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17 Adar I 5760 - February 23, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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The Life and Achievements of HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger zt'l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Kol Torah, Yerushalayim -- 9th Adar 5760, His Fifty-First Yahrtzeit

By Moshe Musman, based on the writings of Rabbi Aharon Surasky and Rabbi Sholom Meir Wallach

Editor's Note: Since we found out too late that the yahrtzeit of HaRav Schlesinger is observed in Adar I, we missed that week, but we are nonetheless putting it in now rather than wait for Adar II, when it was originally scheduled.


"The path that has been handed down to us by earlier generations, along which we tread in order to attain knowledge of Hashem, involves toiling over Torah shebe'al peh in particular. The agreement between us and our Father in Heaven was consummated over the power of Torah shebe'al peh and it is only on the basis of this power that we are able to climb ever higher, until we attain the level of knowledge of Hashem, that is, cleaving absolutely to Him."

This brief passage, taken from HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger's writings on the Haggadah shel Pesach, encapsulates the idea which inspired his life's work, and which saw its fullest expression in the brief time he spent in Eretz Yisroel. He would not be satisfied by raising a generation of chareidim of German origin. He strived for something more -- to fire them with the ambition to toil in Torah, raising true bnei Torah from among the German olim. He understood that successful spiritual development is wholly dependant upon toil in Torah.

The ten brief years which HaRav Schlesinger zt'l spent in Eretz Yisroel are the subject of the concluding portion of our series. During this time he devoted himself heart and soul to both the establishment of his yeshiva and the education of his talmidim (and, it should be noted, to that of his own family no less). As founder and leader of his own institution, the splendor of his character, his ideas and his vision are all revealed more fully than before -- how he demonstrated to his talmidim that Torah study was the most important pursuit in life; how his talmidim perceived him; how he raised his children; how he viewed the difficult and complicated state of affairs in the years preceding and immediately following the founding of the Jewish State; his ideas and hopes for the future -- some of which remained unfulfilled, while others were fulfilled in excess of anything he probably imagined.

Our account is based upon both records of what he did and first person recollections of those who encountered him. Yet, as much as these sources enlighten -- and the picture they paint is truly awe inspiring -- they also show us that we are far from able to attempt a full evaluation of all that Rav Yechiel managed to pack into each of the twenty-four hours of each of the days that made up those ten years.

Our only additional clue to the texture of the years in Eretz Yisroel, is the quality and the endurance of the fruits of those years' labor. The giant dimensions of the edifice that has arisen on the foundations which he laid -- it is no exaggeration to call it the altar upon which he sacrificed himself -- are directly ascribable to the intensity with which he pursued his goal and the purity of his motivation, as well as the overriding fear of sin which guided him at all times. Another important characteristic of this now also comes to the fore: his dedication and single mindedness.

HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l, once commented to HaRav Moshe Yehuda Schlesinger ylct'a that while his father Rav Yechiel was a gaon in many areas, what made him unique in Reb Sholom's eyes was his "geonus in mesirus," which means, roughly, his extraordinary dedication.

We can define this term a little more clearly if we understand geonus of this sort as denoting a far more intense form of a given characteristic than is generally met with. What impressed Reb Sholom then, was the sheer force of the convictions which drove Rav Yechiel Michel, his unswerving pursuit of the goals that they inspired, and the swiftness and decisiveness of the actions he took to realize them. Reb Sholom added that in no way did he intend to belittle Rav Yechiel's unquestioned greatness in Torah and saintliness of character, but merely to point out that in this one respect he showed greatness beyond what was encountered in others.

Indeed, both the young yeshiva students themselves, whose immediate concern would have been with setting themselves a firm parnosso base in life, as well as their parents, who looked to their grown offspring for help with the burdens of settling in a new country and who, moreover, all belonged to a constituency that had for generations been born and bred to quite a different ideal, could hardly have become convinced that the single most important investment in their own and in their families' futures was time spent in yeshiva learning Torah exclusively, by convictions any less forceful than Rav Yechiel Michel's.

