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12 Tishrei 5764 - October 8, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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HaRav Efraim Oshry zt"l
by Yated Ne'eman Staff and M Plaut

The Torah world lost one of its elder statesmen on the second day of Rosh Hashonoh with the passing of HaRav Efraim Oshry zt"l at the age of 95. HaRav Oshry was a young rov in Kovno during the Holocaust and then later rosh yeshiva in Rome after the war. For half a century he was rov of the Beis Hamedrash Hagodol on the Lower East Side of New York City.

He was born in 5668 (1908) in Kopishak, Lithuania. His father, HaRav Dov zt"l, was a descendant of the Hagohos Ashri and the Levush.

As a youth he learned in Ponevezh, Talmud Torah Kelm and Slobodke. He was also a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim in Radin. At the young age of 20 he was given semichoh by a number of prominent rabbonim, including HaRav Avrohom Dovber Kahane-Shapira the rov of Kovno, HaRav Leib Rubin the rov of Wilkomir, HaRav Boruch Horowitz to rov of Alekast who was a ram in Slobodke and head of Agudas HaRabbonim in Lithuania, and others.

While he was still quite young, he was appointed rov of the Abba Yechezkel Kloiz in Slobodke where he served with distinction.

During the Holocaust HaRav Oshry was one of the few living halachic authorities in the ghetto of Kovno, Lithuania during the Nazi occupation from June, 1941 until August 1, 1944.

He was part of the leadership of the Tiferes Bochurim movement in Lithuania and the rov of the community of Tiferes Bochurim Hatzair in Kovno. He set up a beis medrash at 8 Kakla street on 15 Menachem Av, 5703, in the middle of the awful Nazi occupation. He also have many shiurim, which entailed mesiras nefesh in the Halevoyas Hameis Kloiz and the home of the Holy Tailor Gefenowitz Hy"d at 7 Wittona Street. The Elul he also managed to set up a special group of Mazhirei Shabbos.

In the almost impossible conditions, he was called upon to rule in many heartbreaking cases that in normal circumstances would each have required days of research and contemplation. In some cases he had to rule in minutes in cases of life and death. He wrote his responses on whatever scraps he could find, and buried them in the ground. Later he recovered them and published them in five volumes of She'eilos Uteshuvos Mima'amakim.

One of the questions he had to answer was as follows: On 28 Sivan, 5701 (1941) the Nazis began rounding up Jews from the streets of Kovno and taking them to the "Seventh Fort" where many were murdered. A number of yeshiva students were seized. HaRav Avrohom Grodzensky Hy"dof Slobodke Yeshiva asked HaRav Oshry to approach Rav Dovid Itzkowitz, the secretary of Agudas HaRabbonim, to ask Lithuanians who were in charge of these actions, to release yeshiva bochurim.

HaRav Oshry considers whether it is permissible for Rav Itzkowitz to endanger himself in order to possibly save the yeshiva students? His conclusion is halacha does not demand that Rav Itzkowitz do so, but he may do so. HaRav Oshry approached Rav Itzkowitz and the latter agreed. He was successful in persuading them to free yeshiva students and was not harmed himself. However, HaRav Oshry concludes, "May the Almighty remember this unto him for good and avenge his pure blood, which was later spilled in the concentration camps of murder and destruction." (Translation from The Holocaust and Halakha, by Irving J. Rosenbaum, Ktav, 1976)

Another question that he was asked (on 6 Cheshvan, 5702 -- two days before the great slaughter of the Jews of Kovno) is if a man is allowed to commit suicide so that he not have to see the destruction of his family; that he not have to suffer unspeakable torture; and that he may have the merit of a proper Jewish burial. Rav Oshry says that he permitted suicide in this case but did not allow his decision to become widely known. He says that the Nazis often taunted the Jews for not committing suicide like the Jews of Berlin did. HaRav Oshry said that mass suicide would be desecration of Hashem's name since it would show that the Jews did not trust in the mercy of Hashem to save them. He writes, "It is worth noting, with pride, that in the entire ghetto of Kovno there were only three cases of suicide by people who had lost all hope. But the remainder of the ghetto inhabitants believed with perfect faith that the Almighty would not forsake His people, and would say to the Destroyer -- "enough!" They believed in the coming of the Moshiach and awaited his coming each day." (The Holocaust and Halakha, p. 39)

After the liberation, he was the only surviving rov of Kovno. He worked diligently to restore Yiddishkeit and was especially active in rescuing children left with non-Jews.

He then fled to Austria, where he founded a yeshiva in Welsh, a small town near Salzburg.

He was called upon to take over the leadership of the Meor Hagoloh yeshiva in Rome, founded to gather in survivors of the terrible years. Battered survivors from all over Europe made their way there, and many later assumed positions of leadership in the Torah world. He worked very hard and traveled around the world to raise money for the yeshiva, knowing that it was like a techiyas hameisim for many of the broken students.

He later went to America, where he served as rov of the Beis Hamedrash Hagodol on the Lower East Side of New York City. He was active in the Agudas HaRabbonim, and founded a school for boys in the Bronx as well as a parallel institution for girls.

Only some of his writings survived the war. He published Divrei Efraim in 5709, soon after he reached New York City. It had been prepared for publication before the war and had haskomos from HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky and HaRav Kahane-Shapira, among others.

His She'eilos Uteshuvos Mima'amakim became widely known, since it was one of only a few authentic collections of teshuvos under Nazi rule. The power of Torah even in such impossible conditions as shown in his rulings made a great kiddush Hashem. He also published chiddushei Torah on many areas, including Imrei Efraim on Nezikin and other subjects.

In addition he wrote about his memories. Noteworthy is a sefer entitled Yahadus Lita which appeared in Yiddish.

He saw many changes on the Lower East Side and remained with a clear mind until his last days. Lately he became very weak and he was niftar on the second day of Rosh Hashonoh.

He bought himself a place in the Chelkas HaRabbonim on Har Hamenuchos many years ago which was, sadly, put to use.

He leaves behind a wonderful family -- sons, sons-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren -- that continues in his path.


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