The Passing of Greatness: The Rabbanit


rebbetzin-kanievskyBy Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman

As Shabbos Chol HaMoed came to an end I was shocked and saddened as I heard about the passing of Rabbanit Bat-Sheva Kanievsky- wife of the beloved Tzaddik, Rav Chaim.

I had the privilege of meeting and speaking to the Rabbanit – as she was referred to- many, many times.

In fact I do not think I ever visited her husband without exchanging a word or two with the Rabbanit.

Everyone I knew referred to her as The Rabbanit; not the ‘Rebbetzen’ as we refer to the wife of the rabbi in America.

However, Rabbanit Kanievsky was more than just another wife of a rabbi; she was ‘The Rabbanit” – a title of regality.

As always, I cannot speak for anyone other than myself.

I certainly did not know here ‘well’ and would never claim to have spoken to her at any great length.

Therefore, what I am about to present is nothing more than my personal recollections of my brief encounters with ‘The Rabbanit”.

For one thing she was not a woman in the ‘wings’ or a woman who lived in the shadow of anyone.

She was always there and she was quite visible; that being said she was the epitome of modesty and purity.

She attended Shul daily- always with her husband. She was there at four in the morning for Vasikin and she was there with him for Mincha.

(I must admit, I do not know first hand if she attended Maariv daily.)

The Rabbanit was a lively and potent woman; simultaneously powerful and productive; progressive yet passive; happily accepting her roll as the help-mate of her husband.

However, notwithstanding her devotion to her husband, she was aristocratic in her own right.

After davening she was the only rebbetzen I ever observed who was literally swamped and surrounded by women as she slowly made her way from The Ledderman Shul to her home.

Throngs of women clung to her and observed her every move.

In an era when so many young (and not so young) Jewish women are sorely searching for a role model and ‘hero’- The Rabbanit was there to fill the void.

When a young woman from America was seen in the women’s section early in the morning, The Rabbanit would make sure to shower her with even more love than usual. Every morning she went to all the women who arrived early for Shacharis and insisted that each and everyone recite their Brochus out loud so she could answer Omein.

She was mobbed by all types of women daily. Religious and not yet religious; Ashkenazim and Sephardim, young and old; all were drawn to her magnetic personality.

She warmly greeted everyone; waiting and standing long hours in the hot son dispensing Brochus to women in need and offering words of comfort and chizzuk to everyone.

I recall vividly the time I brought my oldest grandson to Rav Chaim for his first haircut. When we arrived she had stepped out of the room for a minute; however, when she returned and realized why we had come she rushed to find a candy to give him and made sure to add a few more for his siblings at home.

Each time I would arrive, I would inquire as to the welfare of her father- HaRav Elyashiv Shlita. She would tell me, “Baruch Hashem, he is well.” She would then add- “Please go to see him in Meah Shearim, he teaches a class in Gemara there nightly. You should go. You will gain from the class.”

Here was a woman whose grandfather, Rav Aryeh Levin Zt”l was known as the Tzaddik of Yerushalayim; whose father- Rav Elyashiv is the halachik arbiter of our generation; who husband is … Rav Chaim! And she is giving me encouragement with such love and such caring that I will be improved if I attend her father’s Shiurim!

On one of my first visits to the Rebbe, I asked one of the attendants if one recites the brocha for seeing a Talmid Chochom when one sees Rav Kanievsky. The man replied in the affirmative, however, before I walked into her husband’s room- The Rabbanit said emphatically, “Yes, you could say the brocha, however, do not say it. The Rav does not like anyone saying the brocha in his presence.” Of course that ended the discussion.

One day I arrived and only she was home. I asked where Rav Chaim is and she replied that he was busy now. By the look of my face- she could see that I was disappointed. She then looked at me and said, “Wait over there by the door. Soon he will be going to Mincha; if you wait there you can have a few minutes with him before he leaves the house!” Once again her care for the individual was prominent in her personality.