And yet, powerful convictions alone will almost certainly fail to win over those who do not yet recognize the truths which they convey, unless genuine regard and concern are also shown for the other person. Rav Yechiel's devotion to the mundane as well as the eternal needs of his talmidim was always evident to them, in both his actions and his manner. With his thirst for truth, the simplicity and pleasantness of his ways, his gentleness on the one hand yet his utter clarity of outlook on the other, the truth of his message penetrated deep into the hearts of his talmidim, and remained with them for life.

In all this Rav Yechiel greatly resembled the Ponevezher Rov, who also devoted himself entirely to building Torah in postwar Eretz Yisroel with visionary foresight. Had the two perhaps discussed the future of Torah chinuch in Eretz Yisroel together during their years in Ponevezh, when Rav Yechiel was an avreich learning in the Rov's kollel and gathering experience from his beis din? Did they share a powerful inner drive, that led to the blossoming of Ponevezh and Kol Torah, among the first yeshivos for the sons of the new yishuv to open before the war, into major Torah institutions?

A common vision certainly inspired both leaders: to see Torah taking firm root in the new yishuv.

Seeds for the Future

On the very day of his arrival in Yerushalayim, Rav Yechiel met one of his talmidim from Frankfurt, Reb Yitzchok Vanderola, and invited him to join the new yeshiva. "Come," he said, "you can announce that the yeshiva will open!"

How typical this was! Though a preliminary attempt that had been made while still in Switzerland to secure serious financial backing for the new venture had met with utter failure, though knowledge and support of his plans was confined to a relatively small circle of family and friends, and though on such a day there were surely personal concerns to attend to -- what was uppermost in Rav Yechiel's mind was to declare the yeshiva open. He may well have decided that since, under the circumstances, reasons to postpone or even abandon opening were unlikely to disappear quickly, it would be harder to close an institution that actually existed than to abort one that was only being planned. At any rate, as we have seen before, when convinced of the correctness of his path, Rav Yechiel allowed no considerations to stop him.

On his second day in Yerushalayim, Rav Yechiel visited HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l, the rosh yeshiva of Eitz Chaim, and asked for his guidance in selecting a talmud Torah for his oldest son. Reb Isser Zalman recommended Eitz Chaim, despite its being a stronghold of traditional Yerushalmi chinuch (it was the first cheder of its type in Yerushalayim, having been opened almost one hundred years earlier by HaRav Shmuel Salant zt'l) and thus possibly not the place where a young boy just arrived from western Europe would feel most comfortable. Rav Yechiel did not question the Rosh Yeshiva's advice however, and he enrolled his oldest son, Moshe Yehuda in Eitz Chaim where, in time, his other sons also learned and progressed.

A talmid, Dr. Yonah Cohen, recalls Rav Yechiel's first Shabbos in Eretz Yisroel. On Shabbos afternoon, the talmid saw his rebbe leaving the home of his brother (Dr. Falk Schlesinger z'l, who later became director of Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital), burning with indignation about something and shouting with an intensity that gave rise for concern. With good cause indeed! Rav Yechiel had witnessed chilul Shabbos in Yerushalayim ir hakodesh!

We are taught that just as a seed contains the blueprint for the entire organism that is to grow from it, so our aspirations, thoughts, feelings and actions on the first days of each new year encapsulate the progress of the whole year that lies ahead. This also seems applicable to Rav Yechiel's first days in Eretz Yisroel. The passionate concerns which are evident in the above three stories, were the very ones that would occupy him and consume him in the ten years that lay ahead: his yeshiva and talmidim, his children and their upbringing, Torah and mitzvos and their observance, or lack of it, among the wider community. These are the strands that run consistently through his life, from which the threads of each new day were spun, in time forming strong ropes, upon which many were later able to support themselves in their own upward ascent.

A Yeshiva for the New Yishuv

In view of the fact that Kol Torah has grown to become one of the finest jewels in the crown of Eretz Yisroel's Torah community, it might seem puzzling that when it first opened, doubts were expressed (quietly or otherwise) in sections of the chareidi community as to the path the yeshiva might end up taking. Although today such an idea seems outrageous, to say the least, a closer look at the times will reveal that there were legitimate grounds for concern.

Practically speaking, the most controversial departure lay in fact that when the first Sephardic bochur was accepted, the language of instruction in the yeshiva was changed (from German) to Ivrit, over whose use in chinuch a fierce debate was then raging which, in its day, had profound ideological implications.

