Rav Mordechai Gifter, son of Reb Yisroel, zt”l, was born on 7 Cheshvan, 5676 (1915) in Richmond, Virginia. Throughout his life he frequently referred to his father’s love of Torah and outstanding character traits, especially noting his integrity. Due to the difficulty of educating his children in Virginia, Reb Yisroel moved his family to Baltimore, which at that time was one of the Torah centers of the United States. HaRav Gifter grew up there.
When HaRav Gifter was young, HaRav Shimon Shkop visited Baltimore in order to strengthen the Grodno yeshiva of Lithuania. HaRav Gifter’s father took him to receive a brocho from the “kohen hagodol,” HaRav Shimon Shkop, who blessed him that he would become a godol beTorah. HaRav Gifter later attributed his success in Torah to HaRav Shimon Shkop’s brocho.
He was outstanding in his hasmodoh even as a youth, and known for his extensive knowledge and remarkable memory, to the point that he was like a “bor sod she’eino me’abeid tippoh.” While still young, he became known in the Torah world as a rare illui and it was expected that he would one day illuminate the yeshiva and halocho world with the light of his Torah. Affirming this is the fact that when he was only fifteen years old, his chiddushim were published in the Toras Eretz Yisroel journal printed in Petach Tikvah, alongside the Torah writings of HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank and HaRav Reuven Katz.
As a youth, he studied in the Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Yeshiva of New York City under his rav, HaRav Moshe Halevi Soloveitchik, whom he regarded as his mentor, chiefly in the foundations of derech halimud. HaRav Gifter often related: “My mentor’s shiurim were mainly derived from his father, the Grach (HaRav Chaim Halevi) Soloveitchik and those were what he called `pshat.’ Only rarely would he relate his own Torah ideas. Sometimes he would say: `Now we will say some Torah,’ everyone knew that then he intended to recite his own thoughts and explanations.”
HaRav Gifter studied together with HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel, zt”l, mashgiach of Lakewood and HaRav Avigdor Miller zt”l in the Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Yeshiva, where HaRav Gifter made great strides in Torah. During bein hazmanim when he returned to his parents’ home in Baltimore, he would continue to pore over his studies with tremendous hasmodoh. During the hot summer months, he would sit on his porch and memorize masechtos. He also later demanded that his students learn masechtos by heart during bein hazmanim, quoting the introduction to the sefer Beer Sheva, whose author had similarly instructed his students.
On this issue, he related that on his way to the Telz yeshiva in Lithuania, he had passed through Slobodke, where he stayed for a brief period. Upon his arrival in Slobodke, the rosh yeshiva HaRav Eizik Sher asked him: “What have you studied lately?”
“Me’ilah,” the young HaRav Gifter replied.
HaRav Sher rebuked him, and said: “Have you completed Bovo Basra and Bovo Kamo?”
When HaRav Gifter told HaRav Sher that he had studied Me’ilah during bein hazmanim, HaRav Sher praised him highly.
It was on the advice of his uncle, HaRav Yehuda Leib Zer, one of the directors of the Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Yeshiva, that HaRav Gifter went to study in the Telz yeshiva of Lithuania in the winter of 5692 (1932). When he arrived, he was received by the rosh yeshiva, HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch, Hy”d, who instantly discerned that HaRav Gifter was an outstanding student, destined for greatness. HaRav Bloch immediately placed him in a group with the best students.
From then on, a strong bond was formed between HaRav Bloch and HaRav Gifter, who regarded HaRav Bloch as his rav muvhak. In his shiurim, HaRav Gifter often quoted HaRav Bloch, saying: “I heard from mori verabi.” In his writings, he also referred to HaRav Bloch as: “Mori verabi, the admor hakodosh, Hy”d.”
HaRav Gifter often spoke about the rischa deOraisa prevailing in the Telz yeshiva of Lithuania. When HaRav Gifter first arrived in Telz, the yeshiva was filled with hundreds of students studying with indescribable simcha and fervor. The young Rav Gifter noticed one student whose simcha was especially conspicuous. When he asked who this student was, he was told that he was the poorest bochur in the yeshiva.
HaRav Gifter would always tell his students that Torah must be studied out of simcha, and would often quote the words of Reb Avrohom Minhahar on the gemora in Nedorim 48, that the simcha of Torah study is one of the main aspects of the mitzvah of talmud Torah.
An interesting anecdote about HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch is told: HaRav Bloch once asked HaRav Gifter how it was possible to study Torah lishmoh when one derives so much enjoyment from his study? HaRav Mordechai answered: “Simcha and enjoyment are themselves the lishmoh.” HaRav Bloch smilingly agreed.
