The 11th of Kislev is the yahrzeit of Rav Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld (1922-1978). Born in Poland, his parents immigrated to the United States when he was two years old and lived in Brownsville, NY. He attended Chaim Berlin for elementary school, subsequently Torah Vodaath and then joined the Bais Yosef-Novardok yeshiva. He received semicha at age 23 after he had completed the entire Shas twice.
He married in 1946 and embarked on a career as an educator teaching in an afternoon Talmud Torah and preparing boys for their bar mitzvahs. Among his students were Meir and Nachman Kahane whose father was the principal of the Talmud Torah. His father, who was descended from Breslov chasidim, had spent some time raising money for Breslov institutions in Eretz Yisrael. After he passed in 1947 Rav Zvi Aryeh took over that role. In 1949 he made a trip to Israel and told Rav Avraham Sternhartz that he wished to join the Breslov community in Israel, but Rav Sternhartz convinced him that he could have a greater effect teaching Jewish children in America. He also tested him and gave him semicha.
Upon his return he moved to Flatbush, which at that time was not a very Orthodox neighborhood, and continued teaching in the Talmud Torah, along with teaching in a Sephardic school, all the time exposing his students to Breslov Torah along with other aspects of yiddishkeit. As time passed more and more of his students adopted a Torah way of life, sometimes over their parents’ protests. He hired Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan to translate two Breslov works into English. He used his connections with a travel agent who was friendly with Khruschev to get permission to travel to Uman even though the Iron Curtain was still officially closed. He made thirteen trips in all before his passing. He raised copious sums of money to build the Breslov yeshiva in Yerushalayim. Over 1,000 of his shiurim on Breslov topics are still available to listen to. When he found out that he had terminal cancer he moved to Israel where he lived for the last few months of his life.
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The 14th of Kislev is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel (1604-1656). His family were conversos who left Portugal shortly after his birth and arrived in the Netherlands in 1610. His father had escaped death at the hands of the Inquisition on several occasions, and left Portugal penniless and began to rebuild his family’s life. Menasseh studied under several of the leading rabbonim in Amsterdam and also had an uncanny proficiency for learning new languages which enabled him to study books written all over the world. At the age of 18 he was invited to sit on the Vaad HaRabbonim of Amsterdam. He was known as an excellent speaker, and he corresponded with world leaders who sought his advice, including Queen Christina of Sweden and the philosopher Hugo Grotius.
In need of income, at age 22 he set up the first Hebrew printing press in Amsterdam. He befriended Rembrandt who made an etching of his likeness and illustrated some of his books. The printing press was not sufficiently profitable, so he traveled to Brazil where his brothers-in-law offered to support him in establishing a yeshiva. He returned to Amsterdam two years later where he served for a while as Rosh Yeshiva, and as a member of the local Bais Din.
He believed that the Geulah would come only if Jews lived in all parts of the world and to that end, he wanted to end the expulsion of Jews from England which had been in place since 1290. He wrote a sefer in Spanish and Latin called Mikve Yisroel in which he made the case to the British Parliament to reverse the expulsion. Part of the work discusses the idea that the Native-American tribes were the Ten Lost Tribes. He also wrote letters to Oliver Cromwell to support his efforts. He asked Cromwell for safe passage to come to England to discuss the matter. Cromwell was agreeable but tensions between the Dutch and British delayed the trip for five years. In 1656 he finally met with Cromwell and eventually, after his death, the British conceded and allowed Jews to reside there again. He died shortly after his return to The Netherlands.
Among his works was El Conciliador which was primarily aimed at a Christian audience to resolve apparent contradictions in Tanach. Another sefer called Nishmas Chaim, focuses on explaining what the neshama is.
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The 15th of Kislev is the yahrzeit of Rav Dovid Liebowitz (1887-1941). A great-nephew of the Chofetz Chaim, he studied in Radin as a teenager. He learned with the Chofetz Chaim for twelve hours a day and helped him prepare the final volume of the Mishnah Berurah. He then transferred to Slabodka and learned under the Alter of Slabodka for seven years. His father-in-law passed away in 1915 so he moved to Šalčininkai to assume his father-in-law’s vacant position as rav of the town. Six years later he returned to Slabodka as a founding member of the kollel. One of the conditions of the kollel was that the members were responsible for fundraising. Consequently, he found himself in the United States in 1927.
Mr. Mendlowitz offered him the position as Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaath which he accepted. He remained there for six years and had an incredible impact on his students who included Rav Gedalia Schorr, Rav Avraham Pam, and my maternal grandfather, Mr. Moe Fensterheim. In 1933 he founded his own yeshiva named for the Chofetz Chaim who had recently passed away. There he taught his unique style of lomdus and mussar.
He passed away suddenly from a heart attack and his only son, Rav Henoch, assumed the mantle of Rosh Yeshiva.
Even more than a half-century after Rav Dovid left Torah Vodaath his influence on my grandfather was very evident (and I am told that the same was true of Rav Pam as well). He would share divrei Torah that he had heard from Rav Dovid, as well as teach niggunim that the American bachurim first learned from Rav Dovid when he arrived in America. He would tell over one story about how Rav Dovid taught him Kavod HaTorah.
The bachurim would often go to Rav Dovid’s house on Friday night after the meal to speak with him in learning. One Friday night Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, Rosh Yeshiva of Rav Yitzchok Elchonon, was there as well. In the middle of the discussion a cup of coffee sitting in front of Rav Moshe was knocked over. It spilled across a Gemara and on Rav Moshe as well. My grandfather ran into the kitchen and grabbed a towel. As he returned to the table he froze. He didn’t know who to wipe off first. Should priority be given to the Gemara or to Rav Moshe. Rav Dovid realized what his dilemma was and grabbed the towel from my grandfather and began wiping off Rav Moshe, saying, “This is a living Gemara!”