Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l (1910-2012): Rosh Yeshiva For The Ages
On Tuesday afternoon, 26 Adar, March 20, 5772, Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zt”l, returned his soul to the Creator. He was the rosh yeshiva of Torah Ore in Jerusalem, one of the leading rabbonim in Kiryat Mattersdorf, and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Israel. The entire yeshiva world deeply mourns his passing.
The life story of Rabbi Scheinberg is one of early adversity overcome on many levels. It incorporates the largest historical migration of a people, that of the Jews of Eastern Europe to America between 1880 and 1920. It also sees the emergence of an impoverished immigrant as one of the pillars on which the golden era of American and Israeli yeshivas is established.
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Chaim Pinchas was born in Ostrov, near Lomza, Poland, on Shabbos Nitzavim, 27 Elul – October 1, 1910, to Yaakov Yitzchok and Yuspa ne Tombak. Ostrov (Ostrow, then in Russia and now in Poland) was a city with a Jewish majority. A city that had Torah scholars and a tangible religiosity. Yaakov Yitzchok had a habit of reciting the entire Tehillim every morning before Shacharis.
As a child, Chaim Pinchas did not know his father. Called up in the Polish military draft in 1910, a few short months before the birth of Chaim Pinchas, Yaakov Yitzchok chose to immigrate to America rather than submit to the religious compromises compelled by conscription. Yaakov Yitzchok left behind his pregnant wife and older son, Avrohom Nosson, to seek a livelihood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Though quickly recognized as an excellent worker, the prerequisite of Saturday work precluded regular employment. He had a bad cough on the first Saturday. He was sick on the second Saturday. When the third Saturday arrived, he was dismissed and without a job. This schedule was repeated until he exhausted all immediately available employment opportunities. Without work, he had no income. Dismissing any compromise and without rent money, he was forced to sleep on the East River Drive with all his worldly possessions: The clothes on his back, a blanket, a pillow, and an umbrella.
In the interim, his son Chaim Pinchas was born. His wife was reduced to living with her parents. She would arise before dawn, milk the gentile neighbor’s cows, then distributed the milk to her Jewish clientele. The meager profit was primarily set aside for special Torah tutors for her sons. Chaim Pinchas absorbed what he was being taught and he would arise early and beg his grandfather to take him along to shul every morning. The grandfather knew this grandson would become a Torah giant.
With the advent of World War I in 1914, overseas communications were cut off. Yaakov Yitzchok and his wife did not know if the other was still alive. By the time the war came to an end, Yaakov Yitzchok had a tailoring business. Finally, after nine long years, he earned and saved enough to bring his wife and two sons, one of which he had not yet seen, to America. They moved into a railroad flat on the Lower East Side and Chaim Pinchas was enrolled in Yeshiva Rabbi Jacob Joseph where he achieved distinction as an outstanding Torah student.
Quickly he gained the attention of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman zt”l (1879-1969), an early 20th century American Torah pioneer, who recommended that Chaim Pinchas join the New Haven yeshiva headed by Rabbi Yehuda Hershel Levenberg zt”l (1884-1938). Rabbi Levenberg was a product of the yeshiva in Volozhin. The yeshiva he led was unique in that it had no secular studies. Chaim Pinchas, at the age of 14, ingested whatever was put before him. Less than three years later, he had already completed all of Shas.
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Returning to the Lower East Side, Chaim Pinchas joined Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, where he studied under towering scholars Rabbi Shimon Yehuda Shkop, zt”l (1860-1939), Grodno rosh yeshiva who taught in America from 1928 through 1929; Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, zt”l (1879-1941); and Rabbi Moshe Polachik, zt”l (1877-1928). Chaim Pinchas’s chavrusahs (study partners) were Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l (1908-2001), rosh yeshiva Beis Yisroel; Rabbi Yehuda Davis, zt”l (1909-1997), rosh yeshiva Zichron Meir of Mountaindale; Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, zt”l (1915-2001), Telshe rosh yeshiva; Rabbi Moshe Zvi Aryeh Bick, zt”l (1911-1990), Mezubesher Rav; and Rabbi Noson Meir Wachtfogel, zt”l (1910-1998), mashgiach Beth Medrsh Govoha Lakewood. These names, together with that of Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, represent footing on which today’s yeshiva world is built.
Chaim Pinchas achieved recognition as a mature and advanced Torah scholar at the age of 19. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman (All for the Boss), Chaim Pinchas’s mentor, proposed that he marry his own daughter Basha, then 17. The tannaim (engagement contract) was hand written by Rabbi Boruch Dov Ber Leibowitz, zt”l (1864-1939), Kamitzer rosh yeshiva and author of Birkas Shmuel, who was in America on a fund-raising trip and a guest at the Herman home at that time.
Acceding to the wishes of his mother, who wanted him to achieve semicha (ordination) before he married, Chaim Pinchas immediately plunged into the necessary texts. On the eve of his wedding, Rabbi Soloveichik and associated roshei yeshiva of Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan presented Rabbi Chaim Pinchas with a scroll of ordination into the rabbinate.