During his stay in Telz, he also studied under HaRav Azriel Rabinowitz, Hy”d, son of HaRav Chaim Telzer and was very close to HaRav Zalman Bloch, his mentor in Telz and menahel ruchani of the yeshiva. Eventually, he married HaRav Bloch’s daughter, tlita.
HaRav Gifter told his students many accounts of the diligence common in Telz and about the vast knowledge of the students, who studied two masechtos each zman: one be’iyun and the other bebekiyus with unique fervor. He also told them about the love of Torah of the Telz laymen, who so highly cherished each student and budding talmid chochom on the merit of his toil in Torah.
HaRav Gifter maintained continuous correspondence with the Rogotchover gaon and with HaRav Ezra Altshuler, author of Takonas Ezra and HaRav Yosef Zusmanowitz, known as the “Yerushalami,” the author of Truas Hamelech and a rav in Wilkomir. A number of these letters, including profound halachic deliberations, appear in the book Shem Olom, published by the Telz yeshiva of Cleveland.
He had a special relationship with HaRav Mordechai Pogramanski, who would often come to Telz. HaRav Gifter organized a group of outstanding yeshiva students to study Torah and mussar with HaRav Pogramanski. He later related that he had been very influenced by his teachings. HaRav Gifter studied both nigleh and nistar with him, and related that he had often merited to be meshamesh him.
In the summer of 5699 (1939), HaRav Gifter became engaged to the daughter of HaRav Zalman Bloch. The wedding date was set for a year later. Upon the advice of HaRav Pogramanski, HaRav Gifter decided to go to study in Brisk, but he was accepted to the yeshiva only for the winter of 5700. During the interim, he returned home to Baltimore.
On the first day of Selichos, 5700 (September 1939), World War Two broke out. The 24-year-old bochur immediately went to Washington to try to secure visas for the roshei yeshiva and students of Telz. For two weeks, he knocked on doors of countless government VIPs, finally obtaining hundreds of visas for the roshei yeshiva and avreichim, as well as for their families. However, the heads of the yeshiva decided to remain in Telz, following the tradition of the former rav of Telz, HaRav Y. Bloch. During World War One, HaRav Bloch had instructed the Telz yeshiva to stay put and not to move deep inside Russia, as had the other yeshivos.
Immediately, his kallah left Telz for the United States, receiving a visa from the American consul in Kovna a few hours before the latter left for home.
HaRav Gifter’s wedding took place in the United States in the winter of 5700. The couple lived in Baltimore, where HaRav Gifter was very close to HaRav Michael Hacohen Forshlager, who had a profound influence on him. HaRav Forshlager was the author of Toras Michoel and one of the students of the Avnei Nezer.
With the expansion of the Ner Yisroel yeshiva in Baltimore by HaRav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, HaRav Gifter was asked to deliver chaburos to the students. These chaburos were on the masechta being studied in the yeshiva and on Shev Shmatsa.
In 5703 (1943) HaRav Gifter became rav of the chareidi community in Connecticut. This was an idyllic period in his life in which he was able to study Torah undisturbed. During this period, which he would longingly recall, he conceived chiddushim on the entire Shulchan Oruch as well as all the masechtos of Shas. While in Connecticut, he maintained contact with HaRav Yehuda Leib Feurur, zt”l, rav of Washington and formerly a rav of Bolnik, Lithuania, as well as with other great rabbonim in the United States.
In 5704, his uncles HaRav Eliyahu Meir Bloch and HaRav Chaim Mordechai Katz founded the Telz yeshiva in Cleveland. They asked him to join them as ram and mashgiach. As soon as he arrived in the yeshiva, he began to deliver shiurim. When his uncle, HaRav E. M. Bloch, was niftar, HaRav Gifter was appointed to the position of rosh hayeshiva, along with his colleague in avodas hakodesh, HaRav Boruch Sorotzkin, under the leadership of HaRav Chaim Mordechai Katz.
For scores of years, HaRav Gifter delivered shiurim and discourses to thousands of yeshiva students. In his last will and testament, he requested that he be accorded no praise, other than the fact that, “I merited to study Torah and to produce students who are outstanding in Torah and yiroh, not in accordance with my deeds.”
He moved to Eretz Yisroel in 5736, founding the Telz yeshiva in Kiryat Telz-Stone near Jerusalem, along with a group of his students and students of the Hevron yeshiva. There he delivered daily shiurim on the daf gemora and a Friday shiur on Minchas Chinuch, which was attended by some of Jerusalem’s greatest talmidei chachomim.
