A few minutes after the beginning of the yom tov of Pesach, the Gaon HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner the author of the teshuvos Shevet Halevi, the rov of Zichron Meir in Bnei Brak and the founder and rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin in Bnei Brak was called to the yeshiva shel maaloh. HaRav Wosner spread Torah and halachic guidance in various capacities for more than eighty years and educated and trained thousands of talmidim. He was a hundred and one at the time of his passing. Many thousands accompanied him to his final rest, including the Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman and HaRav Chaim Kanievsky.
The Shevet Levi was born on 2 Elul 5673 (1913) in Vienna. His father was HaRav Yosef Tzvi Halevi Wosner and his mother was Rochel nee Schiff. The family was descended from HaRav Yonoson Eibeschutz and the Ponim Meiros.
When his mother was young she was known to have an exceptional singing voice. Word of her talent reached the director of one of the major European choirs and he made her an enticing offer to join the choir professionally. When she told her parents about the offer they immediately turned it down, and she in turn told the director that she would not accept his offer. The incident was reported in many newspapers of the time and made a big kiddush Hashem.
Some time after this, the Admor of Kopischnitz came to visit Vienna and her father went to see him. When he told the Admor his name, the Admor said that he had heard that a girl from the Schiff family made a big kiddush Hashem and he wondered if his guest was connected to that family. The father was visibly moved as he said that it was his daughter. She was at that moment standing in the doorway and she asked for a brochoh. The Admor said, "You will have a son whose fame will spread throughout the world." Later, the young mother would encourage her son by saying, "Learn well because I gave up a lot to raise you."
From his early years the young Shmuel was known as an unusual masmid. He joined the Pirchei Agudas Yisroel of Vienna and even saw the Chofetz Chaim once when the latter came to participate in the Knessia Gedolah of Agudas Yisroel in Vienna.
The religious community of Vienna flourished after World War I when many admorim, rabbonim and amcho came from Poland and Galicia to Vienna. During this period the young Shmuel met the geonim HaRav Meir Arik and HaRav Yosef Engel in his home town.
When he grew old enough his parents sent him to Tirnau to the yeshiva headed by HaRav Shmuel Dovid Ungar, who later became the rov of Nitra. He was completely immersed in learning Torah and hardly left the beis medrash.
After a few years he went to the yeshiva in Tze'elim headed by HaRav Yosef Elimelech Kahana who was later the rov of Ungvar. From HaRav Kahana he received the full measure of the traditions of the Chasam Sofer which he used to review and pass on throughout his long life. He also absorbed the learning methods of the Chasam Sofer including summarizing and clarifying the various approaches to each sugya.
In 5689 (1929) there was a second Knessia Gedolah in Vienna. His rebbe HaRav Kahana, who was not a member of Agudas Yisroel, nonetheless went to Vienna for the opportunity to meet so many of the gedolei hador. He took the young Shmuel along with him for the experience. It was at that event that the young Shmuel met for the first time his later rebbe, HaRav Yehuda Meir Shapira the rov of Lublin. The rov of Lublin noticed the young talmid and made a mental note to try to get him for the yeshiva he was planning to found in Lublin.
At the time, HaRav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, the rosh yeshiva of Slobodka and Chevron, was staying in Vienna. It was just after the Arab riots in Chevron when dozens of Chevron yeshiva students lost their lives and HaRav Epstein was so overcome with the pain that he remained in Vienna to recuperate. The young Shmuel was extremely impressed with the kovod HaTorah that he saw, as the rov of the Viennese community, HaRav Yeshaya Furst, gave his place and position in the Beis Medrash Hagodol of Vienna to HaRav Epstein. Decades later HaRav Wosner described the evident kovod haTorah as the Lithuanian Rosh Yeshiva called out the instructions for blowing shofar in the center of the Great Beis Hamedrash of Vienna that was filled to capacity with thousands of Germanic Jews from the Chasam Sofer tradition.
Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin
In 1931 when Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin opened, the young Viennese bochur was eager to attend the yeshiva as he knew the rosh yeshiva and was impressed by him. He traveled to Lublin and stood before the admission committee. When they realized that he was younger than the average student at the yeshiva they recommended that he go home and apply again in a few years. Very disappointed, he went to the beis medrash and sat down to learn with the hasmodoh that was his style from youth. The Rosh Yeshiva came in and saw him learning with such application, even though he knew that he had not been accepted to the yeshiva. He asked him why he came in to learn since he was not accepted. The youth answered, "In two and a half hours the train will come to take me back to Vienna. I thought to myself, What can I do in the remaining time? I decided that I would use the time to learn in the beis medrash rather than hang around the train station with all kinds of sights I have no interest in seeing."
When HaRav Meir Shapira heard his answer, he said, "Come with me. You can come to the yeshiva for a trial of three months..."
The three months became five years. For a year and a half he did not leave the yeshiva building, as he once said, "I did not see the outside of the yeshiva."
He used to get up at 2 am every morning, and go to sleep at 10 p.m. for four hours. He once said that Maharm Shapira used to turn on the heat in the yeshiva every morning at 5 am so that the early rising masmidim would not have to suffer the cold, but for him it was not early enough. His whole life he used to get up very early to learn through the last hours of the night. At one point he got a severe case of pneumonia from the early morning cold. Although he recovered bechasdei Shomayim, eighty years later the doctors said that it was that very bug that was dormant in his body for so long that was the cause of his final illness.
One time his rebbe HaRav Meir Shapira saw him learning by moonlight. He blessed him that he not be sick and that his eyesight remain strong throughout his life. In fact his sight remained good throughout his long life and he never needed glasses. Many times he told his children and talmidim that he could show them the tree under which "many nights I used to pray and cry before HaKodosh Boruch Hu that I should be completely Torah and become a godol beTorah." He remained attached to his rebbe his entire life and he used to speak about him at the siyumim of the Daf Yomi cycle. He also used to mark his rebbe's yahrtzeit on 7 Cheshvan by saying Kaddish and giving a special shiur.
In Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin he also had a special relationship with HaRav Avrohom Shimon Horowitz Hy"d who was the mashgiach of the yeshiva. HaRav Horowitz was also a great gaon who used to review 18 chapters of mishnayos every day as he walked around the beis hamedrash. After reviewing the mishnayos he used to review the conclusions of the gemoras that discussed those mishnayos in the Bavli and Yerushalmi. One day his rebbe took him into his confidence and reviewed with him 19 chapters of maseches Keilim with the Tosefta. One time many years later HaRav Wosner told those close to him that he also finishes several chapters of mishnayos daily.
One time HaRav Aharon of Kozhnitz came to the yeshiva and all the bochurim approached him for a brochoh. R' Shmuel said, "I was quiet and a bayshan and I stood a little apart. The Holy Rov of Kozhnitz called out to me and said, `Bochur'l! Don't be embarrassed. You will grow and become a godol beTorah.' "
Once he was asked about the sedorim of the yeshiva on Purim. "There was no official seder of the yeshiva. But we sat and studied Torah all day until the afternoon. Then we went to the seudah."
Once he was asked if there was anything special in the yeshiva on Lag B'Omer. He said, "My rebbe HaRav Shimoli Zelichover got together a few bochurim and turned to one and said, `Quickly, tell us five things in Shas that HaRav Shimon [bar Yochai] said.' Then he turned to another, "Now you tell us ten things in Shas that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said.' Each bochur answered in turn. That was Lag B'Omer in Lublin."
One time when he was asked about what particularly pleased his rebbe Maharam Shapira he said, "The Rov was very creative. One time on his birthday on 7 Adar the bochurim wanted to do something special for him to bring him some simchah. He was not comfortable with the notion, but he came up with the idea to split up Shas between the talmidim, so that very day collectively they made a siyum on Shas. They made a mesibas siyum in his honor. This was his real simchah."
Already in Lublin he learned halochoh. Once he had a she'ela and did not know what to do. As a tikkun he undertook to learn the hilchos of Shabbos 40 times. HaRav Benzion Apter zt"l, who was close to Maharam Shapira, said that when his rebbe had to leave the yeshiva he used to say that all sheilos that arise in his absence should be referred to the bochur Shmuel Viener.