There were however, some more general fears as well. If anyone other than Rav Yechiel -- whom HaRav Dushinsky zt'l, head of the Eida HaChareidis and a rebbe of Rav Yechiel in Galante, trusted implicitly and whom he declared enjoyed his unreserved support -- had been leading the new venture, things may well have turned out differently.

"It can now be revealed," wrote Reb Fishel Gelernter (a close friend of HaRav Yechiel's and a partner in the yeshiva's first years) in an article that was published in Hamodiah to mark the latter's twenty fifth yahrtzeit, "that besides the many practical difficulties along the way to establishing the yeshiva, there were no few fears and doubts of an ideological and spiritual nature, owing to the yeshiva's unique character. Various groupings saw the Yekkische yeshiva as some kind of foreign graft on the soil of the Holy Land, and especially in Yerushalayim. They were worried about the yeshiva's future path and the implications it could have and their doubts were perhaps not wholly unjustified, in view of several unsuccessful attempts that have been made in our time. Its establishment was only made possible by virtue of the agreement of the gaon R' Y. Z. Dushinsky zt'l, who placed his full trust in his esteemed talmid, in the knowledge that he would keep watch to prevent the slightest digression from the path handed down to us by earlier generations in organizing yeshivos kedoshos in Eretz Yisroel and outside it."

While this is not the place to try and identify the "several unsuccessful attempts that have been made in our time" mentioned above, it should be noted that the opposition of the leaders of the old yishuv to the introduction of any secular or vocational studies into the traditional curricula of the yeshivos and chadorim of Yerushalayim, had not been confined to the veiled attempts of assorted religious reformers to infiltrate the city's educational system. It also extended to the efforts of well- meaning subscribers to the Torah im derech eretz school of thought. There were those among them who saw this as a goal, an ideal to be pursued -- as a way of bolstering rather than undermining traditional Judaism, as is clear from the following paragraphs, written by HaRav Avrohom Yosef Wolff, founder of the Wolff Seminary in Bnei Brak.

"It is well known that among German Orthodoxy in recent generations, general education, viz. studying in gymnasia and universities, was very common. There were two ways of viewing this state of affairs. One approach saw it as something desirable, as a goal, or a [sacred] trust. Just as Polish Jewry carried aloft the banner of chassidus, and Lithuanian Jewry was the flagship of the yeshivos, German Jewry was the standard bearer of the idea of living as a committed, fully Orthodox Jew in the very epicenter of enlightenment and culture.

"The second approach saw the phenomenon as a fact of life; something to which one had perhaps, to become reconciled but at any rate, not a calling. The rav and gaon Rabbi Chaim Dr. (Med) Biberfeld zt'l, of Berlin, spoke for this second school of thought in Kattowicz [at the founding of Agudas Yisroel] when he declared, `We, who hail from Germany, have come to Kattowicz to learn [from others], not to teach [them]! '"

Not In Yerushalayim!

Despite the fact that in his article Rav Wolff places Rav Yechiel and his father Rav Eliezer Lipmann Schlesinger squarely in the second group, the old yishuv did not distinguish between one nuance of Torah im derech eretz and another. Any chareidi institution of that type to have opened in Yerushalayim, even if it were only geared to youth from families of German origin, would have constituted a breach in the integrity of the city's Torah chinuch, which was guarded by the cheirem against the incorporation of such studies that had been proclaimed by the leaders of the yishuv over eighty years earlier.

The old yishuv, to be sure, was by this time powerless to prevent other distinct groups that placed themselves outside the Eidah's authority from opening such schools as they wished. However, the Eida HaChareidis still represented the Ashkenazic chareidi community, broadly speaking, at least as far as chinuch was concerned. (Some of the chareidim of the old yishuv had split with the Eida over the founding of the Rabbinate.) Moreover, at this time, the Eida was still working together with Agudas Yisroel, which supervised the interests of all segments of the chareidi world. (The split with the Agudah arose ten years later over whether or not to join the Zionists in governing the newly-proclaimed state.) With regard to chinuch then, the stand of the old yishuv was that of virtually all chareidim.

