Rav Reuven Grozovsky zt”l, On His 54th Yahrtzeit, Today, 22 Adar


rav-reuvein-grozovsky-kever-smallTomorrow is the 54th yahrtzeit of Rav Reuven Grozovsky. Rav Reuven was a Torah giant who served as Rosh Yeshiva in the pre-war Kaminetzer Yeshiva and after the Churban in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and Beth Medrash Elyon in Monsey. He was an engineer of the budding, fledgling Torah community in post war America. He was tremendously active in hatzalah work during the Holocuast and moser nefesh to try to save the remnant of European Jewry located in Europe, Siberia and Shanghai. Rav Reuven became perhaps the greatest voice of true hashkafas haTorah in the first decade after World War II when the difficult question arose of how G-d fearing Jews were to relate to the new phenomenon of the secular State of Israel.

Unfortunately, the story of Rav Reuven’s greatness, wide-ranging activities and profound impact in both pre-Holocaust and post Holocaust America has not been adequately documented or told. The following just represents a small glimpse into the life and times of this giant of Torah and hashkafa.

A Home of Piety

Rav Reuven was born on 11 Kislev, 5687/1886 in the city of Minsk. His father, Rav Shamshon Grozovsky was a dayan and Av Beis Din in the city and an extremely G-d fearing Jew. Rav Reuven Grozovsky himself recorded some of the holy hanhagos (pathways) in which his father conducted himself:

When any halachic query would come up, even the simplest question, he would look into the Shulchan Aruch, never ruling from memory.

When approached with a chicken to rule upon and he was unsure how to rule, he was never embarrassed to bring it to another Rov for consultation.

He once declared that a certain butcher could not be trusted with regard to issues of kashrus even though his declaration could have endangered his life.

He spared no effort in seeing to it that his children got the best Torah education possible. He would spend tremendous amounts of money to take and support sons-in-law who were talmidei chachomim – to the extent that he had to offer several years of his salary as collateral in order to pay dowries for his sons-in-law, all gedolei Torah. He was particular to take sons-in-law who did not shave their beards.

Any time he would request something from a child, he would add, “If you want,” thereby preventing them from transgressing the mitzvah of kibbud av v’em if they did not fulfill his wish. In this manner, this also prevented himself from transgressing the prohibition of lifnei iver lo sitein michshol-not inadvertently placing a stumbling block in front of them by causing them to transgress the mitzvah of kibbud av v’em. He never took money for ruling on a din Torah.

A Leader at a Young Age

It was in this home, a home permeated by Torah, yiras shomayim at the highest levels and mesiras nefesh for Torah, in which Rav Reuven Grozovsky was raised.

From a young age, Rav Reuven was forced to overcome considerable spiritual hurdles. The city of Minsk was a prime center of haskala, socialism, Communism and Zionism. During the 1800s and the early 1900s, scores of young Jews were being caught in the nets of these movements and were convinced by the outer glitter to abandon a life of Torah and mitzvos.

Rav Reuven, however, was educated in his home to swim against the tide. Not only was he not influenced by the spiritual pollution poisoning the youth of Minsk, but to the contrary, the adversity strengthened him in his Yiddishkeit.

As a bochur, Rav Reuven learned in the Zivchei Tzedek Shul in Minsk together with an elite group of approximately 30 brilliant young bochurim. Two of the younger members of the group were Rav Aharon Kotler, future Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood and Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, future Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. Being a bit older than the two of them and concerned that the noxious atmosphere of haskala would adversely affect them and their learning, Rav Reuven convinced Rav Aharon and Rav Yaakov to leave Minsk and join the Slabodka Yeshiva. He invested great effort trying to protect the bochurim, especially those endowed with great intellect, from the designs of the Maskilim who exerted even greater efforts trying to ensnare gifted bochurim. When Rav Reuven discovered that the sister of the young Rav Aharon, then a student in university, was corresponding with her brother, trying to convince him to leave yeshiva and use his brilliant intellect to pursue a career in academia, Rav Reuven made sure to intercept her letters and hide them from Rav Aharon.

rav-reuvein-grozovsky-keverIn 1907, Rav Reuven joined his chaveirim in the Slabodka Yeshiva where he learned for three years. He soon became one of the yeshiva’s greatest assets. In Slabodka, he developed a very close relationship with the Alter of Slabodka and the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein.