One time his rebbe HaRav Meir Shapira told him, "I would like to take stones from here and take them to Eretz Yisroel and establish a yeshiva." HaRav Wosner took this as a personal charge and in 5707 he established Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Bnei Brak.
After completing his studies in Lublin he returned to Vienna. He learned from many rabbonim there including HaRav Yosef Baumgarten zt"l and HaRav Yeshaya Furst zt"l.
In the winter of 5697 he married the daughter of HaRav Mordechai Gelber who was the Rosh Hakohol of Pressburg and served as a mohel and worked as a wine merchant. He undertook to support his son-in-law so that the could dedicate himself to learning.
Upon arriving in Pressburg, the rosh yeshiva HaRav Akiva Sofer author of the Daas Sofer appointed him to be in charge of encouraging chidushei Torah in the yeshiva in the framework of a Chevra Charifus.
In Pressburg he began to make a name for himself as a posek, doing shimush with HaRav Dovid Wessely zt"l who gave him over the darchei horo'oh he had received from his rabbonim who were talmidim of the Chasam Sofer.
In 5698 his oldest son ylct"a HaRav Chaim Meir was born. He was named after his rebbe HaRav Meir Shapira and the Admor of Munkacz who was the rebbe of his father-in-law. That same year his father passed away.
Seeing the clouds gathering over Europe, the following year he decided to go to Eretz Yisroel. His father-in-law tried to talk him out of it, saying that he is able to learn and serve and he has talmidim and a nice apartment in Pressburg, and he had no certificate to enter Eretz Yisroel. But the rov would not be dissuaded even though many thought his plans made no sense. His father-in-law said that no enemies would come to Pressburg because of the sanctity of the grave of the Chasam Sofer he retorted that the enemy would not ask the Chasam Sofer for advice.
He and his wife boarded a cargo vessel, leaving their one year old infant Chaim with his grandparents. He was later save, bechasdei Hashem, through very complicated efforts. The boat full of immigrants was not allowed to dock in Eretz Yisroel and it had to let them off some distance from the shore of Netanya. They had to walk through water that reached their necks, carrying only one bag. On the second night of Chanukah, 5699 (1938) they first walked the shores of the Holy Land.
All his days HaRav Wosner remembered the destruction of European Jewry and he wrote a special kinah for Tisha B'Av.
At first he moved to Yerushalayim where he began to learn with talmidim and drew close to HaRav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky zt"l. He also did shimush with the Tefliker Rov, HaRav Shimshon Aharon Polonsky, who served as the rov of Givat Shaul.
He was soon asked to serve as the rov of Geula and Kerem Avrohom by the Eida Chareidis. At the time he was also learning in the Kollel Ohel Torah together with HaRav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach and HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv. He was also asked to give a shiur on Yerushalmi in a beis medrash in the Zichron Moshe neighborhood by a group of talmidei chachomim including HaRav Shlomoh Bloch, a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim and HaRav Avrohom Yisroel Moshe Salomon, the Kharkov Rov, who was close to the Brisker Rov.
The neighborhood Zichron Meir of Bnei Brak is centrally located. It was founded by the philanthropist Rabbi Yaakov Halpern, and named after his rebbe, HaRav Meir Shapira.
One of the most prominent residents of the neighborhood at that time was the Chazon Ish, who was unhappy with the fact that the neighborhood had no rov. At the 60the anniversary of the founding of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Bnei Brak that was celebrated in 5767 (2007), HaRav Wosner said, "The yeshiva was actually established in 5707, but it was founded potentially and in thought already in 5706 while I still lived in Yerushalayim. A shaliach mitzvah from the Chazon Ish came to me, calling me to come to Zichron Meir that was founded in memory of Mori veRabi from Lublin, zy"a, to accept the yoke of the rabbinate in Zichron Meir and the surrounding areas and to spread Torah through the Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin."
