshevik Revolution was spreading its hold over the vast Russian populace and the bleak reality of Communism was quickly destroying the long established foundation of Yiddishkeit that existed throughout the Russian empire.

In an interview published a few years ago, Rav Yaakov described the situation as one of total despair. Boys who just a year earlier had sat beside him in cheder learning Chumash could be seen walking about bare-headed and eating treife food. “There was no room to believe that we would ever again be allowed to live as Torah Jews,” Rav Yaakov recounted. “Generations of mesorah were simply abandoned overnight, as the populace sought to embrace the new reality of Lenin and Stalin.”

Rav Tzvi Yehudah Edelstein sought to strengthen his people with emunah, but his pleas fell mostly upon deaf ears. He eventually directed his efforts inward and began to learn at home with his own children out of the public eye. In fact, even after the boys reached the age of compulsory education, Rav Tzvi Yehudah managed to bribe the local truant officer, who recorded the boys’ ages as younger than their actual seven and eight, thus enabling them to study at home for another few years.

In 1934, when Rav Yaakov was ten, his mother suddenly passed away just as it was becoming apparent that the family could not remain Torah Jews if they were to stay in Russia. Rav Tzvi Yehudah took his family and embarked on the arduous journey that would eventually bring them to Eretz Yisroel. Despite the fact that they were unaffiliated and had none of the precious permits controlled by the Zionists and other political entities, they miraculously managed to leave via the port city of Odessa and arrived in Yaffo more than two weeks later. All the while, Rav Tzvi Yehudah maintained his daily learning schedule with his two sons. The Communist regime could not stop them from engaging in limud haTorah, and as their journey brought them closer to religious freedom, they intensified their hasmadah even as the old boat rocked from side to side as it traversed the rough sea.

Upon their arrival in Eretz Yisroel, they were met by relatives who shared their own meager accommodations with the new arrivals. There was no single place with enough room for all of them, and their grandmother had to move in with one relative while a younger sister went to another. Rav Tzvi Yehudah drew the line at being separated, even temporarily, from his two sons, as their learning could not be sacrificed no matter what. Eventually, an empty chicken coop was procured in the farming village of Ramat HaSharon near Herzliya. While they cleaned it out, the landlord pointed to a stack of empty fruit crates. The local harvest would not take place for some time, so he offered the boxes to the Edelsteins to use as makeshift furniture. “Three crates served as a bed,” Rav Yaakov wistfully recalled, “with two serving as a table and others serving as chairs. We never did furnish our home completely, but we were free and in Artzeinu Hakedoshah. Our dream had come true.”

Ramat Hasharon was basically a secular farming community and the only observant Jews were elderly. There were few children with whom to play and there certainly was no organized Talmud Torah where the two boys could learn. Instead, their father continued to learn with them himself from morning to night. As soon as they finished a masechta, they immediately began a new one. Not a minute was wasted.

Eventually, Rav Tzvi Yehudah was asked to assume the rabbonus of Ramat Hasharon, and through witnessing his father’s devotion to his flock and absorbing the piskei halachah his father issued on a daily basis, Rav Yaakov had a tremendous shimush in rabbonus.

One day, Rav Tzvi Yehudah saw a new sefer in the shul. It was titled simply “Chazon Ish,” and the name of the author did not appear on the title page. All it said was that it was available for purchase by a certain Rav Greineman. The senior Rav Edelstein was soon engrossed in the sefer. He could barely put it down. He asked the people in the shul if anyone knew how this sefer came to be in Ramat Hasharon. One fellow responded that he had met the author, a frail tzaddik living on the outskirts of Bnei Brak, and had purchased the sefer in order to help the author have a bit of parnassah.

Rav Tzvi Yehudah took down the address of the Chazon Ish and, shortly thereafter, with his boys in tow, made his way to meet the author of such amazing chiddushei Torah. The Chazon Ish greeted Rav Tzvi Yehudah warmly and spent a lot of time speaking to the boys in learning. Their knowledge and level of learning astounded the gadol, who was amazed to hear that they had only attended yeshiva for a short time while still in Russia.

