Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Everyone from the burgeoning community of West Hempstead, NY was profoundly and personally affected by the scholarly and saintly rabbi of the Young Israel, Rabbi Yehuda Kelemer, zt”l. He had a winning method all his own of sensitivity and conveying Torah values, but for the discerning eye, there was also intersection with the conduct of Gedolei Yisrael, we will cite but two examples.

When Rabbi Kelemer was hospitalized, he had to suffer the care of not-the-most experienced nurse. Every time she attempted to draw blood for a test was agony. True, it is challenging to locate just the right vein in a septuagenarian, but this nurse was unable to execute a hit in over a dozen tries. Those from Rabbi Kelemer’s family who were at his bedside were well-attuned to their father’s manner, and could tell how much pain he was in, but the nurse surely did not, for the Rabbi was smiling and kept complimenting her at her perseverance and noble efforts. “You are such a wonderful, patient nurse!”


This is reminiscent of a story about Rav Moshe Feinstein. Toward the end of Rav Moshe’s life, he had to undergo a biopsy – a painful test that involves the insertion of a long needle deep into the body in order to remove a tissue sample. Prior to this procedure, Rav Moshe had endured without protest batteries of tests that were not only painful but degrading as well. This particular test, however, Rav Moshe found too agonizing to bear, and asked the medical technician to remove the needle.

Over his patient’s protests, the technician continued to jab deeper, assuring Rav Moshe that the procedure would take only a few more seconds. It is not uncommon for hospital staff to become inured to the patients’ complaints, particularly when a test performed routinely is known to be painful but is essential for diagnostic purposes.

“I suppose you didn’t hear the Rabbi,” Rav Moshe’s son-in-law intervened and physically withdrew the technician’s hand. Surprised, but unwilling to counter the authoritative voice of Rabbi Moshe Tendler, the technician packed his equipment and prepared to leave. Just then, Rav Moshe’s attendant informed the medical technician that the Rabbi wished to speak to him.

The technician was certain that the Rabbi intended to upbraid him personally for having caused him discomfort and for attempting to continue against his will. Rav Moshe, however, had something else in mind. Through an interpreter, he conveyed to the young man his gratitude for the service rendered. “I understand that you were only doing your job and trying your hardest.”

A well-known former resident of West Hempstead related

After almost 20 years of marriage, when I considered covering my hair with a sheitel, I made an appointment with Rabbi Kelemer in the hope that he could provide me with some literature to help me better understand the mitzvah. Rabbi Kelemer gave me a couple of articles and told me that, as of that time, very little had been written on the subject.

Nevertheless, I shared my interest in covering my hair, to which Rabbi Kelemer responded, “You know that it’s very hard for a woman to cover her hair.” I was so overwhelmed with his reaction. What I expected him to say to me was, “Wow, it’s so special that you want to take this mitzvah upon yourself.” But, instead, he validated the reality of the decision I had made. I will never forget this conversation, which has impacted so many other decisions in my life.

Compare the above with a story that happened in Jerusalem at approximately the same time: A newly observant woman who had attended classes covering a range of Jewish topics, including the halachic standards of modesty, confessed to her Rabbi that she had a problem. She wanted to observe all the mitzvos, but one of them was simply too much.

She explained that since she had once been married, she was required to cover her hair. Her lifestyle, however, made this extremely inconvenient. She was a career woman and still worked in the same place where she had been working before she became religious. After all the changes that had occurred in her life since discovering religion – changes that had been difficult enough for her and her colleagues to adjust to – she couldn’t just show up one day at work with a head-covering. Such a dramatic alteration in her appearance would mandate an explanation, and this would mean revealing embarrassing information regarding her past, about which she preferred to remain discreet.

Her Rabbi listened with understanding to her plight, but humiliation notwithstanding, he saw no solution. The halacha, as he understood it, required her to cover her hair. The Rabbi told her that situations such as this require consultation with an expert in halacha. He would confer with Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, he said, and report back to her.

Rav Shlomo Zalman ruled that, for now, she should wear a head-covering for all matters of sanctity, such as prayer in the synagogue and the like. At other times, when her circumstances precluded doing so, it was permissible for her not to cover her hair. The Rabbi who had posed the question suggested that since there were wigs today that looked so natural that few would ever realize they were not the wearer’s natural hair, the woman might use one of them. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach looked at this Rabbi for a moment and then responded as only he and Rabbi Kelemer could: “You do not know, nor do you have any way of knowing, how this woman would feel with a wig, which she considers a source of embarrassment, on her head.”

With the Gaon’s decision in hand, the Rabbi returned to the woman and reported all that had transpired, including his own suggestion and Rav Shlomo Zalman’s dismissal of it. The woman was so touched by the Rav’s sensitivity that she decided then and there that from that day onward she would cover her hair at all times.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleHey Teves – The Victory of the Seforim
Next articleReliving And Reminiscing The Past
Rabbi Hanoch Teller is the award-winning producer of three films, a popular teacher in Jerusalem yeshivos and seminaries, and the author of 28 books, the latest entitled Heroic Children, chronicling the lives of nine child survivors of the Holocaust. Rabbi Teller is also a senior docent in Yad Vashem and is frequently invited to lecture to different communities throughout the world.