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The newlywed couple chose to pursue a life of intensive Torah study. In 1930, they moved to Mir, Poland, and Rabbi Chaim Pinchas studied there under Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, zt”l (1879-1965) and developed special relationships with Rabbi Yeruchim Levovitz, zt”l (1873-1936), the mashgiach at the Mir Yeshiva, and with Rabbi Avrohom Zvi Kamai, zt”l Hy”d (1860-1941), rav of Mir who was murdered in the Holocaust. Though the standard of living in Mir was rather backward (no running water, unpaved streets, etc.), especially to a young woman from New York, Rebbetzin Basha Scheinberg, a”h (1913-2009), gave her husband powerful resolve to study Torah from early in the morning until late at night.
In 1935, in order to comply with United States citizenship requirements, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Scheinberg returned to New York. Rabbi Scheinberg was offered the position of maggid shiur at the New Haven Yeshiva. In 1938 he was drafted as mashgiach at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Williamsburg under the leadership of Rabbi Dovid Leibowitz, zt”l (1889-1941).
In addition, Rabbi Scheinberg was elected to the pulpit of Congregation Anshei Ostrov on the Lower East Side, comprised mostly of immigrant families from Ostrov, Rabbi Scheinberg’s place of birth.
The entire Scheinberg family was totally dedicated to the yeshiva and to the shul. Though they did not have many material possessions, Rabbi Scheinberg always proclaimed that if you have Torah you have everything.
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In 1960 Rabbi Scheinberg established Yeshiva Torah Ore in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He was assisted by his brother, Rabbi Shmuel, and by his son-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Dov Altusky. On the day of its opening, Rabbi Scheinberg entered the beis medrash with a sefer under his arm, accompanied by his rebbetzin who had a basket full of sandwiches for the students. The yeshiva that day consisted of six talmidim. But the yeshiva grew steadily, attracting boys from all over the area, including the local Sephardic community.
With a great love for Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Herman and his sons moved to Israel in 1963. Unable to resist the call, Rabbi Scheinberg moved Yeshiva Torah Ore to Kiryat Mattersdorf in Jerusalem in 1965, where he became the dayan and served as posek. The yeshiva continued to grow. In the weeks preceding the Six-Day War in June 1967, when American and foreign students of other yeshivas went home, Torah Ore students remained in their beis medrash. When air raid sirens were sounded, Rabbi Scheinberg and his students took to the bomb shelters, eating and sleeping there. The yeshiva seder continued uninterrupted despite the bombings taking place right outside. The yeshiva grew, and in 1971 acquired its own building in Kiryat Mattersdorf.
Rabbi Scheinberg contributed greatly to Torah scholarship. He authored Taba’as Hashulchan on Ketzos Hashulchan in four volumes; Igra D’Shemata in five volumes; Meluei Even in four volumes; Emunah Ubetuchone; Responsa Mishmeres Chaim; as well as Shiurei Rebbe Chaim Pinchas.
Through the years Rabbi Scheinberg taught thousands of students. Many were sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of former students. His warmth encouraged students to maintain communications and report their simchas, endeavors, and learning to him, decades after they left the beis medrash to pursue livelihoods and build families. Even at his advanced age of 101 he never had a free moment to simply relax. He was either deep in a sefer or talking, in person or by phone, to a student, former student, or to someone asking a sheilah.
He was unique in his observance of mitzvahs. The commandment to wear tzitzis, fringes on squared garments, had him wearing dozens of square garments. He never explained why, though some assumed he was fulfilling every possible variation of the mitzvah.
He made many fund-raising trips to support his yeshiva, which presently has a student body of more than 800 as well as one of the largest kollels in Israel. His last trip to the United States, at age 101, was to support the learning of Torah at the yeshiva.
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On Friday afternoon erev Shabbos Vayakheil-Pekudei, Rabbi Scheinberg was admitted to Shaarei Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. The Torah world mounted a campaign of Tehillim for Chaim Pinchas ben Yuspa. Sadly, reports out of Jerusalem told of a deterioration in Rabbi Scheinberg’s condition. Rabbi Scheinberg passed away on 26 Adar surrounded by family members and students.
On Wednesday morning, the 27th of Adar, tens of thousands thronged the streets around Yeshiva Torah Ore to attend the funeral. They heard eulogies by gedolim for more than three hours. The bier was then carried aloft and, with an escort of tens of thousands, brought through the neighborhoods of Kiryat Belz, Malchei Yisroel, and Meah Shearim to the Neviim section of Har Hazaysim just before sunset.
The rosh yeshiva is survived by his son and successor Rabbi Simcha; his daughter Rebbetzin Fruma Rochel, married to Rabbi Chaim Dov Altusky; his daughter Rebbetzin Rivka, married to Rabbi Shimon Rosengarten; his daughter Rebbetzin Chana, married to Rabbi Dovid Weiner; his daughter Rebbetzin Zelda Altusky; and by generations of descendants as well as tens of thousand of students. The remembrance of the rosh yeshiva is a blessing.
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