“I feel that perhaps I am doing the wrong thing,” Rav Tzvi Yehudah told the Chazon Ish, “and that I am holding back my sons from the growth they would experience if I would send them away to a yeshiva.” The Chazon Ish reassured the senior Rav Edelstein that he was doing the right thing and urged him to continue learning with them at home until they were older.

Thus began a relationship that would change the lives of the Edelstein brothers and indeed impact the Torah world for the next 75 years.

In the early 1940s, upon the urging of the Chazon Ish, the brothers did leave home to attend a formal yeshiva. At that time, the premier yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel was the transplanted Yeshivas Lomza in Petach Tikvah. Rav Tzvi Yehudah exhorted his sons to “speak in learning” with the top bochurim there, and the brothers found themselves especially drawn to the illui from Grodna, the bochur Rav Shmuel Rozovsky.

In 1944, when the Ponovezer Rov was ready to launch his new yeshiva in Bnai Brak, the Chazon Ish suggested that he recruit Rav Shmuel Rozovsky to be rosh yeshiva and that the Edelstein brothers accompany him to form the nucleus of the new yeshiva. Indeed, the Edelsteins were among the first six intrepid bochurim who established Yeshivas Ponovezhh.

The story is told that Rav Shmuel Rozovsky met the Brisker Rov and reported on the opening of the new yeshiva. In that terrible period in the history of the Jewish people, when all of Europe was still in flames, the yeshiva system in Eretz Yisroel was not yet developed and there were few bochurim truly on the advanced level that would suggest the need for a new yeshiva gedolah. “For whom did you make this yeshivah?” the Brisker Rov asked Rav Shmuel. His response was to put Rav Yaakov Edelstein on a bus to Yerushalayim, where he spoke in learning with the Brisker Rov, who was so pleased that he sent a message to Rav Shmuel saying, “Now I understand.” Rav Yaakov would go on to return many times to the home of the Brisker Rov, with whom he established a close relationship, becoming known as one of the Rov’s few confidants.

Rav Yaakov would go on to form a close bond as well with the Ponovezer Rov and Rav Shmuel Rozovsky and later with the legendary mashgiach, Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler. While Rav Yaakov was in Ponovezh, he maintained private sedorim with the Chazon Ish and spent long hours talking in learning with the Steipler Gaon. It was a glorious period of growth that was marred only by the untimely petirah of Rav Tzvi Yehudah Edelstein shortly before Rav Yaakov’s marriage to a daughter of Rav Mordechai Shmuel Kroll, mara d’asra of Kfar Chasidim.

The year was 1950 and the young Rav Yaakov had been offered by the Ponovezer Rov to join the faculty of Ponovezhh after his chasunah as a maggid shiur, but the Chazon Ish held that he should assume his father’s position in Ramat Hasharon. The matter was decided at the chasunah itself, as the Chazon Ish gave Rav Yaakov a copy of his sefer as a wedding gift and urged him to read the inscription. It was to “Hagaon Harav Yaakov Edelstein, Mara D’asra of Ramat Hasharon.” The question had been settled. Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer penned a glowing semichah and sent it to Rav Yaakov in acknowledgement of his new status as a rov.

The Chazon Ish had agreed with the Ponovezer Rov that Rav Yaakov should serve as a maggid shiur for bochurim, so, at the same time that he crowned Rav Yaakov as rov of Ramat Hasharon, the Chazon Ish donated the seed money for the establishment of Yeshivas Hasharon, where Rav Yaakov would serve as rosh yeshiva for thirty years.

In the mid-1950s, after the passing of the Chazon Ish, Rav Yaakov lamented to a friend that he missed the Chazon Ish terribly and that he was able to discuss with him everything in his life. The friend suggested that Rav Yaakov meet the renowned “Sandler,” Rav Moshe Yaakov Rabikoff zt”l, the reclusive Tel Aviv shoemaker said to be the greatest living talmid of the famed Leshem, the mekubal Rav Shlomo Elyashiv zt”l, grandfather of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l. The Chazon Ish had reportedly traveled to Tel Aviv twice and spent long periods of time closeted with the Sandler, who he revered as a true tzaddik and gadol of Kabbolah and Toras Hanistar.