At the same time though, most of the chareidim who were then arriving in Eretz Yisroel belonged to the new, rather than the old, yishuv. This means that they came in the framework of the general efforts to resettle the land, with the aim of there being a specifically chareidi element within the new yishuv. They settled either in cities and towns like Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv and the fledgling Bnei Brak, or in agricultural settlements like Kibbutz Chofetz Chaim. As such, these olim, a high proportion of whom were from Germany, could not really be considered as having placed themselves under the Eida's auspices and jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, the preservation of the integrity of all Torah chinuch in Yerushalayim and of Torah chinuch in yeshivos everywhere -- kal vochomer of a yeshiva in Yerushalayim -- has always been axiomatic for all chareidi groups. Though this stand found differing modes of expression in recent times (the Eida's opposition to any compromise of Torah chinuch in Yerushalayim attributed itself most recently to the Chasam Sofer and that of the Lithuanian yeshivos to any compromise of Torah chinuch in yeshivos, to the stand taken by the Netziv in Volozhin), the separation of kodesh from chol was always understood and adhered to by all chareidim in Eretz Yisroel.

The sole exception was Orthodoxy in Germany, whose own precarious position and particular needs were understood and accepted by the gedolei Yisroel of the other European centers. In our own times, the Chazon Ish and HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l, and ylct'a HaRav Shach, all strongly advised against the establishment in Yerushalayim of any institutions that incorporated secular or vocational studies in their curricula, however urgent the need for such steps was judged to be for particular groups, even among the community that identifies with the new yishuv.

By definition then, the transplantation of what was viewed by most Torah leaders of the time as a necessary concession in a specific situation to the very different conditions of the growing chareidi community of Yerushalayim, was an unsuitable and uncalled-for operation. The delicate position in which the chareidi olim from Germany found themselves, and the suspicions to which the establishment of a yeshiva geared for them gave rise, can therefore be easily understood, as can the assertion that only because the head of the Eida and the new Rosh Yeshiva were rav and talmid muvhak, respectively, was there no outright opposition to the yeshiva.

Reb Fishel Gelernter continues, "Indeed, we witness today how Yeshivas Kol Torah continues the glorious tradition of the yeshivos hakedoshos without any digression, and its part in raising upright generations of chareidi Jewry in Eretz Yisroel and abroad is great . . . At the suggestion of HaRav Boruch Kundstadt zt'l [who was coopted by Rav Yechiel at an early stage to lead the yeshiva with him] the following paragraph was introduced into the yeshiva's regulations in 5724 (1964): "As it has been until now, Yeshivas Kol Torah will continue being a true yeshiva i.e. the introduction of any secular (high school) or similar studies, such as crafts, into the program of learning is forbidden, and no changes whatsoever may be made to this paragraph."

Close to the Mokom Hamikdosh

Rav Yechiel was fully aware of the great care that the situation required and he sought a location for the yeshiva that would help ensure that it always remained true to his ideals. This was why he chose to open in Yerushalayim, stronghold of the old yishuv, rather than one of the newer towns or settlements, where most of the families he sought to attract were settling. He knew that in this way, the yeshiva would be under close scrutiny and at the slightest sign of any deviation there would be a commotion.

He even wanted to have the yeshiva within the walls of the old city, close to Har Habayis, though this plan did not materialize. To Reb Fishel Gelernter, Rav Yechiel explained, "We find that at the time of the akeidoh, Yitzchok Ovinu asked his father Avrohom to bind him up and tie him, in case he shook during the shechita, which would render it and the entire korbon invalid. We must attach ourselves to kedusha in the same way, so that we don't stumble, chas vesholom."

The yeshiva's first location was in the Sha'arei Chesed neighborhood, whose inhabitants belonged to the old yishuv. In order to minimize any friction over the use of Ivrit, the shiurim that were delivered in that language were not said in the beis haknesses where the bochurim learned, but in a private apartment nearby.