In 1910, the Alter’s son, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, who had recently been appointed Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva, asked the Alter to send him a cadre of elite bochurim to inject new life into the Mirrer Yeshiva. The Alter sent an choice group led by Rav Reuven Grozosky. As a result of his influence, the atmosphere of Torah and mussar in the Mirrer Yeshiva was immediately enhanced. Rav Reuven remained in the Mir for two years and then, in 1912, returned to Slabodka.

Learning and Supporting Torah Under Fire During World War I

With the outbreak of World War I, the Slabodka Yeshiva was forced to disperse and Rav Reuven led a group of about forty yeshiva bochurim in Minsk. A few days later he received a letter from the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, expressing the desire to settle in Minsk and reestablish the yeshiva there. Rav Reuven called an asifa of bochurim and together, they undertook to invite Rav Moshe Mordechai and pave the way for the yeshiva’s partial reestablishment in Minsk. Rav Moshe Mordechai arrived and part of the yeshiva was reestablished. The rest of the Yeshiva fled deeper into Russia with the Alter of Slabodka. One of the greatest difficulties during war time, however, was finding the means to support the bochurim and procure funds for them. By default, Rav Reuven was entrusted with the task of somehow providing the material needs of the yeshiva. His efforts bore fruit and thanks to him the Torah learning of the Slabodka Yeshiva in golus Minsk never stopped.

As the war progressed, Rav Reuven began to worry about the possibility of being drafted into the Army. He therefore fled Minsk to Vilna. Almost immediately after his arrival there, the German army conquered Vilna. Rav Reuven turned for assistance to Rav Yosef Tzvi Carlebach, later Rov of Hamburg and Dr. Leo Deutschlander, later a founder of the Bais Yaakov movement. Rav Carelbach and Dr. Deutschlander both served as advisors for the German army. Rav Reuven therefore asked them to assist him in once again opening the doors of the Slabodka Yeshiva under German rule. They were instrumental in paving the way for reopening of the Yeshiva in the city of Slabodka which was under German rule.

In fact many years later, in the aftermath of World War II, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel came to America to raise funds in order to reestablish the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. In New York he paid a visit to Rav Reuven Grozovsky, who was then one of the leading gedolim in America. One of the individuals who accompanied Rav Eliezer Yehuda, was Rav Shlomo Carlebach, later author of the Maskil L’Shlomo, a son of Rav Yosef Tzvi Carlebach. When the young Rav Shlomo was introduced to Rav Reuven, Rav Reuven became excited and turning to Rav Leizer Yudel, exclaimed, “I can bear witness that if not for the intervention of this young man’s father, the gaon Rav Yosef Tzvi Carlebach, hy”d, the Slabodka Yeshiva would have ceased to exist – not only Slabodka, but all of the great yeshivos would have ceased to exist without his intervention and efforts to provide sustenance.”

Son-in-law of Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz

In 1919, in the aftermath of World War I, the Slabodka Yeshiva found itself in the city of Kremenchug in the Ukraine. At the time, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz and his own Yeshiva Knesses Bais Yitzchok also originally from Slabodka was also in exile in Kremenchug. It was there that Rav Boruch Ber met Rav Reuven and decided to take him as a son-in-law. He was extremely impressed with Rav Reuven’s greatness in Torah and yirah. It is told that Rav Boruch Ber was so impressed with Rav Reuven’s learning ability that he remarked in amazement, “He is a young Ohr Someach.” Nevertheless, it is said that he was even more impressed with the fire of yiras shomayim that burned within Rav Reuven.

Just days before Rav Reuven’s chasuna, Rav Reuven’s father, Rav Shamshon Grozovsky passed away in Minsk. It was very difficult then to travel from Kremenchug to Minsk because of the army platoons and lawlessness that had overtaken the roads. When the Alter of Slabodka heard the news of Rav Reuven’s father’s passing, he ruled that Rav Reuven should not be told so as not to interfere with the simcha of the chasuna. It was told that the Alter explained his rationale by saying that the Ramah says that the reason one informs a son of his father’s passing is so that he can recite the Kaddish. “Rav Reuven, however, says Kaddish 24 hours a day! His whole day is a manifestation of Kiddush shem shomayim of the highest degree. This is the ultimate purpose of reciting Kaddish.” Anything that will take him away from his around the clock avodas Hashem is therefore counterproductive.

