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10 Cheshvan 5764 - November 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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British Jewry Anticipates Visit Of Harav Moshe Shmuel Shapira
by Y. Rosenblum

The Jewish communities of England are eagerly anticipating the visit of HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira, rosh yeshiva of Be'er Yaakov and one of the most outstanding and influential gedolim of Eretz Yisroel.

HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira is one of the rare, remaining Torah scholars of our era intimately familiar with the pre- Holocaust world of European yeshivos. A scion of a distinguished rabbinic family with ties to Brisk, Baranowitz, and Mir, he went on to take an active part in molding many of the yeshivos that are currently the pride of Eretz Yisroel. HaRav Moshe Shmuel served as a bridge between worlds, transplanting the classic derech halimud of the greatest European roshei yeshiva to the current generation. Along the way, he developed close relationships with many of the previous generation's most outstanding gedolim and gained renown and reverence across the spectrum of Torah Jewry.

Early Years

Maran HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira was surrounded by the royalty of Lithuanian Torah scholarship from his earliest childhood. He was born in Minsk at the beginning of World War I. His father HaRav Aryeh, the dayan of Bialystok, opened his home to Rav Moshe Shmuel's illustrious grandfather HaRav Refoel Shapira, who served as rosh yeshiva of Volozhin. In addition, Rav Moshe Shmuel's uncle, Rav Chaim of Brisk, stayed at Rav Aryeh's home when he fled to Minsk because of the war. Thus HaRav Moshe Shmuel was brought up in a home permeated with the highest levels of Torah scholarship.

At a young age, HaRav Moshe Shmuel developed a close relationship with HaRav Elchonon Wassermann H"yd, rosh yeshiva in Baranowitz. Rav Elchonon immediately discerned the unusual talents of his young pupil and believed that a great future lay ahead for him.

HaRav Shmuel Birnbaum, rosh yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in America, detailed the singular bond that existed between Rav Elchonon and his student. That special connection was especially evident when Rav Elchonon planned a trip to England to raise funds for his yeshiva. The students were distressed at the thought that their beloved rosh yeshiva was leaving them, even temporarily, and they arranged a delegation to approach him to cancel his trip. That delegation was headed by the young Moshe Shapira, who told the Rosh Yeshiva, "We are willing to subsist on tea and dry bread, if only the Rosh Yeshiva would stay and learn with us." The Rosh Yeshiva reacted with a rare smile; as Rav Birnbaum recalls, it was the only time they saw him smiling like that.

Rav Moshe Shmuel gained a name among his peers as an outstanding student. A fellow student who arranged for him to learn bechavrusa with his younger brother wrote to their parents that he had gotten "the best in the yeshiva." But the younger brother's letter told a different story. He wrote that his chavrusa was "the sweetest bochur" in the yeshiva.

After studying in Baranowitz, Rav Moshe Shmuel went on to learn in the Mir. He then journeyed to Eretz Yisroel, where he received semichoh on all four parts of Shulchan Oruch from HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt"l.

Spreading Torah In Eretz Hakodesh

In Eretz Yisroel Rav Moshe Shmuel took on a new role; he began actively spreading and teaching Torah to others. He began delivering shiurim in the Lomza yeshiva, a prominent yeshiva which had absorbed hundreds of Holocaust survivors. After his marriage, he went on to become rosh mesivta in Kol Torah for two years.

HaRav Moshe Shmuel developed a close relationship with the Chazon Ish and they learned bechavrusa for three months. At the close of that period, the Chazon Ish founded the yeshiva in Be'er Yaakov and appointed Rav Moshe Shmuel as its rosh yeshiva. The Chazon Ish retained his close relationship with Rav Moshe Shmuel literally until his last day, when he received Rav Moshe Shmuel privately and spoke with him for two hours.

HaRav Moshe Shmuel has served as rosh yeshiva in Be'er Yaakov for the past sixty years, influencing thousands of disciples in that time. Due to his desire to focus solely on Torah learning and teaching, he transferred the rabbonus of Be'er Yaakov to Rabbi Moshe Menachem Jacobson. He was then able to channel all his energies into his students.

However, his outstanding greatness and the purity of his Torah perspective were much needed by Klal Yisroel, and thus he took on an additional role as well.

Leader Of Torah Jewry

Rav Moshe Shmuel has been a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah for more than forty years, shaping policy and rendering vital decisions for religious Jewry in Eretz Yisroel. He is one of the most senior members currently sitting on the Moetzes, having sat together with HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz, HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky, HaRav Yechezkel Sarna, the Beis Yisroel of Gur, the Imrei Chaim of Vishnitz, and Rav Shach, zichronom livrochoh. Rav Moshe Shmuel enjoyed a close friendship with all of the above gedolim, and currently works with their sons and successors.

In addition, Rav Moshe Shmuel is the nosi of the Vaad Hayeshivos, in which he has served for approximately fifty years. He took on this position at the urging of his cousin, the Brisker Rov, and the Chazon Ish, who foresaw his greatness and leadership abilities when Rav Moshe Shmuel was still young.

Perhaps because of the decades spent working on behalf of Klal Yisroel in tandem with leaders of every faction, Rav Moshe Shmuel is honored and respected across the entire spectrum of Torah Jewry. Chassidim, Sephardim, and traditional Lithuanian-style yeshivaleit all view him as their leader.

Over the years, Rav Moshe Shmuel has become a giant among roshei yeshivos. No matter what their background or particular approach to learning, Jews of all stripes see him as the address for authentic Torah thought. Gedolei Torah of the highest order are eager to benefit from his wisdom.

Rav Moshe Shmuel is accessible to, and interested in, each individual Jew as well. He is a true father figure, dispensing blessings and advice to everyone who visits him. Rav Moshe Shmuel is renowned for the unique efficacy of his tefillos, and he has been known to bring about personal yeshuosfor Jews in need of Divine aid.

On his forthcoming visit to England, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapira hopes to impart a message of chizuk to his fellow Jews. He will spend time with the Jewish communities, deliver shiurim and visit the local Torah centers. The entire religious population is eagerly anticipating the chance to meet this outstanding godol.


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