In 5739, he planned to found a shiur alef in the yeshiva. At that time, however, HaRav Boruch Sorotzkin, the rosh yeshiva of Telz in Cleveland, was suddenly niftar. At the directive of the Steipler Rav, he closed the yeshiva in Telz-Stone and returned to the United States in order to lead the Cleveland yeshiva.
When he returned to Cleveland, he was filled with longing for Eretz Yisroel — for which he had a special love - - and moved with his family into an apartment in the yeshiva dormitory, in order to conduct himself as in golus.
He began to deliver regular shiurim to the Cleveland students, as well as a shiur in Minchas Chinuch. His bond with his students was well known throughout the entire Torah world, and he merited to produce flocks of students who have become outstanding talmidei chachomim and bnei Torah. The entire lives of these students were influenced by the Torah he instilled in them. His shiurim were models of depth and profundity and his discourses were trees of life for service of Hashem. In these shiurim and discourses, he imparted all of the Torah teachings he had imbibed from his illustrious mentors.
His home was a beacon for lomdei Torah, all of whom he welcomed warmly with outstanding sensitivity and nobility. His affable demeanor shed its light on all who visited him, and was the basis of the esteem in which everyone held him. His superlative character traits were a model for his many students, each of whom he raised with fatherly love.
He had a great impact on tens of thousands of students who derived counsel and acquired eternal kinyonim of Torah, halocho and pure yiras Shomayim from him. They saw him as a prototype of the genuine oved Hashem whose sole interest in life was to serve Hashem with all his heart and to raise the honor of Shomayim. They regarded him as one who sought their welfare and strove to guide them on the road leading to beis Hashem, according to the traditions he had received from his mentors.
During his life, he published numerous Torah articles and published many seforim on all aspects of Torah, including emunah and halocho. He also put out Petitei Minchah on Minchas Chinuch. These seforim were studied and highly praised by the gedolim of our times. His seforim on mussar, emunoh, middos and avodas Hashem are basic books for every ben Torah wishing to grow spiritually.
Throughout the past fifty years he was one of the heads of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in the United States, and bearer of the tradition of the gedolei haTorah of Telz. He graced all of the Agudas Yisroel conventions in the United States with his presence, stirring the hearts of the masses who flocked to hear his speeches, which later became foundation blocks for Torah life in America.
At every convention, his speech was the main address, delivered with rischa deOraisa, reflecting pure da’as Torah as he had received from his great mentors, whom he always quoted. His searing words emanated from a pure heart that burned for the sake of kodshei Yisroel.
He was linked with every fiber of his heart and soul to the Kehillos Yaakov, zt”l and HaRav Elazar Menachem Shach zt”l, whom he regarded as the manhig hador, instructing all of his students to abide by Maran’s directives. HaRav Shach returned this affection for HaRav Gifter, and every time HaRav Gifter arrived in Eretz Yisroel HaRav Shach would call upon him.
A heavy pall of mourning befell all beis Yisroel upon learning of the petirah of Rav Gifter. He was niftar on Thursday, 23 Teves, at the age of 85.
The news of HaRav Gifter’s petirah quickly spread among his many thousands of students in the United States, who streamed to the study hall of the Cleveland Telz yeshiva. There his aron was placed opposite the aron kodesh, the place where he had disseminated Torah for more than fifty years.
A large levaya took place on Friday, 24 Teves, in the Telz yeshiva in Cleveland, and was attend by thousands of his students from all over the United States. When the aron was brought into the yeshiva, his students broke into cries of anguish over the loss of their beloved, esteemed mentor. Some did kriya, as behooves a talmid whose rav was niftar.
Before the levaya left the yeshiva, heartfelt hespedim were delivered by the following rabbonim: the niftar’s son, R’ Shmuel Zalman; HaRav Chaim Stein, rosh yeshiva of Telz; HaRav Eizik Osband, rosh yeshiva of Telz; student of the niftar, HaRav Avrohom Chaim Levin, rosh yeshiva of the Chicago branch of Telz; HaRav Gavriel Ginsburg, rosh yeshiva of Ner Yisroel in Toronto; HaRav Dovid Barkin, a ram in the Telz yeshiva; the niftar’s two sons-in-law, HaRav Ephraim Eisenberg, a ram in Ner Yisroel of Baltimore and HaRav Yaakov Reisman, a rav in Far Rockaway, New York, as well as the niftar’s son, HaRav Yisroel of Lakewood.
Levaya in New York
More then ten thousand chareidim in New York, attended the levaya of Gifter, which took place Sunday, 26 Teves in Far Rockaway, New York. The procession was head by roshei yeshiva, dayanim, rabbonim, and admorim who were followed by thousands of bnei Torah.