Rav Reuven became extremely close with Rav Boruch Ber. The mutual love and admiration that they had for each other was legendary. Rav Boruch Ber appointed Rav Reuven as a Rosh Yeshiva in the Yeshiva and Rav Reuven became active as Rav Boruch Ber’s right hand, taking an active role in both the spiritual and material aspects of the yeshiva.

In 1921, Rav Boruch Ber’s yeshiva, Yeshiva Knesses Bais Yitzchok finally returned from exile in the Ukraine to Lithuania. Initially, it settled in Vilna and about 2 years later it moved to the city of Kaminetz. In the mid-1920s, Rav Boruch Ber and Rav Reuven undertook a trip to America in order to establish the yeshiva on firm financial footing. Upon their return, the yeshiva began an era of tremendous growth and success. Hundreds of bnei Torah from Europe and even far off America, came to learn from the shiurim of Rav Boruch Ber and Rav Reuven.

Rosh Yeshiva

In Kaminetz, Rav Reuven began to deliver regular shiurim. One talmid related that although the greatest attraction in Kaminetz was certainly the famed shiur of Rav Boruch Ber, nonetheless, the shiurim of Rav Reuven were always viewed with great deference. All of the great talmidim of Rav Boruch Ber would attend and listen to Rav Reuven’s shiurim – shiurim that were unique and offered a different type of understanding of the depth of the sugyos.

Some of Rav Reuven’s shiurim were later compiled in the set of seforim entitled Chiddushei Rav Reuven. These seforim have become classic in the yeshiva world and are among the important seforim used with great frequency by bnei yeshiva and Roshei Yeshiva alike. The set was edited by Rav Reuven’s son-in-law, Rav Don Ungarischer, Rosh Yeshiva of Beis Medrash Elyon of Monsey. In the introduction to the sefer, Rav Reuven’s sons, Rav Shamshon and Rav Chaim Grozovsky write, “His talmidim saw in him a continuation of the approach of the great giants of previous generations that established the great Lithuanian Yeshivos.”

Rav Reuven would often say in the name of his father-in-law, Rav Boruch Ber that the Torah loves and gives itself over to those who love it exclusively. A person who loves anything in addition to Torah can never truly acquire Torah. Rav Reuven was the embodiment of Rav Boruch Ber’s words. His ahavas Torah filled his entire being. The extraordinary efforts that he invested in preparing his shiurim were rooted in his burning ahavas Torah. Despite the fact that he had a lightening quick grasp, he would spend days and nights agonizing over a sugya, investing an effort that defies description to ensure that he arrived at an explanation that could be considered the absolute truth. Once, years later, when he was Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and he was in the midst of saying a shiur, a young talmid arose and asked a powerful question that threatened the entire edifice upon which the shiur was based. Rav Reuven did not hesitate for a second. He immediately admitted that the ta lmid was correct and the entire premise of the shiur was refuted. Later, he related to the bochur that an answer to the question had immediately come to him, however, Rav Reuven had felt that the answer was a dochek and he was not sure if it was completely true. He therefore chose to end the shiur rather then give an answer that might not have been l’amitah shel Torah.
Rav Reuven’s ahavas Torah and ahavas emes were such that even in America when his children were growing up, he chose to teach them only Torah. He would not send them to schools that taught secular studies – even the most religious of schools. Instead, he hired a private teacher to teach them in his home, the basic knowledge that they needed.

Mussar Personality

Rav Reuven contained within himself, the mussar ideals of the Slabodka school of thought that he had learned from the Alter with the burning yiras shomayim that personified his father-in-law.

With his own conduct, Rav Reuven served as a living mussar sefer to his talmidim. His manner was permeated with humility. He never let a talmid serve him. Even when he traveled together with his talmidim, he insisted on carrying his own bags. To watch Rav Reuven at the chasuna of a talmid was a lesson in and of itself. He would be mesamei’ach the chosson and kalla with his last bit of strength. He danced with such enthusiasm in a way that even seemed somewhat beneath his dignity. When talmidim would ask inconsequential questions during shiur, Rav Reuven would always listen to them with full attention and seriousness, never letting on that the question was really one that the student should have not asked.