The assurances about Rav Yechiel which HaRav Dushinsky had given to the members of the old yishuv were soon also confirmed by the evidence of their own eyes. At an event held for the yeshiva, HaRav Dovid Baharan zt'l, one of the leaders of the old yishuv, sent along a representative, who spoke on his behalf.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld, historian of the old yishuv and author of Guardian of Jerusalem, recalled Rav Yechiel as having been "consumed entirely by a holy fire." He praised Rav Yechiel and the other heads of the yeshiva for the clear stand they successfully maintained, while drawing talmidim from the very circles for whom Torah im derech eretz was virtually an article of faith. Rav Sonnenfeld also recalled the purity, the zeal and the truth that shone from Rav Yechiel's face, and mentioned too that one could see on him that he was cleaving constantly to Hashem.

It is interesting to note that there was one contemporary godol beTorah who thought that the course which Rav Yechiel had charted was not necessarily the ideal one. When a nephew of Rav Yechiel's ylct'a, Rav Meir Schlesinger, was planning a visit to HaRav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg zt'l, author of Seridei Eish, on a trip to Switzerland, his father, Dr. Falk Schlesinger z'l, warned him to be careful not to reveal his name to the Seridei Eish. Dr. Schlesinger did not want to reopen the very serious debate that had taken place between his brother and the Seridei Eish over the law requiring animals to be stunned before shechita, which practice the former, although then the junior of the two in age and position, had strongly opposed.

Although Rav Meir did not explicitly introduce himself, the Seridei Eish caught on to the fact that he was HaRav Yechiel's nephew in the course of their conversation and began to speak with boundless admiration about HaRav Yechiel's genuine greatness in Torah and the depth of his understanding. "However," the Seridei Eish added, "there is one thing that I don't understand about him. When he was oleh to Eretz Yisroel, he submitted to those who were not as great as himself. He is the man who was capable of establishing the Torah Im Derech Eretz outlook in Eretz Yisroel in the proper way . . . "

A New Flask Full of Old Wine

While Rav Yechiel was adamant that Kol Torah be patterned upon the great yeshivos in Europe, without any deviations, he did not seek to produce a carbon copy. He had something more in mind.

He wanted for example to cultivate derech eretz in another sense. Among the sterling traits with which German Jewry as a group are identified, is a wonderful sense of precision in time keeping, and order in the making and the execution of arrangements. Rav Yechiel wanted this to be a feature of his yeshiva, both of the training received by the talmidim and of the policies according to which the yeshiva was run.

To achieve the second aim, he gathered a group of friends and supporters and formed a management board, which he took pains to convene on a regular basis. The hanholo formulated the yeshiva's regulations and ensured that the institution functioned as an orderly unit. At meetings, the rosh yeshiva would report on progress in the study of the talmidim and on the results of the examinations which were held regularly and he would put forward new ideas for the yeshiva's growth and development. The proceedings of these meetings were duly recorded in detailed minutes.

From leafing through the pages of minutes, much can be learned about HaRav Schlesinger's plans for disseminating Torah amongst the German aliya and his strategies for winning them over to the idea of total dedication to Torah learning in a yeshiva kedoshah.

In the protocol of the board meeting which took place on the twenty-first of Sivan 5699 (1939), several suggestions were made as to how the awareness of the necessity for the existence of a yeshiva kedoshah might be heightened. At the same meeting, the idea of holding public examinations of the talmidim was put forward. Such events would increase the honor of Torah and would also heighten the public's appreciation of what the yeshiva was achieving. This in turn would widen the circles from which new talmidim would be attracted to the yeshiva. At the meeting which took place on the fourth of Tammuz, the rosh yeshiva reported on the arrangements for the first event of this kind, which was scheduled to take place eleven days later.

HaRav Schlesinger also planned other, more significant modifications for Kol Torah, as opposed to the regular pattern of the Lithuanian yeshiva. HaRav Elyokim Schlesinger of London writes, "On a number of occasions, my uncle greatly praised to me the approach to learning and the organization of the Hungarian yeshivos, which was close to his heart. When he founded Kol Torah, he didn't want to appoint a mashgiach of the mussar school until I put great pressure on him and suggested the gaon and tzaddik Rav Gedaliah Eisemann zt'l. I arranged for a meeting between them and having been impressed by him, he agreed to the suggestion."