Two years ago he told ylct"a HaRav Shteinman that at first he was confused by the offer and he went to the Chazon Ish to talk it over. The Chazon Ish did not respond to any of his questions. As he got up to leave, the Chazon Ish asked him where he was going. He understood that the Chazon Ish was planning to accompany him, saying, "A rov should not go alone through the streets of the city." At that point he realized that he should accept the ruling of the Chazon Ish that he should undertake the challenge.
Once he arrived in the city, the Chazon Ish started sending people to him with their sheilos. People soon saw his power of psak.
The Chazon Ish treated him like a rov in all matters. He used to sell his chometz through him every year, and he came specially to his house to make a pruzbul. Afterwards other residents followed his lead, including the Steipler Gaon and HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz.
Once after he returned after being away for a few days, the Chazon Ish said, "I noticed your absence as people brought me their sheilos."
The Ponovezh Yeshiva is in Zichron Meir and at every event in the yeshiva, HaRav Wosner was the opening speaker as the Mara De'asra. HaRav Shach used to visit him on chagim and also sold his chometz through HaRav Wosner.
HaRav Aharon of Belz once told the Admor R' Itzik'l of Pshevorsk, "The four amos of halochoh are by the rov of Zichron Meir, HaRav Wosner."
Protector of Bnei Brak
For seventy years he worked on the spiritual character of Bnei Brak. One of his great achievements was upgrading the observance of chol hamoed. Now it seems natural and accepted, but he had to invest great efforts into the halting of building and public works on chol hamoed in Bnei Brak as well as the closing of stores. In one of his droshos on Shabbos Hagodol several years ago he said that he regards as one of his major achievements the raising of the kedushoh of chol hamoed.
In 5707 (1947) he founded Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Bnei Brak and devoted himself personally to its founding and success. The Chazon Ish was an early supporter, including financial support. When the Chazon Ish saw that he hesitated about undertaking the immense burden of buying the land for the yeshiva without any committed source of support, the Chazon Ish came to his home and said that he would not leave until a contract was signed for the land. Together they went to the seller and in the presence of the Chazon Ish the contract was signed. The Chazon Ish also personally contributed to the down payment.
The yeshiva was run in the style of the Hungarian yeshivas. HaRav Wosner davened with the yeshiva every day. After shacharis he would give a shiur in Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim with the Magen Avrohom. In the course of the day he would give an iyun shiur to the older bochurim and once or twice a week he would give a shiur kloli covering the sugyos being studied in depth. In the evenings he often gave sichos mussar and on Fridays he would give a shiur in Chumash and Rashi, with mussar lessons and nuggets of wisdom that he had received from his rabbeim.
The combination of a rosh yeshiva and a posek was unusual. The idea was expressed by his rebbe Maharam Shapira when he was invested as the rov of Lublin. He said that he had his doubts about whether it was possible and proper to have the double load of being rov of the city and rosh yeshiva of a major yeshiva. He picked up a sefer and thumbed through it. The posuk that presented itself decided the matter for him: "...to serve in the service of the Mishkan of Hashem and to stand before the Eida to serve them." (Bamidbar 16:9)
His derech was to study everything with unbounded depth. He was once asked about the proper derech for iyun in our generation. He replied that he had asked the Chazon Ish this very question: What is his derech in learning be'iyun? "He answered me, that sometimes he learns a daf of gemora 40 times until he is mechadesh something. His derech was to turn over the gemora, over and over. He would reject any crookedness, until he had extracted the pure flour and the chaff fell off. Therefore, added HaRav Wosner, the chidushim of the Chazon Ish are relatively small in volume but their content is great, since everything he wrote down was the result of tremendous toil in Torah, toil that cannot be described. It is no wonder that he once told HaRav Wosner, "There are several subjects that I started but did not complete, because my ability to study them further was at an end."
From the modest house on Halpern street went forth halachic guidance to all the world. At the opening of the new building for the Beis Horo'oh HaRav Wosner said that in the early years he had no respite around the clock. He often was awakened in the middle of the night to answer questions. The first Beis Horo'oh was his private study. His family said that he typically answered around 3,000 questions a month, or about 100 each day.