One Sukkos in America there was a great shortage of esrogim. Rav Nesanel Quinn, Menahel of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas asked a bochur to write to a well known University’s Agricultural Department and ask them if they could perhaps send several esrogim. The bochur invested great effort and in the end three esrogim were sent by the University. One was for Rav Shlomo Heiman, senior Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas, the second was for Rav Reuven and the third was for a well known Chassidic Rebbe. Rav Reuven was extremely happy and bought the other three minim in anticipation of fulfilling the coveted mitzvah. However, Rav Reuven noticed that the bochur who had written the letters and invested all of his efforts into obtaining the esrogim from the university seemed a bit perturbed. Sensing that this bochur must have felt that he also deserved as least one of the esrogim for his efforts, Rav Reuven immediately gave his esrog to the bochur. He said that he simply could not fulfill the mitzvah if it was being done at another person’s expense.

Rav Reuven’s sterling middos, ahavas Yisroel and feeling for others displayed a greatness that we simply cannot fathom. His son recalled that Rav Reuven once called Rav Aharon Kotler and asked him to do all he could to rescue a bochur who had been apprehended by the authorities for smuggling and was liable to face a jail term. At the end of the conversation, Rav Reuven told Rav Aharon, “I am not feeling well, so I am asking you to try to help.” In truth, just a few minutes earlier, Rav Reuven had suffered a heart attack while walking up a flight of stairs. As soon as he felt he had enough strength to call Rav Aharon, he did so despite the fact that he was about to be admitted into the hospital. The plight of that bochur was so important to him that it transcended his own precarious situation and allowed him to focus on the travails of another.

World War II

When World War II broke out in 1939, the yeshiva suffered immediately. Kaminetz was initially conquered by the Nazis and later the Communist Bolsheviks took over. The yeshiva, led by Rav Boruch Ber and Rav Reuven fled to Vilna, which at the time was under the jurisdiction of independent Lithuania. A few weeks later, in the month of Kislev of 5700, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Boruch Ber passed away. Rav Reuven was appointed Rosh Yeshiva and the entire burden of shepherding the yeshiva in the uncertain, dangerous period of war fell upon his shoulders.

Rav Reuven tried his utmost to ensure that the yeshiva continued to maintain its regular schedule despite the difficulty and uncertainty that characterized that period. In order to remove the yeshiva from the distractions of city life, he eventually moved the yeshiva from the big city of Vilna to the small village of Rasyan. The yeshiva remained there for a bit more than a year. During that time independent Vilna was annexed by Soviet Russia and the yeshiva once again began to feel the stranglehold of the rabidly anti-religious Communist government. At that time, Rav Reuven and a small group of Kaminetzer talmidim were able to leave Russia, eventually ending up in the Far East. After traveling under extremely difficult conditions, Rav Reuven ended up in Japan where he fell ill as a result of the difficulties and strain of the trip. His doctors prescribed and urged complete bed rest for a few weeks to enable him to recover. Rav Reuven felt unable to heed their advice. Every se cond of his time in Japan had to be used to save as many talmidim still in Russia as he possibly could. He journeyed from the Far East to the United States where he renewed his hatzolah efforts.

Hatzolah Efforts

Upon his arrival in America, Rav Reuven refused to worry about himself or his family even in the most minimal way. For months, his wife and children wandered as immigrants living as guests at the homes of various families that took them in. They had no apartment and no source of income due to the fact that Rav Reuven was busy day and night running around, engaged in feverish hatzolah activities. He was driven to try to obtain affidavits of support for the bnei Torah in beleaguered Europe and ran from city to city raising money so that he could send food packages and clothing for the bnei Yeshiva who were suffering from hunger and deprivation deep in the Siberian tundra.

He worked within the official Vaad Hatzolah and without as well. Any avenue of hope, even if it only had a remote chance of success, was pursued by Rav Reuven. Throughout the war, he never stopped his activities in hatzolah.