HaRav Gifter’s aron was flown from Cleveland to New York on motzei Shabbos, and the levaya was held early Sunday morning. The massive throng in attendance arrived from all parts of New York and New Jersey. Many busses which left Baltimore and Philadelphia on their way to the levaya were delayed due to heavy snow and generally harsh weather.
The aron reached the Darkei Torah yeshiva in Far Rockaway, were HaRav Gifter was eulogized for many hours. Among those who delivered mournful and tear-filled hespedim were: HaRav Elya Svei, rosh yeshiva of the Philadelphia yeshiva; HaRav Y. Altusky, a rosh yeshiva of Darkei Torah; HaRav Yaakov Bender, the rosh yeshiva and director of the yeshiva, who read HaRav Gifter’s last will and testament; HaRav Chaim Stein, rosh yeshiva of Telz: HaRav Mattisyahu Solomon, the menahel ruchani of Lakewood; HaRav Gifter’s son-in-law, HaRav Avrohom Chaim Feuer, a rav in Monsey; HaRav Gifter’s student, the Admor of Munkatsch, HaRav Gifter’s son-in-law HaRav Yaakov Reisman; HaRav Avrohom Osband, the rosh yeshiva of Talmidei Telz in Riverdale, New York.
The maspidim spoke with tremendous emotion about the image of their beloved rosh yeshiva who was one of the final transmitters of the teachings of the European Torah world to the current generation and called to his thousands of students to continue along his path. They also spoke about his tremendous merit for having established the Torah world in the United States after the Holocaust.
The levaya was transmitted to ninety-two centers in United States, South Africa and Australia, were HaRav Gifter’s students assembled to hear the stirring hespedim.
At the end of the levaya, the aron was brought to the Kennedy airport in New York. Due to the severe weather, the airplane took off two hours late, and as a result the levaya which set out from the Mirrer yeshiva in Jerusalem, was delayed by two hours.
The Levaya in Yerushalayim
Many thousands came to accompany the great gaon on his last earthly journey. The levaya was headed by members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, roshei yeshiva, dayanim, rabbonim, admorim, and thousands of bnei Torah. It proceeded from the Mirrer yeshiva to Har Hazeisim.
The aron, which arrived on a plane from New York, was accompanied by the niftar’s sons-in-law: HaRav Y Reisman, the rav of Agudas Yisroel of Far Rockaway; HaRav A. C. Feuer, HaRav Y. Barkin one of the roshei yeshiva of Telz in Cleveland, as well as by grandchildren and students.
Waiting at the airport were hundreds of bnei Torah, headed by the HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Steinman, and roshei yeshiva, marbitzei Torah and rabbonim. Present too were many of HaRav Gifter’s students who now live in Eretz Yisroel, and who came from various places in the country to accord respect to one of the greatest and most venerable roshei yeshiva of or time — one of the helmsmen and prime movers of the Torah world in America.
At the airport, a stirring hesped was delivered in the name of the Chinuch Atzmai by HaRav Rabbi Avrohom Yosef Lazerson. He spoke about the colossal spiritual stature of HaRav Gifter who illuminated the entire generation, and about his great stature as a leader, his greatness in Torah and Torah dissemination, and in yirah and mussar. Rav Lazerson stressed too the niftar’s exemplary mesiras nefesh on behalf of the Chinuch Atzmai in Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Lazerson also noted that the very same words which HaRav Gifter in hesped over the Kehillos Yaakov may be applied HaRav Gifter himself. “He was blessed with a deep comprehensive and sweeping Torah perspective, in all issues of chareidi Jewry.”
At the end of the hesped, Kaddish was recited by HaRav Shmuel Borenstein, the rosh yeshiva of Chevron Geula. From the airport, the levaya continued in a long car procession to the Mirrer yeshiva in Yerushalayim.
At the Mirrer yeshiva, where a massive throng awaited, excerpts of HaRav Gifter’s last will and testament was read. HaRav Gifter had written: “It is fitting not to recite hespedim over me, since I am not deserving of them. However, they nonetheless should be delivered, because they will benefit the students. But do not say too many praises.”
Rav Gifter was survived by an illustrious family. His sons and sons- in-law are gedolei haTorah and mussar; his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are continuing to uphold his spiritual legacy. His sons are HaRav Binyomin, HaRav Zalman and HaRav Yisroel. His sons-in-law are HaRav Ephraim Eisenberg, HaRav Avrohom Chaim Feuer, and HaRav Yaakov Reisman. He is also survived by thousands of students who were very close to him.
Yehi zichro boruch.