It is unclear if the Sandler had more than six or seven talmidim. What is known is that Rav Yaakov Edelstein became his talmid muvhak. Rav Yaakov spent countless hours in the company of the Sandler, imbibing the secrets of Kabbolah and absorbing his methodology, which has become a source of guidance to bnei Torah.

Renowned for his spectacular memory and total recall of piskei halachah, Rav Yaakov joined his close friend, Rav Nissim Karelitz, as a senior dayan on the bais din Rav Nissim established, a partnership that would go on to last nearly 60 years.

As more and more alumni of Ponovezh settled in Bnei Brak, a central bais medrash was established in northern Bnei Brak, the area extending from the famed Itzkowitz shul in the center of town and out toward Rechov Jabotinsky. Rav Yaakov was asked to serve as the rov and acted as a guide and a mentor to the younger rabbonim who live full-time in the area. Kehillas Naos Yosef, in memory of the Ponovezher Rov, now numbers close to a thousand families and Rav Yaakov spent much of his weekday schedule and one Shabbos a month in Bnei Brak tending to his flock.

Rav Yaakov eschewed involvement in klal activities that required his joining a political party or even to just sign on the kol korehs routinely signed by the leading gedolei Torah. Instead, Rav Yaakov enjoyed the solitude of quiet Ramat Hasharon and the fact that his relative anonymity allowed him to spend time with the many people who come to him for a brachah and guidance.

His entire demeanor bespoke a tranquility that could not be compromised. Indeed, Rav Yaakov used this remarkable character trait to help him transform Ramat Hasharon from a mostly secular city to a bastion of baalei teshuvah. Rav Yaakov remembered every resident by first name, and as he made his way down the street, he was regularly stopped by as-yet secular passersby who wished to greet their beloved rov and bask in his warmth and good cheer. Even on those occasions when Rav Yaakov was told of a store open on Shabbos and felt the need to confront the proprietor, the latter invariably closed his shop for every Shabbos thereafter just to please the tzaddik who had spoken to him with such brotherly concern and love.

Rav Yaakov’s passing severs yet another link to the Torah world of old, leaving Klal Yisroel with a gaping void that cannot be filled.

Rav Yaakov is survived by his children, Rav Mordechai Edelstein, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Edelstein, Rav Boruch Edelstein, Rav Avrohom Edelstein, Rebbetzin Miriam Fischel, Rebbetzin Shulamis Vitzky, Rebbetzin Leah Brand, Rebbetzin Rikva Rum, Rav Yosef Shlomo Edelstein, Rav Yitzchok Edelstein and Rebbetzin Shana Weinstein.

Levaya details will be provided shortly.

Yehi zichro boruch.

{Matzav.com Israel News / Thanks to Rav Yosef Karmel of Lev L’Achim for providing information for this article}

9 COMMENTS

  1. One note: The rav could not have learned with R. Chaim Brisker since R. Chaim was niftar before R. Edelstein was born and the Volozhin yeshiva was closed for nearly 30 years before the Rav was born.

  2. Please re-read . The rav zt”l was born in 1924
    Rav Tzvi Yehuda the rav`s father was a talmid of Rav Chaim . Volozhin closed in 1892 and then re-opened under R Rafael again in 1899 . Rav Chaim who was the son in law of Rav R Rafael was niftar in 1918 .

  3. Yossi – poster #1, reread this sentence: “Rav Tzvi Yehudah had learned as a young bachur in Volozhin under Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l and later attached himself to Rav Chaim’s great talmid, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt”l of Kamenitz.” Rav Tzvi Yehudah was Rav Yaakov’s FATHER. Of course, Rav Yaakov himself was not a talmid.

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