Today: 111th Yahrtzeit of Rav Yaakov Yosef zt”l, New York’s Only Chief Rabbi

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rav-yaakov-yosephThousands will participate today in visiting and davening at the kever of Rav Yaakov Yosef in the Union Field Cemetery, located at 82-11 Cypress Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens, today, on his yahrtzeit, 24 Tammuz. Buses will be leaving from various locations in Brooklyn and ample parking will be available alongside the cemetery.

The cemetery will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Drinks and refreshments will be served.

Rav Yaakov Yosef was born in the Krozhe Province of Kovno. He studied at the yeshiva in Volozhin under Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l and was elected as rov of Vilon, Yurburg, and Zhagovy before becoming maggid and acting rov of Vilna in 1883. A brilliant talmid chochom, Rav Yaakov Yosef was known for his brilliance.

When Rav Avrohom Yosef Asch zt”l, the first rov of Beis Medrash HaGadol of the Lower East Side, passed away in 1887, a new rov was sought. There was a common consensus that organizing the many kehillos in New York City under one banner was urgently needed and a decision was made by the 15 most prominent kehillos to appoint a Chief Rabbi. Requests were sent to the leading rabbonim of Europe, the seat of religious Jewry at that time, for recommendations of candidates. Several outstanding applicants were considered. A delegation was dispatched to Europe and consulted with its leading rabbonim for an appointment of a Chief Rabbi of towering Torah and personal stature for New York’s large and growing Jewish community. Rav Yaakov Yosef’s name was repeatedly suggested.

After much deliberation, the position was offered to and accepted by Rav Yaakov Yosef, then de-facto rov of Vilna. Fifteen leading New York City kehillos invited Rav Yaakov Yosef to leave Vilna and serve as the official Chief Rabbi of New York City. Rav Yaakov Yosef was offered an annual remuneration of $2,500, a large sum in those days, a large apartment, and the allegiance of most of America’s frum kehillos. In addition, Rav Yaakov Yosef was presented with $5,000, a veritable fortune, as a signing bonus of sorts to settle debts he personally incurred on behalf of the indigent he privately sustained.

On Shabbos, Parshas Matos-Masei, July 7, 1888, the trans-Atlantic ship Allaire docked at Hoboken, New Jersey. After Havdalah, at approximately 10 p.m., the new Chief Rabbi was taken to the nearby Myers Hotel by horse-drawn carriage. The leaders of the kehillos that joined in appointing the Chief Rabbi, as well as more than 100,000 people, crowded the streets for an opportunity to catch a first glimpse of him, all reported by the daily newspapers of the time. Hoboken had never before seen such a large crowd.

The Chief Rabbi delivered his first public drasha in New York on Shabbos Nachamu, July 28. Beis Medrash HaGadol at 60 Norfolk Street of the Lower East Side of Manhattan was filled to capacity, standing room only, and tens-of-thousands stood outside. Police were necessary for crowd control. Beis Medrash HaGadol, established in 1852, is still at its original location.

Sadly, Rav Yaakov Yosef was accorded great honor only twice during his tenure as Chief Rabbi. When he arrived in 1888, noting that more than a 100,000 people gathered to welcome him, The New York Times heralded him as an ecclesiastical giant in describing his grand arrival and royal reception.

For months, New York City newspapers continued to report about the huge attendances for his weekly Shabbos drashos. When he passed away in 1902, more than 120,000 people participated in his levaya, the largest New York City had ever seen. His aron was carried through the streets of Manhattan and taken by boat across the East River to Queens.

OTHER KEVORIM

While at the cemetery, many will visit the nearby kevorim of other notable rabbonim and roshei yeshiva. Not far from Rav Yaakov Yosef’s kever is the kever of Rav Avrohom Yosef Asch zt”l, first rov of Beis Medrash HaGadol of the Lower East Side. In the adjoining Mount Judah Cemetery, which is within very short walking distance, are the kevorim of Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva Torah Vodaas; Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva Torah Vodaath; Rav Dovid Liebowitz zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim; Rav Dovid Halberstam zt”l, Sokolover Rebbe; and Rav Reuven Grozovsky zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva Torah Vodaath.

{Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}

12 COMMENTS

  1. He devoted hinself to encouraging Yidden to have real love and caring and empathy for all of mankind even Eino-Yehudim. He said that, this will give HKB”H Nachas.
    It turns out he was right, and HKB”H speared all of American Jewery from the Shoah.
    Hashem should give us all Siyateh Dishmaya to, ‘Laasois Nachas Ruach L’haborei Y”Sh’.

  2. Why does this article skip the great Mesirus Nefesh & suffering he endured during his years as Rav Hakollel???

  3. Harav Yaakov Joseph, zt”l, Rav Hakollel of New York, (1840 – 5662 / 1902). The first and only Chief Rabbi of New York. Born in Krozhe, a province of Kovno, he studied in the Volozhin yeshiva under the Netziv, where he was known as “Rav Yaakov Charif” because of his sharp mind. He was one of the foremost students of Rav Yisrael Salanter. He authored the sefer L’beis Yaakov, published in 1888 in Vilna.
    In 1888, HaRav Joseph was invited by the Association of American Orthodox Hebrew Congregations to come to America and lead the fledging group of Eastern European immigrants – – at a time when America had little infrastructure for Jewish education, kashrut, and other keys to Jewish continuity. Rav Joseph fought vigorously to uphold Jewish tradition, but it was an uphill battle against a Jewish community that was assimilating, and against a government that was not yet fully supportive of religious rights. Tragically, Rav Joseph often bore the brunt of mockery and scorn from Jews who saw him as clinging to the “old ways,” and he withdrew from public life after suffering a debilitating stroke.
    Although he fought a losing battle in the kosher meat and poultry industry, he managed to achieve some notable accomplishments, including the hiring of qualified shochtim, introducing irremovable seals (“plumba”) to identify kosher birds, and setting up Mashgichim to oversee slaughter houses. He also took an active role in establishing the Etz Chaim Yeshiva—the first yeshiva on the Lower East Side, which was founded in 1866. (It was the forerunner of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary).
    Sadly, Rav Yaakov Yosef was accorded great honor only twice during his tenure as Chief Rabbi. When he arrived in 1888, noting that more than a 100,000 people gathered to welcome him, The New York Times heralded him as an ecclesiastical giant in describing his grand arrival and royal reception. For months, New York City newspapers continued to report about the huge attendances for his weekly Shabbat drashot.
    A crowd estimated at 100,000 lined the route of his funeral; the largest New York City had ever seen. His aron (casket) was carried through the streets of Manhattan (later taken by boat across the East River to Queens).
    The tragic story of Rav Yaakov Joseph’s tenure as chief rabbi of New York concluded with an infamous anti-Semitic incident at his funeral. As the procession turned onto Grand Street, the mourners were attacked by a barrage of bottles and buckets of water by employees of the R. Hoe and Co. The police were called in and over 300 Jews required medical attention, injured primarily by the policemen.
    Ironically, on June 15, 1904, more than 1,300 members of New York City”s Kleindeutschland (little Germany), which included the majority of the R. Hoe and Co. workforce, boarded the General Slocum steamboat to spend the day at Locust Grove on Long Island Sound. As the steamboat passed East 90th street on the East River it became engulfed into a ball of fire. More than 1,020 people died by the time the boat finally docked. Due to the tragedy within the next few years the entire neighborhood collapsed. Was the tragedy divine retribution for the attack on Rav Joseph’s funeral procession two years earlier? Who knows?

    After Rav Joseph’s death, a dispute ensued who should be his successor; it went unresolved and the office of Chief Rabbi ended. It marked the end of the attempt to establish a central rabbinical authority over New York’s Jewish community.

    A great biography is available in Hebrew or English, “The Rav Hakolel and his Generation” by Rabbi Yonah Landau. For a review of the book,see: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/title-rav-hakolel-a-biography-of-rabbi-yaakov-yosef/2012/06/27/

  4. #1 you are doing a great diservice to the Rov by wrongly attributing the above quote to this Gadol. It is very clear from the Torah that there is no Mitzvah to love Aino-Yehudim.pleae do not attach this great fighter of reform, to your progressive agenda

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