In one of his speeches at a Vaad Hatzolah meeting, he said, “Is it possible that a person would say regarding his father or mother, ‘They have probably been killed anyway and therefore it is not worth bothering to try and save them,’?!!”

In another speech in which Rav Reuven called upon American Jewry to do more to help the many bnei yeshiva stuck in Siberia, he said, “American Jewry that is so particular about reciting Kaddish, has collectively decided to say a Kaddish D’Rabbanan on the yeshivos. Kaddish D’Rabbanan, however, is not Kaddish that is said on the Rabbanan, it is said on people who have already died. We must ensure that our Rabbanan that are alive have chayei arichei umezonei ravichei – long life and plenty to eat! There is no mitzvah to deliver hespedim on those who are alive. The mitzvah is to assist them! Everyone is obligated to save the holy sifrei Torah that were written by Rav Boruch Ber, Rav Shimon Shkop and the Chofetz Chaim. These are the bnei yeshiva who are freezing in sub-zero temperatures with no food to eat. Can we stand by and not save them?!”

Rav Reuven continued, “I am not a good enough orator to try to impart the tangible feeling of the freezing Siberian cold while we complacently sit in a nice, warm room. I am not a good enough orator to try to depict the suffering of a person who is so famished, longing only for a small crust of bread and can not even get it. What I can however, depict for you is the life of gevurah that they live. How they live with such mesiras nefesh; how the yeshivos of Poland and Lithuania are still in session in Siberia and in Shanghai!”

“With my own eyes, I saw how, while bombs were falling all around, the bnei yeshiva did not miss even one seder, even one tefilla. When the Germans were running through the city, wreaking havoc, they were in the beis medrash heavily involved in Torah discussions and being mechadesh chiddushim. I saw young bochurim who had left their parents’ homes, wandered alone for tens and hundreds of miles by foot with nothing in their hands other than their tefillin, all in order to smuggle over the border to continue learning Torah. Their hands and feet were frostbitten and many were caught and sent to Siberia…”

“At the time when a large group knew that they were about to be sent to the frozen steppes of Siberia, they gathered together and made a covenant with each other wherein they pledged never to abandon the Torah regardless of the circumstances, regardless of how much suffering they would have to sustain and even if they would find themselves alone.”

“My friends,” cried Rav Reuven broken-heartedly, “Do not worry over the plight of the Torah. It is in good hands. They are bound to the Torah with every fiber of their neshamos. Even a blind person can see how the promise of lo sishkach mipi zaro – that the Torah will not be forgotten – is being fulfilled.”

Indeed, so many of the bnei yeshiva who survived Siberia and eventually immigrated to America or Eretz Yisroel attested to the fact that it was the packages sent by Rav Reuven and his followers, packages that were full of not only food but also encouragement and chizuk, that enabled them to survive both physically and mentally, and kept them from sinking into the abyss of despair. Some of these bnei yeshiva even established a yeshiva in Samarkand in Central Asia which became their home for a period after they were permitted to leave Siberia.

Rav Reuven was completely focused on hatzolah efforts throughout the war, giving no thought to his personal needs. In a letter to a talmid, he wrote, “I feel fortunate that I never rested or kept quiet [regarding the plight of our fellow Jews] during the war and I withstood the nisayon. When I arrived [an American shores] I was offered a very important position by a well known mesivta in New York, but I refused because I wanted to be able to devote every second of my time to hatzolah.”

On Behalf of Klal Yisroel

It was only in 1945, towards the very end of the war, that Rav Reuven returned to his harbatzas haTorah with his appointment as Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaas and Rosh Kollel of Beis Medrash Elyon of Monsey. He also established the Kaminetzer Kollel in New York where many of the bnei yeshiva who were refugees from Europe learned.

In addition, Rav Reuven deeply desired to reestablish the Kaminetzer Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel and eventually to move there. His two brothers-in-law, Rav Moshe Berenstein and Rav Yaakov Moshe Leibowitz founded the yeshiva with Rav Reuven’s advice and monetary support. His ultimate plans to settle in Eretz Yisroel, however, never came to fruition.