He later trained talmidim as morei horo'oh and hundreds and perhaps thousands of rabbonim did shimush by him and were later tested and certified by him for horo'oh. Some thirty-five years ago he appointed two of his talmidim — HaRav Moshe Shaul Klein and HaRav Yaakov Meir Stern shlita — to answer sheilos in his stead. A few years later he added HaRav Sholom Zalman Ullman shlita. His son HaRav Chaim Wosner, was appointed to take over his positions as provided in his will.
One of his practices was never to inquire about the identity of the one asking the question. This encouraged people to ask any questions they had.
The area of Stam was not given its due by morei horo'oh and was often left to the expertise of individual sofrim. HaRav Wosner set up a special system to supervise the area of Stam and to ensure that everything was done according to the halochoh.
In his annual Shabbos Hagodol droshoh he often spoke about the grave dangers to the sanctity of the home from modern technology. He said that one who has unfiltered Internet "loses himself, his wife and his children."
He noted that aside from the forbidden things on it, the Internet is full of millions of things that fill up a person to that divrei Torah cannot enter.
In a well-known droshoh he said, "I have a tradition from Maran the Chasam Sofer, ish mipi ish, I am the second generation receiving this tradition: `Sometimes the rov of a community will be faced with something that must be done, bedi'eved. However one may not explicitly endorse a bedi'eved. One may endorse only a lechatchila. One may just remain silent about a bedi'eved.' "
Throughout his life he gave haskomos to many Torah works. He saw this an encouraging and expanding Torah. The last pamphlet that he wrote about was on the subject, "26 Torah Violations on an Unfiltered Internet." Despite his weakness, he looked through it and he said, "It is a great thing to arouse Klal Yisroel about this. Hashem Yisborach should help that they will be successful in arousing Klal Yisroel, and when this pollution will be taken away from the homes of Yisroel, it will hasten the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu."
The Final Month
Throughout his life, even after he reached ziknah and seivah, he continued his regular sedorim of harbotzas Torah and halochoh in the yeshiva and shiurim to the general public such as he used to give on Thursday nights. In the last two years, after he reached the age of hundred, he became progressively weaker, but he continued with his routine, including the special sichah that he used to give at Seudah Shlishis time including on Shabbos Zochor this year, just a few days before he became bedridden. Until that time he also davened regularly in the yeshiva.
Just before last Purim, he agreed to open his home to a special prayer session for the donors to Kupat Ha'Ir. It was attended by HaRav Shteinman and HaRav Kanievsky and other roshei yeshivos and admorim. However just a few hours before the kenes, he developed pneumonia and had to be hospitalized in Maayanei Hayeshuah. Prayers for his recovery were said by Jewry all over the world, but the situation worsened.
In all his droshos on Shabbos Hagodol he emphasized the greatness of the Leil Haseder as the Leil Shimurim, and he was in fact called to the Heavenly yeshiva as night fell on that night. It is interesting to note that the founder of Zichron Meir, Rabbi Yaakov Halpern, also was niftar on the Seder night in 5724.
On motzei Shabbos and chag, the news traveled swiftly and some hundred thousand people came to the levaya that night. The levaya began close to midnight with the remarks of his son HaRav Chaim Meir. The next speaker was HaRav Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss, the Gavad of the Eida Chareidis, who announced the appointment of HaRav Chaim Meir Wosner as the rov of Zichron Meir, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, and the head of the Beis Horo'oh, as provided in the will of the niftar. Next his brother-in-law HaRav Shmuel Meir Gelber spoke, and next his son HaRav Ben Tzion Wosner the rov of the Shevet Levi community in Beit Shemesh.
HaRav Wosner his survived by his second wife who stood by him for many years, as well as his sons, HaRav Chaim Meir, Rabbi Yosef Tzvi, HaRav Ben Tzion, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda, HaRav Mordechai Elimelech and HaRav Avrohom Eliahu. His sons-in-law are HaRav Yisroel Ungar zt"l, and HaRav Avrohom Yaakov Itzkowitz, as well as grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren who are continuing in the path he blazed.