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1 Shevat 5771 - January 6, 2011 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Yissochor Meir zt"l

By S. Bruchi

Beis Yisroel and the yeshiva world was cloaked in mourning upon receiving the bitter news on Motzei Shabbos Parshas Va'eiro, 26 Teves, of the passing of HaRav Yissochor Meir zt"l, an elder statesman among our generation's roshei yeshivos and marbitzei Torah. One of the founders of the Torah world in Morocco and the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas HaNegev, he was summoned to Yeshiva Shel Maaloh on Shabbos night.

Yissochor Meir was born in Germany in Adar 5687 (1927) to HaRav Yaakov Meir, who was known for his great yiras Shomayim and was the son of HaRav Yissochor, who served as the rov of Regensburg in Bavaria and waged holy wars against the Reform Movement, while sanctifying the Name of Heaven. Yissochor Meir's mother, Leah (nee Auerbach), came from a rabbinical family in the town of Halberstadt and was the great- granddaughter of the author of Nachal Eshkol.

After his father passed away he moved to Eretz Yisroel at the age of seven, together with his mother and three sisters, Rebbetzin Bamberger o"h, Rebbetzin Chollack o"h and Rebbetzin Pfeifer o"h, settling in Petach Tikva.

As a child he studied under adverse conditions. At a young age he applied himself to his studies, while his sisters undertook the household maintenance, allowing him to learn unperturbed. Later, at Yeshivat Lomzha, he devoted himself heart and soul to Torah, which became his lifelong focus.

At the yeshiva he formed close bonds with HaRav Shmuel Rozovsky and HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira zt"l. He later recalled that HaRav Moshe Shapira once asked him where he had been in the afternoon. "I went to the beach," he replied. "That's not how you grow in Torah," said HaRav Shapira, and from that point on studied with him on a regular basis from 9:00 in the evening until the morning hours. "HaRav Shapira would read the gemora and I had to explain it. He put me to the test."

HaRav Chaim Kanievsky ylct"asaid during this period HaRav Meir was his rov and teacher at Yeshivas Lomzha.

HaRav Yissochor Meir was among the first students at Yeshivas Ponovezh after it was founded by the Ponevezher Rov. Prominent roshei yeshivos recall that he was known as "the masmid" at the yeshiva. He would learn from morning to night without a break, subsisting on Torah alone. He was recognized for his exceptional character and was a source of pride for the yeshiva, where the rabbonim made special efforts to impart their knowledge to him, predicting that he was destined to light the Torah world with his learning.

His ties to the Ponevezher Rov were especially close; throughout his lifetime he would consider how the Ponevezher Rov would regard a given matter and the rav's image was ever-present in HaRav Meir's mind.

He also cleaved to the mashgiach, HaRav Eliyohu Dessler zt"l, committing his talks to memory, and paid visits to the Brisker Rov regularly to discuss the difficult sugyos in Seder Kodshim.

After many years of devoted study, the Chazon Ish sent him to Switzerland where, still a bochur, he taught at Yeshivas Eitz Chaim in Montreux. For a short period he served as a rom at a yeshiva in Belgium before returning to Switzerland.

After marrying Yehudis of the Prager family, HaRav Dessler sent an enthusiastic letter to the Gateshead kollel noting HaRav Meir's mastery of Torah and recommending he be accepted. Writing on Erev Shabbos Parshas Shlach 5710 (1950), HaRav Dessler remarked: "He is truly great in Torah, with a command of the entire Shas with the Tosafos and Rishonim and a great lamdan. He has tremendous abilities and is also the most diligent and hard-working member of the yeshiva. He has yiras Shomayim and good middos. He is originally from Germany. It was suggested he go to Kollel Torah Vodaas, where my son-in-law nero yo'ir studies, but I advised him to go to Gateshead. In my opinion you should send him a visa right away, and if so you will have no regrets whatsoever."

At the behest of HaRav Dessler, he later went to Casablanca, Morocco with HaRav Zusha Waltner, where they set up a yeshiva to battle against the secular education provided by the Alliance Israelite Universelle, which claimed many victims among Moroccan Jews. With tremendous siyata deShmaya they succeeded in building an exemplary yeshiva; many of the bochurim who studied there went on to build the current Torah world for Jews of Sephardic origin.