Almost immediately following the era of Rav Reuven’s hatzolah work, Rav Reuven returned to full time harbatzas haTorah. As Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaas and Beis Medrash Elyon, Rav Reuven had an immediate impact on the then fledgling community of bnei Torah in America. They were drawn to the comprehensive shiurim of this pre-war gadol from Europe. In Beis Medrash Elyon of Spring Valley, the most advanced elite bochurim and yungeleit began to flock to his shiurim and a new entire generation of bnei Torah grew up on his unique, clear, and in-depth approach to sugyos haShas.

While Rav Reuven would have been content to continue his life’s work of spreading Torah, learning and giving shiurim, his sense of responsibility for the wider community did not afford him that luxury. During the immediate post war period, there were many burning issues facing both American Jewry and Jewry in Eretz Yisroel. These issues had to be addressed by a person of Rav Reuven’s stature, a person who had already in pre-war Europe been seen as one of the Roshei Yeshiva who possessed and transmitted clear Torah viewpoints on how to approach current events. Indeed, before focusing on Rav Reuven’s post war askanus it is important to note that the pre-war luminaries such as the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, already then recognized his tremendous talent, ability, heart and mesirus nefesh that he possessed not only as a Rosh Yeshiva but also as clear voice of daas Torah with regard to klal issues.

He was very active in all of the battles on behalf of Yiddishkeit in pre-war Lithuania and Poland and received guidance in these issues from the senior gedolei hador of that era, the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski.

In Vilna, not long after World War I, Rav Reuven once arranged a massive protest against a soccer match that involved chilul Shabbos. During the course of the protest, Rav Reuven was arrested and thrown into jail. When the Chofetz Chaim heard about the incident, he remarked, “I am jealous of Rav Reuven that he merited being imprisoned on behalf of kovod shamayim.” The Chofetz Chaim wrote him a letter afterwards saying, “Fortunate are you that you were incarcerated on behalf of Torah.”

Rav Reuven attended virtually every asifa of Agudas Yisroel and was very active behind the scenes. In the introduction to his classic sefer, Bayos Hazeman in which he addressed many of the burning hashkafa issues that faced Klal Yisroel in the immediate aftermath of World War II and the founding of the secular State of Israel, Rav Reuven’s sons write, “Our father engaged in tzorchei tzibbur with truthfulness and faithfulness, without any personal, ulterior motives, even motives that would be considered above reproach by others. He would constantly warn us that a person who engages in tzorchei tzibbur must make sure to be extremely careful about his personal behavior so that none should be able to discern even the slightest desire for personal gain. He must distance himself from machlokes and conduct himself in a way that manifests ahavas Hashem and ahavas habriyos.”

His feeling of responsibility for Klal Yisroel transcended any personal feelings. When his Rebbetzin passed away in 1951 after undergoing tremendous suffering, Rav Reuven was broken hearted. He was so broken during the shiva that he barely spoke to those who came to comfort him. Nevertheless, when Dr. Isaac Lewin, then the chairman of the Vaad Hapoel of Agudas Yisroel of America, came to be menachem avel just after his return from a trip to Eretz Yisroel, Rav Reuven spent a few hours talking to him about the spiritual situation of Jewry in Eretz Yisroel and the battles being faced by the observant Jews there.

Almost immediately after the war, Rav Reuven was appointed to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the Agudas Yisroel of America and later as chairman of that august body.

He was very involved in Torah Umesorah and its mission to bring authentic Jewish chinuch to Jewish children across the United States. Periodically, he would give shmuessen on chinuch issues based on the words of Chazal and halacha. These clear droshos became classics in the sense that they set down the hashkafa and guidelines for chinuch in the post war period.

The Torah Approach to Interacting with the New Secular State of Israel

One of Rav Reuven’s greatest contributions to Klal Yisroel was his clear Torah hashkafa on how Chareidi Jewry should approach the emerging secular Jewish government in the fledgling State of Israel. As the Nasi of the Moetzes Gedolei haTorah during the first few years after the establishment of the State, Rav Reuven ruled on a myriad of as yet uncharted hashkafa questions. Drawing on Torah and halachic sources, he invested much time and effort to explain his approach. In his sefer, Ba’yos Hazeman, a compilation of his hashkafa writings and talks, he deals with issues such as, “Should Agudas Yisroel participate in the secular government of the State of Israel? It is a new golus or the beginning of the geula? Should Torah observant Jews give de facto recognition to the Jewish State? What is the Torah hashkafa with regard to working the land of Israel? Should the day that is celebrated as Independence Day of the Jewish State be ce lebrated as a day of simcha?” The daas Torah, the clear and concise analysis and guidance in the sefer, all deeply rooted in the words of Chazal, attest to Rav Reuven’s role as one of the seminal thinkers and disseminators of daas Torah on thorny hashkafa issues in a most difficult and confusing time.