We recall that as a bochur, Rav Yechiel used to preface his Torah study with the tefilla of the Sheloh HaKodosh, `I want to learn so that my learning will bring me to fulfill the Torah in practice, and to attain upright character traits,' and this prayer was fully answered. At the same time as Rav Yechiel's talmidim drank in his Torah, they saw before them a repository of yiras Shomayim and nobility of character. With honesty at the foundation of their interactions, Rav Yechiel related to his talmidim with sincerity and fairness, and in a manner that was simple, straightforward and pleasant.

He was as suited to provide instruction in mussar as in Torah and he combined the two, demonstrating that they were two sides of the same coin. By personal example, he showed not only how toil in Torah learning refines character as well as sharpening the mind, but also how purity of character facilitates comprehension of Torah. He would preface his sugya shiur with a few minutes study of Mesillas Yeshorim. He would also deliver shmuessim in which he drew upon the ideas of Reb Yeruchom zt'l, and Rav Avrohom Grodzensky zt'l, Hy'd, spurring the bochurim to have high ambitions in Torah, yiras Shomayim and purity, all together. Rav Yechiel also wanted to introduce the study of Nach in his yeshiva but this plan did not materialize.

At the same time, Rav Yechiel also took pains to hide the extent of his influence in shaping every aspect of the yeshiva's organization and educational program. When the yeshiva issued an appeal to aid in its establishment, the letter signed by the distinguished signatories rightly stressed the Rosh Yeshiva's extraordinary achievements.

Rav Yechiel deleted that entire sentence -- his praises, the titles that had been used and even his name. Here again, he was not alone among some pioneers in the Torah world of recent generations, whose lives' work has had lasting endurance, for perhaps that very reason -- that they concealed themselves.

HaRav Yehuda Addes, rosh yeshivas Kol Yaakov, relates that although he only learned in Kol Torah several years after HaRav Yechiel's petirah, his stamp was clearly recognizable on the yeshiva and the talmidim, to the point that one could not have imagined his influence having been greater. Whilst the decorum, the discipline and the derech eretz for which Kol Torah gained a reputation, were strengthened and continued by all the roshei hayeshiva who worked with and who followed Rav Yechiel, it was he who placed a distinctive stamp on the yeshiva, which it bears to this day.

Beacon and Shelter

In the early nineteen thirties, there was already a constant stream of German Jewish refugees, who simply got up and left Germany after Hitler ym'sh came to power. Those of them who, after arriving in Eretz Yisroel, sent their sons to learn in the existing yeshivos were a very small minority. Most did not feel sufficiently at home with those institutions, and for this and/or other reasons they enrolled their children in high schools. The refugees who arrived towards the end of the decade invariably followed the latter path. The significant differences in the mentalities and outlooks of the Orthodox German olim and their brethren in Eretz Yisroel made it very difficult for the former to adjust and to find their places within the existing framework.

As their numbers increased, the severity of the problem grew. Having finally arrived in Eretz Yisroel, Orthodox Jews were refraining from educating their children in the traditional Jewish way for the lack of suitable places of learning. Without leaders with whom they felt they shared a common language, their childrens' spiritual futures were in jeopardy. Two well known German rabbonim summed up the problem in an open letter which Yeshivas Kol Torah circulated in 5702 (1942). HaRav Ezriel Munk zt'l, rav of Kehal Adas Yisroel in Berlin and HaRav Pinchas Cohn, rav of the kehilla in Ansbach, wrote, " . . . pirchei Yisroel have gone astray here in the Holy Land. Like sheep without a shepherd, they have found no tree under whose branches they can find shelter."

During this period, the new yishuv hachareidi was taking shape all over Eretz Yisroel, and to a lesser extent in Yerushalayim. Many of the newcomers were baalei batim, while others had spent time, prior to departing from Europe, on hachsharah in order to prepare them for life on agricultural settlements. New chareidi settlements were established, and the olim also set up schools for their youth in the spirit of German Orthodoxy.

Despite their dedication to their childrens' education, they did not view the establishment of a yeshiva for their own people with any urgency. A yeshiva was not the only forum for inculcating Torah and yiras Shomayim, they felt. Many families considered even a single year in yeshiva as representing a great sacrifice. It was of prime importance therefore, to introduce the idea of study in yeshiva gedola as being a fundamental need of every segment of Jewish youth.

One of Rav Yechiel's talmidim, R' Yosef Sheinberger z'l, made notes of a lecture which his rebbe gave to a group of German chareidim, in which he strove to win them over to the unique vision which he had for their sons' chinuch.

