On Shabbos afternoon, June 8, Rabbi Noson Kamenetsky – a transmitter of the Lithuanian Torah tradition, founding rosh yeshiva and dean of Yeshivas Itri, and author of The Making of a Godol – passed away in his Jerusalem home.
His final words were those of Sefiras HaOmer. His levaya (funeral) took place down the block from his home, at Yeshiva Torah Ohr, and he was buried on Har Hamenuchos, in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Noson Kamenetsky was born in Tzevtiyan, Lithuania in 1930. His father was the Tzevtiyaner Rav, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, and his maternal grandfather was the spiritual guide, or mashgiach ruchani, of the famed Slabodka Yeshiva, Rabbi Dov Tzvi Heller. The Rabbi was named after the Alter of Slabodka, Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel.
In 1938, young Noson, with his mother and siblings, moved to Toronto, Canada, joining his father who had taken a rabbinic position there. In 1945, the Kamenetsky family moved to Brooklyn where Noson’s father, Rav Yaakov, became the rosh yeshivah (head) of Mesivta Torah Vodaath.
Rabbi Noson learned in Torah Vodaath, Bais Medrash Elyon, and Bais HaTalmud. He was a student of Rabbi Reuven Grozovsky, Rabbi Leib Malin and, primarily, his father.
In 1954, Rabbi Noson married Shulamis Lifschitz, daughter of Rabbi Dovid Lifschitz, zt”l, the Suvalker Rov, the director of Yeshiva University’s Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and later the president of Ezras Torah.
Rabbi Noson Kamenetsky became a rabbi in East New York and maggid shiur in Long Beach Yeshiva before making aliyah with his family in 1968. Rabbi Noson founded Itri Yeshiva in Jerusalem together with Rabbi Mordechai Elefant. Itri was a pioneer yeshiva, geared to Americans with the classes in English. Rabbi Noson served as dean until he retired in 2000.
Rabbi Shimon Kapnick, a student of Rabbi Noson Kamenetsky 40 years ago, told The Jewish Press, “My rebbe was unpretentious, with his constant smile always evident. He was one of the finest pedagogues and Torah educators I have ever seen.”
Following the passing of his father in 1986, Rabbi Noson began working on a biography of him. Rabbi Noson supplied material he gathered to Yonasan Rosenblum who used it to write the acclaimed English biography, Reb Yaakov, which Rabbi Nosson subsequently translated into Hebrew.
Rabbi Noson, however, continued gathering material on his father, spending a total of 15 years interviewing people and conducting research on his father and the Lithuanian Torah world. He spoke with everyone from Rav Schach to Rav Avigdor Miller to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky to Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik to Rebbetzin Rishel Kotler (widow of Rabbi Schneur) – over 300 rabbis and rebbitzens in total. Rabbi Noson also traveled to Belarus, his father’s birthplace, where he met his elderly aunts for the first time.
Rabbi Noson also possessed a wealth of information from his father, a noted storyteller. In 2002, Rabbi Noson published a 1,400 page tour de force titled, Making of a Godol. Its subject was his father and his path to becoming a Torah giant despite coming from a family of farmers and lumber merchants.
The book is also a historical study of episodes in the lives of the Lithuanian leaders, the Mussar movement, and the world of the Lithuanian yeshivas going back to the early 19th century. Incredibly, it only covered the first 23 years of his father’s life – until WWI. He had three more large volumes planned.
To Rabbi Noson’s shock, the book engendered controversy. He had spent his entire life as a happy member of the yeshivah world, which he revered. Rabbi Noson published an “Improved Edition” of the work, but the book’s detractors were not placated.
Showing great strength of character, Rabbi Noson tried to appease his opponents and decided not to publish further volumes.
Prof. Chaim I. Waxman, a brother-in-law of the deceased, told The Jewish Press, “Rav Noson was a true talmid chacham who loved learning. He knew Tanach, Midrash, and most of Shas by heart. Rav Noson was incredibly warm-hearted. He loved people and loved speaking with them. Lastly, he was an ish emes and epitomized the person with sechel hayashar.”
At the funeral, Rav Michel Zilber eulogized Rabbi Noson as an embodiment and transmitter of the Lithuanian tradition going back to the Vilna Gaon.
Rabbi Noson is survived by his wife, Rebbitzen Shulamis Kamenetsky; siblings Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky (Philadelphia) and Rebbetzin Rivka Diskin (Baltimore); children Mrs. Itta Bauman (L.A.), Rabbi Yosef Kamentsky, Mrs. Miriam Tribetz, and Rabbi Reuven Kamenetsky (all of Jerusalem); many grandchildren; great-grandchildren; and, as of two days before his passing, a great-great grandchild.