My most poignant and heartfelt memory of The Rabbanit was on a cold chilly night in December. I arrived and knocked on the door. Aryeh Kanievsky- their grandchild answered the door. Over the years Aryeh and I have developed a relationship and he motioned me to enter. As I walked into the house I observed a sight reserved for the angels above. There on the dining room table sat Rav Chaim in his crinkled and mis-buttoned blue sweater and across from him sat The Rabbanit. There was no other human being in the room. I was too scared to enter and therefore for the next few minutes I stood quietly as I took on the role of the proverbial fly on the wall as greatness transpired all around me.

The Rabbanit sat in her seat surrounded by piles and piles of small pieces of papers. Each one of ther scraps contained the heart and soul of a Jewish person. On one a woman had penned her request for a Shidduch- a soul mate. On another, a man asks for a recovery from cancer for his infirmed wife; on one slip is the request for children- the tear droplets are still visible on the moist paper. The Rabbanit picked up each and every piece of paper as if it was her child. She gently unfolded the paper and with warmth and love she read each and every request to her husband who sat across from her.

As I stood there I could not believe the sight which my eyes beheld. In front of me sat a man whose every second is precious and accounted for. And here is a woman who has many children and grandchildren to attend to; however, they are sitting together in the precious and rarely had private time together- praying for Jews whose faces they do not recognize and whose last names they do not know! If this is not greatness, what is?

By the way the ritual played out I could tell that this was a daily occurrence; the Rabbanit slowly reading the day’s requests for divine help and the Rav responding with the appropriate Tefillah.

Their care and their concern for all Jews touched me to my core.

This is Rav Chaim and this was The Rabbanit.

I saw greatness in the Rabbanit, and now it has passed.

I miss her.

{Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Newscenter}


  1. It brought tears to my eyes. There are so many lessons to be learnt from this fascinating article but I think the one above all else is how much we need to improve in the area of being “noisei b’ol chaveiro”. If we would, everything else would surely follow. May we all learn from this amazing tzidkonis and may she be a melitza yoisher for her husband, family and all of klal yisroel.

  2. She was the Chuldah Hanevia of our generation- teaching, advising, advocating, davening on behalf of Klal Yisroel. Just as Chuldah had her chamber on the Har Habayis adjacent to the Lishkas Hagazis, where the Jewish people came to consult her, Rebbetzin Kanievsky held court right next to one of the Gedolei HaSanhedrin of our time. That court will now remain empty until she comes back with techiyas hameisim.

  3. My Rov pointed out that it’s going to be a pretty scary week as we will be missing the Torah learning of two giants, R’ Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Elyashiv, who are both sitting Shiva. Scary, indeed. The families should have only simchas from now on.

  4. In response to Midwest anon –

    With all due respect to your Rav, although his comment (as you report it – perhaps he said it in a different way) gives an interesting way to view the situation, it is not totally correct, for the following reasons.

    1) Rav Elyashiv hasn’t been told of the loss last I read, so he is still learning as if he would not be an aveil presumably.

    2) Rav Chaim and the other aveilim will not be totally devoid of learning Torah, as an aveil is allowed to learn certain things, e.g. related to aveilus.

    3) It would have been a better idea to encourage others, (non aveilim), to try to fill any gap due to less learning by the aveilim by increasing their own talmud Torah, rather than just scare people. We can increase our learning at the same time, even if their’s had to be decreased.

  5. In response to Midwest anon – i just want to say that my week has already been very frightening! I was in a car accident in my home town, and it was a bad one. B”H i walked away with only minor injuries, but i wonder how much the great loss of torah impacts the world…
    Hamakom yinachem eschem bisoch shar availai tzion veyerushalayim

  6. #5,
    You can nitpick like that. It’s probably your personality.

    I don’t know who was informed of what. But my Rov was discussing the importance of the loss of a week’s worth of learning.

    The point was not necessarily to instill fear, although he also quoted Rav Shteinman as being “afraid” every year during bein ha’zmanim for the very same reason–the loss of learning in Klal Yisroel.

    It basically led to the same conclusion. But it’s funny how you say “it would have been better..” As if you know how important this Rov is, or that your opinion of how to inspire others works better than his.

    You can opine all you like when you have one of the largest shuls in the entire midwest. Until then, keep leaving comments from your computer.

  7. midwest anon
    So that we arent disrespectful, and so that we may understand how important your Rov is, please let us know who he is.