Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Iyar 5767 - April 19, 2007 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











HaRav Yosef Tzvi Dunner

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Mourning descended on the Torah world in Eretz Yisroel and abroad following the histalkus on Erev Pesach of HaRav Yosef Tzvi Halevi Dunner zt"l, ravad of the Union of Chareidi Communities of England and the rov of Adas Yisroel of London, who returned his soul to his Maker around midnight on the night of Bedikas Chometz at the age of 95.

A large memorial gathering will be held Thursday night (2 Iyar) at 8:00 p.m. at Beis Knesses Heichal Shmuel in Jerusalem's Mattersdorf neighborhood. Scheduled to speak are HaRav Yitzchok Tuvioh Weiss, HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, HaRav Zeev Feldman, HaRav Eliezer Halevi Dunner and HaRav Yehuda Aryeh Halevi Dunner. Seating will be available for ladies as well.

Chareidi communities throughout Europe, especially England, felt a sense of being orphaned upon hearing the bitter news of the loss of one of the survivors of the pre-War generation — a leader of chareidi Jewry in England for over 50 years and a moreh horo'oh for over 70 years — who served as Chief Rabbi of London, nosi of Agudas Yisroel of Europe and head of the Kedassiya kashrus organization.

Two weeks before Pesach he contracted a serious case of pneumonia, but through great mesirus nefesh he managed to go to his beis medrash for tefillas ma'ariv one evening. On Shabbos Hagodol, after reading the beginning of the Haggadah, he gathered a few of his family members and said, "We are about to enter a new era."

On the 13th of Nisan, his condition took a turn for the worse. Chareidi kehillos in London gathered at botei knesses to beseech Hashem to take pity on shearis hapleitoh.

His family members and rabbonim from the kehilloh gathered around his deathbed, davening ma'ariv together with HaRav Dunner at 10:00 o'clock. Afterwards they began to sing melodies from the Yomim Noraim and the Haggadah according to German customs. The gathering reached its peak when the Viddui began. He joined them, reciting each word, and then with a moving niggun they recited Shema Yisroel, Sholosh Esrei Middos and Hashem Melech.

When the tefilloh ended around 11:00 o'clock, HaRav Dunner returned his pure soul to his Maker as heartbreaking cries of Shema Yisroel and Hashem Hu HaElokim rose. After HaRav Dunner's soul had departed Yigdal was recited in keeping with the German custom.

As the bitter news spread through chareidi London, mourning kehilloh members arrived to take part in an all-night Tehillim vigil alongside the mittoh. Early on the morning of Erev Pesach, young and old alike could be seen making their way toward the large Adas Yisroel shul, where HaRav Dunner served as a marbitz Torah and moreh horo'oh for over 50 years ever since he accepted the post in London. Streaming in from every corner of London and places as far as Gateshead and Manchester, a sea of black covered the nearby streets, creating a sight rarely if ever before seen in London.

With heart-rending cries the mittoh was brought into the beis medrash and placed opposite the Aron Kodesh. Because it was Erev Yom Tov the hespeidim were kept to a minimum.

HaRav Ephraim Padwa lamented the great loss for all of London of a rov who was a figure from a bygone era. "He will be missed in the beis din and in the kehilloh, and his mesirus nefesh in maintaining the walls of religious affairs and kashrus in the city will be missed," he said.

Speaking in a choked voice, his eldest son, HaRav Aba Dunner, executive director of the Conference of European Rabbis, bemoaned the loss of his father to the family and the entire community.

His son HaRav Aharon Dovid Dunner, rov of the Adas Yisroel beis medrash in Tottenham, moved the thousands of people on hand, citing the verse, "Vayomos Yosef...vechol hador hahu" (Shemos 1:6).

Following the hespeidim his sons recited Kaddish and the procession set out for the Hisachdus of Chareidi Communities Cemetery, where he was buried before noon.

During the morning hours of Erev Pesach his sons in Eretz Yisroel, HaRav Eliezer Dunner, rov of Kehillas Adas Yisroel Be'eretz Hakodesh and a member of the Shearis Yisroel Beis Din, and HaRav Yehuda Aryeh Dunner, rov of Beis Knesses Divrei Shir in Bnei Brak, sat Shivoh. Among those who paid condolence calls were HaRav Shteinman, HaRav Lefkowitz and HaRav Wosner, who lamented the great loss to the generation of a vestige of the great rabbonim of the pre- Holocaust era.


Yosef Tzvi Halevi Dunner was born shortly before World War I on 25 Teves 5673 (1913) in Cologne, Germany to Rav Boruch Chaim Hy"d and named after his great-uncle, HaRav Yosef Tzvi Dunner, the gavad and ram of Amsterdam, who had passed away one year before his birth. The Dunner family was known in Germany as a family of great rabbonim descended from the Oruch Laner.