When word came to America that the secular government of Israel was conducting a premeditated campaign to weaken shemiras Torah u’mitzvos in Eretz Yisroel, a campaign that was liable to endanger the ability for the Torah community of Eretz Yisroel to observe the Torah, Rav Reuven was at the forefront of using all means possible to influence the Israeli government to desist. He gave numerous speeches and held numerous rallies. His speeches were consistently powerful and emotional as he called upon American Jewry to raise its voice in protest against the premeditated campaign to weaken the foundations of Yiddishkeit. He never took into account the fact that criticizing the secular State of Israel, which at that time could do no wrong in the eyes of most American Jews, even religious American Jews, would cause a tremendous loss of income to the yeshiva. When kavod shamayim was at stake there could be no ulterior motives.

Rav Reuven was at the forefront of the battle against “gius banos” the drafting of girls into the Israeli army. At the time the Israeli parliament led by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion decided to pass a law making army service for girls compulsory. The gedolei hador of that time led by the Chazon Ish rendered a psak halacha declaring gius banos, to be “yeharog v’eal yaavor-one of the prohibitions that one is required to give up ones life in order not to transgress. The gedolei Eretz Yisrael asked the Roshei Yeshiva from the United States to use their influence in America to try to prevent the Israeli government from implementing the gezeirah. Rav Reuven was at the forefront of that battle. Unfortunately, the wider Jewish community in America, even those that were ostensibly religious did not understand the magnitude of the threat to klal Yisrael and kedushas Yisrael. In those days the prevailing attitude among American Jews was that the fledgling State of Israel could do no wrong. Rav Reuven therefore decided that a public relations offensive explaining why the future of klal Yisroel was so threatened by the gezeirah of gius banos had to be waged. No established newspaper, however, would publish it. Rav Reuven therefore paid from his own money to publicize material explaining the magnitude of the sakanah. He asked Reb Yosef Friedenson, to write an article explaining the issue to the wider public.

Upon finding out about the State of Israel’s scheme to bring in hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Morocco, Yemen and other oriental countries and to take advantage of their temimus in order to indoctrinate them and strip them of every vestige of Yiddishkeit, he threw himself into the battle, doing all in his power to change the government’s conduct.

Rav Reuven was at the forefront of the public outcry against the terrible travesty that became known as the Yaldei Tehran. The yaldei Tehran were orphaned Jewish children primarly from Torah observant homes that had survived the Holocaust and had been taken out of Europe by the Zionist run Jewish Agency and temporarily placed in Tehran in advance of their aliyah to Eretz Yisroel. The anti-religious Zionists tried to cruelly strip them of all vestiges of Yiddishkeit in the most insidious ways and ultimately sent them to anti-religious kibbutzim. In the United States a large asifa that was attended by virtually the entire charedi community of that time was held at the Washington Irving High School where Rav Reuven was the main speaker. When the Satmar Rebbe, the Divrei Yoel, heard that Rav Reuven was going to address the asifa, he advised his Chassidim to attend. Rav Reuven gave a fiery speech decrying the despicable actions of the Zionist establishment. When the large crowd be gan to enthusiastically applaud Rav Reuven’s powerful remarks, Rav Reuven became furiously upset, “Clapping?!” he cried, “We should not clap! We should recite kinnos!”

Following the asifa, Rav Reuven remarked that he was certain that he would be fired from his job as Rosh Yeshiva in Mesivta Torah Vodaas by the Board of Directors, (which at the time was comprised by many sympathizers of the Mizrachi). But he said, he simply could not keep quiet, no matter what the consequences.

