Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The twenty-ninth of Kislev is the yahrzeit of Rav Chezkiah di Silva, author of the Pri Chadash (1656-1695). Born in Livorno, Italy he studied there under Rav Shmuel Kusta. An emissary from Yerushalayim, Rav Yehuda Sharaf, who spent some time in Italy, influenced him to move to Yerushalayim in order to advance his Torah studies. He arrived there as a teenager and spent a decade learning under Rav Moshe Galante. At one point he signed a proclamation declaring that men should be married by the age of twenty and those who weren’t should be exiled from Yerushalayim. Being as he was not yet married, he exiled himself for a short time. At the age of twenty-two he married the daughter of Rav Refael Mordechai Malchi, a posek and doctor in Yerushalayim, whose other daughter was married to Rav Moshe Chagiz. When Rav Moshe Galante passed away, Rav Chezkiah, still in his twenties, was appointed Rosh Yeshiva.

Grave on the Mount of Olives

As a prominent member of the Yerushalayim community, he was sent to Europe to raise money for the poor. It was felt that the emissary had to be someone who could represent the community well with his Torah knowledge and speaking ability. These trips were also utilized by the emissaries as an opportunity to publish their seforim as there was no printing house then in Eretz Yisroel. He spent four years in Holland, France and England. At that time the elderly Rav Yitzchok Abuhav was the rabbi of the Sepahrdic community in Amsterdam, and the community wanted the Pri Chadash to stay there and take his place. He demanded the sum of 1,000 ducats per year, which was more than double what Rav Abuhav was paid and the community leaders agreed. He then said that he needed them to agree that no one would question his decisions; after some discussion they agreed to that stipulation as well. Finally, he said that he needed to have the freedom to speak publicly about improper behavior he observed, even if the perpetrator was one of the communal leaders. He explained that he could not set the community on the right path if he couldn’t be frank about the challenges. They agreed that he had a valid point, but they rescinded the job offer.

Portrait displayed in the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, Amsterdam.

He succeeded in raising a substantial amount for the poor of Yerushalayim, and also published his sefer Pri Chadash on Yoreh Deah. In the sefer he showed no deference to the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch, but approached each issue by going back to the Gemara and rishonim and determining what he saw as the correct p’sak. More often than not he ruled on the lenient side. So much so, that Chasam Sofer said that in any case where he ruled strictly, the halacha is always in accordance with his view. He frequently wrote sharply about those of his predecessors with whom he disagreed. Passing through Cairo on his way back to Eretz Yisroel, his writing style caused him some trouble. The Rabbonim of Cairo felt that he had spoken “improperly about the great people from whose waters we drink… and wrote hateful things about Rav Yosef Cairo.” They contemplated excommunicating him, but settled on banning his sefer. The ban didn’t last as shortly thereafter his student Rav Shlomo Elgazi became Chief Rabbi of Egypt for forty-five years and generally ruled like his teacher.

When he arrived back in Yerushalayim, he founded a new yeshiva and was appointed Rabbi of Yerushalayim. He did not remain in those positions long as he died before reaching the age of forty. For unknown reasons, most of his manuscripts, including all of those on Kabbalah, were buried with him. His son printed his commentary on Orach Chaim. Subsequently, his commentary on Yorah Deah was reprinted with much of the inflammatory language removed.

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Rav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz.

The fourth of Teves is the yahrzeit of Rav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz, (1908-1995), Rov of Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was born in Latvia where his parents came from rabbinical families; his maternal grandfather was the Rabbi of Rogow, and his father, who was orphaned as a child, was raised by his uncle the Aderes. The family was displaced during WWI and moved to Poltava where his father’s brother served as rabbi and after he passed in 1917 Rav Teitz’s father became Rav. The family returned to Latvia in 1921 and Rav Pinchas attended Ponovez and then Slabodka. Once, at the age of fourteen, he returned home from yeshiva and discovered that the local boys had no Torah education. He founded a cheder for them. Over time he became involved in Agudath Yisrael as well as other political initiatives. While at home convalescing from an appendectomy, he would travel to Dvinsk on a regular basis to learn together with the Rogotchover Gaon and helped to publish some of his seforim. In 1933 he traveled with Rav Elya Meir Bloch, Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe, from whom he had received smicha to the United States to raise money. Rav Bloch learned that Rav Meir Preil, Rov of Elizabeth, had passed away, and had written in his will that whoever married his daughter should inherit his position. Rav Bloch suggested that Rav Teitz marry his daughter and assume the position. The wedding took place in 1935.

Rav Teitz joined the Agudas HaRabbonim and was quickly elevated to a leadership position. He met some opposition when he suggested that rabbonim should stop giving speeches in Yiddish and switch to English so that the younger generation could relate to them. The Agudas HaRabbonim sent him back his membership dues and expelled him. It didn’t take long until they invited him to rejoin. He viewed Torah ignorance as the greatest threat to American Jewry and started a primary school in 1941 and later added high schools for boys and then girls. He worked hard for there to be unity between the religious and secular at the birth of the State of Israel, but his efforts didn’t bear fruit. Together with his wife, he made a number of trips to the Soviet Union to offer support to Jews who were stuck behind the Iron Curtain.

Beginning in 1953 he said a weekly shiur on Gemara on WEVD. He gave the shiur in Yiddish in the hopes that it would awaken some memories and longing in the hearts of people who had gone to Cheder but then left Yiddishkeit. While some people opposed using modern technologies to teach Torah, he had the support of Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Leizer Silver, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and others. The shiur continued for over thirty years. In 1981 he encouraged the Agudas HaRabbonim to open membership to American born rabbis. When his suggestion was rejected, he worked with Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky to start a separate organization. For thirty years he was treasurer of Ezras Torah, putting in great effort to support Torah scholars in need.

This article has merely touched on the countless activities of this giant of Torah, Chesed and Communal Leadership.


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Chayim Lando is the practice manager at Maryland Neuro Rehab & Wellness Center and has been a Jewish educator for over three decades. His favorite activities are studying and teaching Talmud and spending time with his grandchildren.