"First," Rav Yechiel argued, "there is a need to relate honestly and straightforwardly to Hilchos Talmud Torah, as set out in Shulchan Oruch. She'eilos surrounding chinuch are no less important than those surrounding say, the appointment of a new shochet. Both cases require (1]) clear knowledge of what the Shulchan Oruch rules on the matter, and (2]) that the knowledge be implemented in complete confidence in the din and halocho, springing [in turn] from faith and reliance on the decisions of the contemporary sages who transmit the word of truth to their generation. From this it follows that the laws in the Shulchan Oruch ought neither to be ignored nor veered from, even on a temporary basis, and not even if it is not done on purpose.

"Second, the task of earning a livelihood -- `by the sweat of your brow' -- is not a positive commandment. The ideal to strive for is that the pupil develops into a talmid chochom. This is something which must penetrate our outlook.

Third, in addition, our experience has shown that the very best way for us -- who hail from the German lands -- to fulfill the task of educating our youth is by cleaving fully to our own heritage, which includes among its merits [the cultivation of] a thirst for learning, scrupulous mitzva observance, strongly Jewish surroundings and an organized kehilla. If we follow this path, we will succeed in achieving the coveted goal of Talmud Torah keneged kulom."

Such a bold and uncompromising stand was not allowed to pass unchallenged by those to whom it was addressed. It was no less than a call to reevaluate the situation that had been accepted at all levels of German Orthodoxy for generations, to which many gedolei olom had to accommodate themselves and which for numerous other religious leaders represented the achievement of an ideal. But HaRav Yechiel was asking no more from others than he asked from himself -- total, wholehearted dedication to the truth -- and the truth of his message gradually had its effect.

On All Fronts

The deep sense of responsibility which Rav Yechiel felt towards all of his landsmen led him to continue disseminating Torah among them in the broadest possible way, as he had done in Frankfurt. His talmidim in yeshiva had first claim. He spared no toil or effort in fully cultivating the abilities of those among them whom he felt were suited to remain in the beis hamedrash.

At the same time though, he put his mind to work on behalf of those whom he felt were unsuited for this. In addition, some bochurim were subjected to intense pressures to leave yeshiva and they had to battle their parents over every extra month. Sometimes the parents were justified, for they desperately needed their sons' assistance in supporting the family and in any event, for a young man to continue learning in kollel after marriage was then very rare indeed. Rav Yechiel therefore placed special emphasis upon learning practical halocho and developing a broad foundation of Torah knowledge within a relatively short time so that those who had to leave would be taking with them the necessary spiritual tools to enable them to lead lives of full Jewish commitment.

"I want to advance all the other `nine hundred and ninety nine students who enter the cheder,' and to see them progress," Rav Yechiel once remarked to Rav Dovid Goldschmidt, who taught in the yeshiva in its early days, "to say nothing of the need to invest in the single individual who will go on to become an authority in halocho."

The progress which Rav Yechiel wanted every one of his talmidim to make was not only in actual Torah knowledge, but equally as important, in the realization that whether they remained in yeshiva or not, they would only find true happiness in life by cleaving to the yeshiva's aims and goals and striving to learn as much Torah as possible.

Rav Yechiel maintained contact with the religious kibbutzim, such as Chofetz Chaim, and would pay them occasional visits. He spoke to families about sending him their sons and he tried to set up a mandatory `year- in<196>yeshiva' scheme for all the kibbutz youth. "He had a special connection with the people on the chareidi settlements," wrote Reb Fishel Gelernter, "and many of their sons went on to study in Kol Torah, for longer or shorter periods. In this way, our teacher's influence was visible on the settlements, on several of which, a majority of the members were talmidim of Kol Torah."

In conjunction with religious high schools, he organized shorter periods of `yeshiva days' or at the very least a `Shabbos in yeshiva,' to give these students a taste of the Torah world. He did not hesitate to accept boys with weaker backgrounds or abilities into the yeshiva and he paid them special attention, with the result that they went on to establish fully committed Torah homes. Rav Naftali Nebenzhal recalled one of Rav Yechiel's shmuessim, on Rosh Hashonoh just before tekias shofar, in which he encouraged the new talmidim from the kibbutzim, crying out, "One more year in yeshiva rips up the evil decrees!"