After teaching Torah for several years, an informer told the authorities that HaRav Meir held an Israeli passport. The Moroccan authorities decided to deport him, but after a short time he managed to sneak back in with a German passport and he began teaching Torah in Tangiers. Local Jews were very supportive of the yeshiva and his wife started a seminary for girls, thereby saving many young women from spiritual oblivion.

When the Rav and the Rebbetzin moved to Eretz Yisroel, he began to give shiurim at Kfar Haroeh. For two years he taught Torah, planning to gather students who would form the core group for a yeshiva. With the blessings of the Ponevezher Rov and HaRav Shach, HaRav Meir headed south to establish his yeshiva in Netivot, thereby fulfilling Chazal's dictum: "Harotzeh lehachkim yadrim."

In the town of Netivot, at the time little more than a ma'abarah camp for new, poor, immigrants, in Elul 5721 (1961) he founded Yeshivas HaNegev, bringing his students from Kfar Haroeh.

He once remarked to a friend: "I always had an image in my mind of the Ponevezher Rov when he came to Eretz Yisroel during the Holocaust and told everyone that yeshivas had to be built in Eretz Yisroel. Everyone opposed him and dismissed his ideas. My rebbe and teacher, the Ponevezher Rov zt"l, would reply to them, `It's not for us to ask why the Holocaust began, but there's another question we must ask: Why were we spared? And the answer is that we were spared in order to build Torah.'

"He would cite the verse, `Ubehar tzion tihiyeh pleitoh vehoyoh kodesh,' saying yeshivas must be built in the Holy Land. He would expand on the matter, saying instead of drinking a bit of liquor lechayim when a new yeshiva opens, we would drink our tears instead."

Years later he recalled that the Ponevezher Rov had told him "not to open the yeshiva in a place that was barren and devoid of Torah, but in a place that has a bit of Yiddishkeit," and because most of the residents of Netivot were immigrants from North Africa, the yeshiva was warmly welcomed. The difficulty was in persuading students to come south to "the ends of the earth."

Though the early years were rough, the yeshiva eventually flourished and HaRav Meir's books on the Shas, Sachar Sechir, drew a wide following in the yeshiva world.

HaRav Meir undertook the task of setting up all of the educational institutions needed for bnei Torah who made their homes around the yeshiva, including talmudei Torah, schools, seminaries and yeshivos ketanos. He also set up schools for Netivot's general population, including girls' schools that instilled young women with the values needed to built Torah homes. He personally served as shadchan for many of the girls, representing both sides, and even helped provide resources for the wedding and setting up a home.

In the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986, he traveled to Ukraine to bring Jewish children who survived and to set up institutions for them. This was a continuation of the outreach work he did years earlier with FSU immigrants. Many of the Russian students who had studied at his yeshiva taught Torah to these children and encouraged them in Yiddishkeit.

Six years ago he started Yeshiva Zerua and Yeshivas Sderot. Despite his advanced age and poor health, he taught Torah to the yeshiva students, saying in times of difficulty one must make a special effort to open more and more halls of Torah.

His work in Netivot extended far beyond the yeshiva complex. He persuaded HaRav Yisrael Abuchatzeira — the Babba Sali — to move to the city, working in tandem with him to foster spiritual growth.

Recently he was hospitalized for several weeks, and last Friday afternoon his condition deteriorated, until he returned his refined soul to his Maker on Shabbos night.

Thousands of students and Netivot residents led by gedolei Torah, roshei yeshivos, roshei kollelim, marbitzei Torah and dayonim were on hand for the funeral, which set out from Yeshivas HaNegev, where he taught for over 50 years.

Hespeidim were delivered by HaRav Shmuel Auerbach; HaRav Aryeh Levy, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas HaNegev; HaRav Moshe Shirkin, menahel ruchani of Yeshivas HaNegev; HaRav Yitzchok Ezrachi, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir; HaRav Gershon Edelstein, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Ponovezh; HaRav Dov Lev, a rov at Yeshivas HaNegev; HaRav Shmuel Montag, rov of the chareidi community of Netivot; HaRav Aryeh Finkel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir-Brachfeld; HaRav Avraham Ratzon; HaRav Chananya Chollack, his nephew; and HaRav Eliyohu Braverman, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Zarach at Moshav Zerua.

HaRav Yissochor Meir zt"l is survived by his wife and thousands of talmidim.


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