At the age of six he lost his mother, who was also of noble Ashkenaz lineage — a descendent of the Maharal of Prague and the gavad of Warsaw, the Chavos Yo'ir.

He studied at the talmud Torah run by the local chareidi community, showing signs that he was destined for gadlus. From the age of 11 to 19 he studied at the yeshiva operated by Talmud Torah Cologne, which was headed by HaRav Pinchos Wolf, the gavad of Cologne.

At the age of 19 he wanted to leave home to study in one of the illustrious yeshivas of Lithuania, but his father felt that given the dearth of rabbonim in Germany communities, before going to yeshiva he should study at a place that provides rabbinical training (smichus). He sent the young man to Beis Hamedrash Lerabbonim in Berlin, which was headed by HaRav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, the author of Seridei Eish. There he continued his intensive learning day and night, amassing tremendous knowledge of Shas and poskim.

When HaRav Elchonon Wassermann arrived in Berlin to raise money for Yeshivas Baranovitch, he asked to engage top students at Beis Hamedrash Lerabbonim in pilpulo deOraisa, and among the students the Rosh Yeshiva selected was R' Yosef Tzvi Dunner.

While still a bochur he was tested orally on all four sections of the Shulchan Oruch and made a great impression on his rabbonim and other prominent poskim, who granted him Yoreh Yoreh Yodin Yodin semichoh.

In 5696 (1936) the heads of the chareidi community in Koenigsberg (now Kaliningrad) asked the Seridei Eish to send them his top student to occupy the local rabbinate. He recommended HaRav Dunner, who was only 23 at the time. On the day he was installed at the post the local Jewish press called him "the best young rabbi in all of Germany."

After he was made rov and av beis din of Koenigsberg he fully devoted himself to the task of buttressing the walls of religious practice in the city. He became active in every area of community life, replied to every halachic question and painstakingly supervised the local shechitoh, kashrus and mikveh arrangements.

While serving as moro de'asra of Koenigsberg he stood up to the Reform Movement, pertinaciously battling against all of their attempts to alter Jewish tradition and Torah- based hashkofoh.

One year after taking over the rabbinate he married the daughter of R' Zeev Freyhan, a distinguished member of the kehilloh in Breslau, Germany and one of the founders of Agudas Yisroel in Katowice who was held in high esteem by the Chofetz Chaim and HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt"l.

About two years later, in the early morning hours of Kristallnacht on 16 Cheshvan 5699 (November 10, 1938) he woke up to the sound of Gestapo officers shattering the windows of his home. The rioters broke the glass using the eitz chaim of a torn sefer Torah that was hurled inside, and the broken glass landed on the bed of his firstborn son, then a one-year-old baby.

The German officer who broke into the apartment ordered HaRav Dunner to get dressed immediately. When he looked aside for a moment, HaRav Dunner slipped into his pocket a pair of tefillin that would eventually serve numerous prisoners like him. The officer handcuffed HaRav Dunner and dragged him outside callously.

The Gestapo officer intentionally made his way to the jail via the street where the shul stood, so that the Rov would see for himself the beis knesses going up in flames. HaRav Dunner was so distraught at the sight that he threw up and fainted. When he regained consciousness he was being dragged to the jail.

Many German Jewish community leaders were taken to Dachau, where they perished. However Koenigsberg was in East Prussia which was separated from Dachau and the rest of the Reich by Polish territory, and Warsaw refused to allow political prisoners to be transported across its territory to Germany proper.

One week after being thrown in a jail cell he was informed that within a short time he would be transported to a concentration camp. One month later an envelope sent by HaRav Solomon Schoenfeld, a London rov, arrived at his home with an entry visa to England for HaRav Dunner, his wife tlc"a and their baby boy. Rebbetzin Dunner went to the German authorities with the visa and, through obvious miracles, his departure was approved before the rest of the kehilloh was killed.

Immediately upon his arrival in England he was called upon to set up a kehilloh in the resort town of Westcliff and later in Leicester. Through devoted efforts he built a large kehilloh and Torah-based schools for both boys and girls. Many of the members felt grateful to HaRav Dunner for the rest of their lives for enabling them and their descendants to return to the path of traditional Judaism.

In 5706 (1946) he moved to Stamford Hill in North London, where he headed the local Beis Yaakov seminary for years, helping thousands of Jewish girls prepare to build Torah-true homes.

A few years later he was asked to serve as rov of Adas Yisroel of London and the His'achdus of Chareidi Communities in England and as head of the Kedassiya kashrus organization. Several other candidates were under consideration for the post, but HaRav Aharon Kotler and the Satmar Rov (HaRav Yoel Teitelbaum) zt"l, who knew HaRav Dunner from their visits to London and had been greatly impressed by his gadlus and humility, supported his nomination and recommended the London community appoint him without holding elections.

