The seventh of Sivan is the yahrzeit of Rav Zelig Reuven Bengis (1864-1953). Born near Vilna he studied in Volozhin under the Netziv, who called him a living Shas, and under Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. He received semicha from the Netziv, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, and Rav Shlomo HaKohen the rav of Vilna. He married Esther Brode, and after her passing in 1931 married Raizel Ziv.
Beginning in 1894 Rav Zelig Reuven served as rav in several communities. He was invited to move to Yerushalayim to become the head of the Eidah Charedis after the passing of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld. He turned down the offer as he did not wish to compete with his close friend Rav Kook. After Rav Kook’s passing in 1938 he moved to Yerushalayim to be head of the Eidah and also served as rosh yeshiva of Ohel Moshe. Rav Bengis’s learning style was pilpul, which was no longer popular in his day and, consequently, his writings, published in seven volumes under the name Liflagos Reuven have not had a wide audience. Rav Moshe Aharon Stern told me that he was part of a group that Rav Bengis would invite to his home every eight or nine months for a siyum on Shas. Rav Moshe Aharon was present for his 100th siyum which, unlike the others, was accompanied with a fleishig meal. Rav Bengis had a separate seder to learn through Shas while waiting for people to pick him up to go to weddings or other simchas. He completed the entire Shas over many years while awaiting rides.
When students would come to Rav Bengis to be tested on their knowledge of Gemara, he would first test them on their knowledge of Chumash with Rashi. In his opinion if they didn’t know Chumash and Rashi they were too ignorant to begin the study of Gemara. Someone once came to share a chiddush with Rav Bengis. He spoke for a while and Rav Bengis did not interrupt him a single time, until he quoted a Tosefos in Meseches Yevamos. He mentioned the page on which the Tosefos was found, and Rav Bengis corrected him about the page number. “No one owns the Torah, and there are seventy ways to interpret it. Anyone who wants is permitted to come up with new insights and to explain however he wished, as long as he does not distort the Torah. However, when it comes to expertise in the broad knowledge of Torah, don’t argue with me.”
After the Second World War he encouraged the UN to allow Jewish immigration to Palestine and asked that Yerushalayim be declared an international city under direct UN control and not under the control of any country. Although he was not as radical as some of the other leaders of the Eidah, he ruled against participating in Israeli elections and fought mightily against the drafting of girls into the Israeli army.
* * *
The twelfth of Sivan is the yahrzeit of Rav Dovid Pardo (1718-1790). Born into a rabbinical family in Venice, he was orphaned at a young age. He and his sister were raised by a wealthy, childless relative named Shmuel Ashkenazi. Mr. Ashkenazi left his fortune to the sister, Rachel, as she had helped him with household chores, with the stipulation that she marry a worthy young man. Unfortunately, she died before she had a chance to marry.
The executors of the estate refused to allow the fortune to pass to Rav Dovid because they felt that since it had never passed to his sister, he had no rights to it. Instead, they gave it to nephews of Mr. Ashkenazi. Desperate for funds and upset at the outcome of the inheritance, Rav Dovid moved to Croatia where he took a position as a tutor. There he became a student of Rav Avraham Dovid Papo, who was the rav of Split, and after his passing Rav Dovid was appointed as rabbi.
Halachic queries from all over the Balkans were sent to Rav Dovid and he opened a yeshiva in which a number of leaders of the next generation were educated. In 1761 Rav Shlomo Shalem, the rav of Belgrade, moved to Amsterdam to take up a position. Rav Dovid went to Belgrade with the understanding that the position would be given to him, but then found out that Rav Shlomo was refusing to relinquish the title despite his moving to Amsterdam. In 1773 Rav Dovid was appointed rav of Sarajevo where he spent nine years. His student Rav Shabsi Ventura took his place in Split. Most of Rav Dovid’s seforim and piyyutim were authored while he was in Sarajevo. He also opened a yeshiva there and founded Torah study initiatives for the lay people and created welfare institutions for the community.
In 1775 Rav Dovid traveled to Livorno to publish a sefer and met the Chida who was there raising funds for Chevron Kollel. The two immediately became close friends (although they often argued about interpretations of Chumash) and Rav Dovid’s son Avraham married Simcha, the daughter of the Chida. While in Livorno, Rav Dovid also met Rav Yom Tov Elgazi and Rav Yaakov Chazan who were also traveling to raise funds for the community in Yerushalayim. They wrote approbations for his seforim and ignited within him a desire to move to Eretz Yisrael. He also met Rav Chaim HaKohen Dwek in Belgrade while Rav Dwek was there raising funds for the community in Teveriah.
Rav Dovid arrived in Yerushalayim in 1782 and was immediately invited by the Ri”t Elgazi to join the Bais Din. Shortly thereafter he was invited to serve as rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Chesed L’Avraham. He lived in Yerushalayim until his passing.
Rav Dovid was a prolific writer. Among his more well-known seforim are Chasdei Dovid a Rashi-like commentary on the Tosefta and Maskil L’Dovid a super-commentary to Rashi’s commentary on Chumash. He also wrote on mishna and halacha.