Neither did he confine his manifold efforts to those starting out in life. Rav Yechiel started a shiur for baalei batim among the German olim in characteristic style. Meeting one of his acquaintances, Rav Yechiel asked him to participate in a shiur. Arriving at the appointed time, the man was astonished to see that nobody else had shown up. "Where is the shiur?" he asked.

To his astonishment, Rav Yechiel simply replied, "Well, the two of us are here," and they sat down to learn. Gradually, other baalei batim began coming to sit around the Rosh Yeshiva's table and listen, until the shiur became a regular fixture in all their lives. After a period, when the affairs of the `founding member' were meeting with success, he pressed Rav Yechiel to accept some remuneration, making his own continued participation conditional upon his offer being taken up. Despite his own family's straitened position, Rav Yechiel of course adamantly refused to accept any money for teaching Torah.

In all and any circumstances where Rav Yechiel felt his advice or intervention could help, he spoke out. When he discovered that a neighbor, a fellow German oleh, had enrolled his son in Ma'alah, a Mizrachi elementary school, he paid the family a visit, together with his friend Rav Dovid Carlebach z'l of the Adass Yisroel of Cologne (they had learned together in Slobodke), to influence the father to transfer the child to the Chorev school, which in those days was run in the pure spirit of the German chareidim.

Rav Naftali Kober zt'l, related that Rav Yechiel was once approached by a newly arrived German oleh who asked his advice as to which educational stream he should entrust his children. The reply was terse: "Lend your support to that group where you see the youth follow their parents' path and go in their footsteps!"

With the initial organization of the Jewish youth of Palestine into the four educational streams that in later years would later be supported in varying degrees by the State (the level of support being in inverse proportion to the level of Yiddishkeit taught), Rav Yechiel's heart bled over the high numbers of children being registered in the Zerem Ha'ovdim, the Worker's Stream, the standard, secular sector. His talmid Rav Yosef Reiner zt'l, related that Rav Yechiel wanted to set up a chareidi youth movement that would be run according to the directives of Torah sages (presumably in the hope that such a movement would be able to open schools for the children of those who then felt they had no alternative to the standard education), but circumstances prevented him from realizing this plan.

And sometimes, even without prior deliberation, it was simply impossible for Rav Yechiel to remain silent, as the following story demonstrates. In 5705 (1945), many Jewish youngsters were called upon to join in the armed struggle against the Germans. The son of a neighboring family, with whom Rav Yechiel maintained cordial relations, was also taken off to fight. After victory had been won in Europe, but while war was still being waged against the Japanese, the boy returned home for a visit. When his furlough ended, the young man wanted to rejoin his regiment in Cyprus. When army transportation arrived to take him, Rav Yechiel began to show signs of extreme distress and he began to call out inside his own house, with incredible emotion, "Why is Mr . . . letting his son go to the army?! Does he want him to marry a non- Jewess?!"

Somebody in the house said, "What can be done?"

But Rav Yechiel continued to roar, "Does he want his son to marry a gentile?!"

He then went out into the yard like this, crying out again and again, "What does Mr . . . want? Would he like his son to marry a gentile?!"

A small crowd gathered, with Rav Yechiel standing in the middle shouting with great emotion. His son relates that he never saw his father more aroused and excited. Rav Yechiel's cries however, fell upon deaf ears and the young man went off with the transport. A few weeks later, he informed his parents that he had become engaged to a Christian girl, with whom he remained.

Nothing less than a profound sense of personal duty towards each and every Jew, and first and foremost towards those of his own community, could have resulted in the far reaching influence which Rav Yechiel exerted. The true extent of that influence is only visible now, two generations later. In his maturity, Rav Yechiel's life fully bore out a comment that had been made years earlier by his first rebbe, HaRav Avrohom Shmuel Binyomin Spitzer zt'l, at a Keren Hatorah meeting in Hamburg in 5685 (1925). "I have no fears for the future of Torah Jewry in Germany," HaRav Spitzer declared, "since it has produced for us a godol like Rav Yechiel Schlesinger!"

End of Part I

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