During this stormy period, he heard that the first Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion would be visiting New York. Rav Reuven immediately arranged a delegation of Rabbanim and askanim who would meet with him and express their horror at the way the new olim were being stripped of their religion. Some of the Rabbanim in the group viewed this meeting as a sign of personal prestige and publicity. Rav Reuven was worried that as a result, the tone of their remarks would not reflect the depth of horror felt by Torah true Jews at the shameless indoctrination of apikorsus in which the State was complicit.

The day before the meeting, Rav Reuven fasted. The preceding night, he went to each member of the group and, with the fire of Yiddishkeit burning in him, explained to them the depth of the churban and how they should approach the meeting with Ben Gurion. He spent the entire night talking with the various Rabbanim. Suffice it to say that when he was finished all of them had lost the sweet taste in their mouths for the perceived kavod that they would derive from the meeting. At sunrise, Rav Reuven began to daven, shedding copious tears while reciting Tehillim. He then went to Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and asked the talmidim to recite Tehillim for the success of his meeting. He himself fasted a second consecutive day until after the appointment with Ben Gurion. All this happened while Rav Reuven was himself undergoing an extremely difficult situation in his own family.

Once, Rav Reuven spoke at a rally held against the systematic shmad being perpetrated by the State of Israel, during the early years of its Statehood. His speech was extremely sharp and everyone was discussing it. While walking in the street, Rav Reuven happened to overhear two Jews enthusiastically talking about how powerful his speech had been. Those close to Rav Reuven detected that something was bothering him. When they questioned him, he replied, “I intended to do something leshem shamayim, I performed an act of mesiras nefesh, I thought that a yeshua for the yerei Hashem in Eretz Yisroel would be the outcome. Now, however, I am afraid that perhaps the publicity of the speech and the pleasure that I received from hearing people praise it, will jeopardize the entire outcome.”

Indeed, throughout his entire life, Rav Reuven fled honor and publicity. This required a great amount of wisdom and cleverness because he was a public person who made his opinion known and who invoked public awareness, but simultaneously, he used his vast genius to always remove the spotlight from himself.


The last years of Rav Reuven Grozovsky’s life were years of pain and suffering. A short time after the passing of his Rebbetzin in 1951, Rav Reuven himself suffered a heart attack that greatly weakened him. The following year, he suffered a massive, debilitating stroke. He spent more than six months in the hospital and underwent two operations before he was released. The stroke left him partially paralyzed and made it difficult for him to speak.

For the next six years of his life, he was confined to a wheelchair. Nevertheless, despite his suffering, he was still constantly immersed in Torah. It was rare to find him without a sefer in his hands. During that period, Rav Aharon Kotler bemoaned the fact that he was not able to consult with Rav Reuven on the burning issues facing Klal Yisroel. Even though his ill health made it impossible for him to continue to lead public battles on behalf of Chareidi Jewry, he continued to follow the situation of Acheinu Bnei Yisroel and expressed his opinion to the gedolei Torah who would often come to visit him.

Even in the most difficult times, when he suffered tremendously, Rav Reuven tried as much as possible to hide his suffering from others and to greet all who came to visit him with a smile that belied his pain. On erev Shabbos, 22 Adar, 5718/1958, he returned his neshama, purified by yesurim, to his Creator.

Rav Reuven left over a beautiful family of marbitzei Torah that followed in his path. His son, Rav Shamshon is a marbitz Torah for many years, his son Rav Chaim zt”l, was a Rov and Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Reuven Kaminetz. Rav Chaim’s son Rav Yisroel Eliezer is a R”M at the Kaminetzer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. Rav Chaim’s son Rav Boruch Ber established the Bais Reuven-Kaminetz cheder in Lakewood.

His son-in-law, Rav Don Ungarsicher, is Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Medrash Elyon of Monsey. Rav Don’s son, Rav Yerachmiel is Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Medrash Elyon of Bnei Brak.

His son-in-law, Rav Levi Krupenia zt”l, was Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Kaminetz. Rav Levi’s son Rav Yehoshua Krupenia is Rosh Kollel in Bais Medrash Govoah of Lakewood. Rav Levi’s son Rav Baruch Ber Krupenia continues in his path as Rosh Kollel of the Kaminetzer Kollel in Boro Park.

{This article was written by Avrohom Birnbaum and originally appeared in the American Yated Ne’eman. It has since been posted on the Elmora Hills Minyan website.}

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