HaRav Dunner viewed his rabbinical duties as servitude rather than domination, and as such his door was open wide to all. He found a common language with the poor and other Jews in hard straits. He would often invite them to his home for meals and provide them lodging for months on end until suitable living quarters could be arranged.

The members of his kehilloh saw him not just as a rov and moreh horo'oh, but as a father figure as well. They consulted him on every matter and followed his advice. Many yeshiva students felt so at ease with him they would pour out all their thoughts and problems. People came to him all hours of the day and night, and he refused to post a sign on the door listing receiving hours.

For over 50 years he served as head of Kedassiya, which is trusted by all streams of chareidi Jewry abroad thanks to his expertise in every detail related to the kashrus system and his strict adherence to high halachic standards. The organization has set an example of outstanding, uncompromising kashrus for decades.

One snowy London night, concerns arose that the new mashgiach would not arrive on time at the dairy for the 5:00 am milking. HaRav Dunner traveled two hours by train and around 4:00 am lay down on the frozen ground of an adjacent field to insure the non-Jewish dairy owners would not spot him. At 5:00 am he saw the workers begin milking the cows before the mashgiach's arrival. When the mashgiach came a bit late HaRav Dunner emerged from his hiding place and approached the astonished mashgiach.

For over 30 years, until three years ago, he would travel to Eretz Yisroel to personally oversee the baking of machine matzoh for London residents. He would stand throughout the baking process, from early morning until well into the evening, supervising the process and directing the other mashgichim. He was not distracted for a moment and spared no effort, bending down under the machines even in his old age.

He instituted chumros and hiddurim that the bakery owners had trouble adhering to from a technical standpoint, but he insisted on them until technical changes were made to meet all of his demands. Many matzoh baking machines installed in Eretz Yisroel and abroad during the past 30 years were designed in accordance with the kashrus guidelines he introduced.

As ravad of London, every week he would sit on the bench of the London beis din with other dayonim. His rulings and directives revealed his genius, astuteness and gadlus in Torah and horo'oh, as well as his mastery of Shas and poskim.

He would begin his day by giving a shiur to baalei batim at his beis medrash before Shacharis. He would count his 100 daily brochos, saying it helped him keep HaKodosh Boruch Hu in mind throughout the day.

Over 40 years ago HaRav Dunner was chosen to serve as a member of the presidential board of Agudas Yisroel of Europe together with gedolei Torah HaRav Leib Gurwicz rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Gateshead, and HaRav Ben Tzion Rakow the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chayei Olom. Until the end of his life he served as nosi of numerous institutions and Torah centers in England.

HaRav Dunner maintained close ties with the Steipler, HaRav Shach, HaRav Moshe Feinstein, HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and HaRav Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss zt"l as well as HaRav Eliashiv ylct"a.

In 5754 he suffered a personal tragedy when his son, Shlomo, passed away following an entire year of illness. When he was in critical condition, gaining control over his emotions HaRav Dunner drew near and whispered: "Shlomeleh, we've done everything we could to cure you. We very much want to see you live for many years to come. Now you are in the hands of Heaven, and HaKadosh Boruch Hu will do what's best for you."

In 5758 (1998) he returned to Koenigsberg with HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel, HaRav Shlomo Wolbe and other rabbonim as part of a rabbinical delegation working to persuade local officials to protect the ancient cemetery there where gedolei olom lie buried, including HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt"l.

HaRav Dunner made special efforts to preserve Ashkenaz customs. His family members collected nearly 1,000 of the customs he kept throughout the year and published them in a booklet titled "Minhagei Maharitz Halevi."

Until this past year, when he was 93 years old, HaRav Dunner continued to fast every Erev Rosh Chodesh, BaHaB, Shovevim, 7 Adar and Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh.

Despite his declining health during the past year on several occasions he managed to attend the weekly meetings of the Kedassiya beis din as well as rabbinical gatherings sponsored by Agudas Yisroel of England. In Adar he visited several factories that manufacture kosher-for-Pesach products to personally supervise the kashering of the machinery and the ovens.

Until about two weeks before his petiroh he kept coming to his beis medrash for all three tefillos and on Shabbos Mevorchim for Adar he served as the shaliach tzibbur for Bircas Hachodesh, as was his practice for years.

HaRav Yosef Tzvi Dunner zt"l is survived by his wife, his sons, who are gedolei Torah and marbitzei Torah veyir'oh in Eretz Yisroel and abroad, his daughter, who is married to HaRav Simcha Halevi Bamberger, one of the rabbonim of Manchester, grandchildren and great- grandchildren continuing his spiritual legacy.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.