The eighth of Adar is the yahrzeit of Rav Moshe Aharon Stern, Mashgiach of Kaminetz (1925-1998). The tributes I have written in the past few months have all been of people who I did not know personally. I met one or two of them, but I could not claim to have had a relationship with them. It is different with Rav Moshe Aharon, who was a chavrusa of my father in Yeshivas Kaminetz, and who I met for the first time at my bris. Beginning when I was nine or ten years old, for twenty-five years, he spent a week or two every summer in Baltimore at my parents’ home in order to raise money for the yeshiva. This continued for two decades after I was out of the house, although I had many opportunities to spend time with him when I would visit Baltimore in the summer and on his one trip to Los Angeles when he spent the night in my home. Unlike other posts which are frequently based on third party research, everything I am sharing with you here is based on what I saw or heard directly from Rav Moshe Aharon.
Rav Moshe Aaron was born in New York, a grandson of Mr. Yaakov Yosef Herman of the famous All for the Boss book. He attended Yeshiva Torah Vadaath and Bais Medrash Elyon where he developed lifelong friendships with many of his peers who would go on to be leaders of Klal Yisrael in the next generation. He was especially close to Mr. Mendlowitz, who he quoted frequently, and Rav Simcha Shepps. As a teenager he desired to go to Eretz Yisrael, where his grandparents were living, but the realities of WWII made that impossible. After the war, the British government permitted a limited number of Jews to come to Mandatory Palestine. Forty permits were given to American Jewish organizations, of which two were allotted to Agudath Israel. Mr. Mendlowitz was given the responsibility of choosing who would be given the permits.
Rav Moshe Aharon asked for one of the permits, but Mr. Mendlowitz told him that each permit was good for an entire family, and he would rather send a whole family than a single bachur. On the day that the ship was leaving, one of the families was unable to travel due to illness. Mr. Mendlowitz told Rav Moshe Aharon that he could have the permit on condition that he promised to raise a family in Eretz Yisrael. He agreed to the condition, packed his bags at lightning speed and was on his way. Until the Mashgiach’s passing none of his children ever left Eretz Yisrael. The story of his trip to Eretz Yisrael deserves to be repeated as well, but due to space constraints I will encourage readers to look it up elsewhere.
In Eretz Yisrael he developed relationships with many gedolim, primarily the Brisker Rav (to whom he was related through marriage) and Rav Elya Lopian who he asked to become Mashgiach in Kaminetz. Rav Moshe Aharon learned in the Kaminetz Yeshiva and remained there for the rest of his life. Prior to becoming Mashgiach he taught bar mitzvah aged boys in the yeshiva. One day one of the gedolim of Yerushalayim came to farher the class. Rav Moshe Aharon would not tell me who this gadol was, only saying, “You know who the gedolim were in Yerushalayim in those days. It was one of them.”
One of the students began to read the Gemara. The gadol stopped him and asked a question, which the boy answered. It was evident that the gadol did not like the answer. He asked two more boys and received the same answer, and finally asked, “Who told you that?” The boy said, “Our rebbe.” The gadol then asked several questions on that explanation and then proceeded to offer a rather lengthy and complicated way of explaining the Gemara. Rav Moshe Aaron realized that he was going to lose respect and credibility with his students. So, when the gadol was done, Rav Moshe Aaron pointed out to him that the explanation Rav Moshe Aharon had given was found in the Meiri, a rishon. The gadol responded that there were numerous difficulties with that explanation, to which Rav Moshe Aharon responded that the Chazon Ish posed many of his questions and gave more or less the same explanation as the gadol had.
Then he asked the gadol, if I have two ways of explaining the Gemara, one way is found in a rishon, although we have questions on it, but it is simple and straightforward and every student can understand it, and the other way may resolve all questions, but only a few of the students would be able to follow it, which approach should I teach? The gadol turned around to the class and said, “The way I taught you is wrong, the way your rebbe taught you is correct.”
A chavrusa of mine, who was a cousin of the Mashgiach, once told me that the Brisker Rav said that Rav Moshe Aharon was the only American who you can’t tell that he is an American. I told him that I disagreed with the Brisker Rav. Rav Moshe Aharon once visited a lawyer in Baltimore to ask for a donation to Yeshivas Kaminetz. The lawyer told him that he was not in the mood to discuss yeshivos. Rav Moshe Aharon asked him what he wanted to discuss, and he responded, “baseball.” The Mashgiach said that he couldn’t speak about contemporary baseball, but they could discuss the ’27 Yankees. They discussed the legendary team for an hour, and he walked out with a nice check.
When visiting Memphis, a woman told Rav Moshe Aharon that she had had several Tay-Sachs babies who had died. She was not willing to become pregnant again unless she had a heter to have the doctor perform amniocentesis and to abort if the test came back positive. He told her that he would ask Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach when he returned to Israel. When asked, Rav Shlomo Zalman put his head down for a few moments and then picked it up and said, “Tell her she can do the test and have an abortion if it is positive. However, if she doesn’t do any testing, I promise her she will have healthy children.” She had three healthy children. Another woman in the same situation who heard about this also came to Rav Moshe Aharon. This time when he went to Rav Sholomo Zalman and posed the shaila, Rav Shlomo Zalman kicked him out of his apartment.
My mother points out that the Mashgiach never once asked her about the hechsher or kashrus level of anything she served him, unlike other guests, and despite the fact that he had many chumros at home. This was not only because he trusted her, but because for him to have done so would have been a lack of derech eretz. You don’t come to someone’s home and then start questioning them about their halachic observance. You could not meet a more loving, caring person, who understood others as well and who was tocho k’baro, lived his life consistent with what he taught.