The 22nd of Elul is the yahrzeit of Rav Yaakov HaLevi Moilin – known as the Maharil (1355-1427). Born in Mainz where he later served as rosh yeshiva, he is known as the father of Ashkenzic minhagim. He studied primarily with his father and brothers and then decided to travel around Europe to study at the feet of the leading rabbis of the time. The Maharil married the daughter of Rav Moshe Newmark, who was the rav of Vienna. For a time he studied in Weiner-Neustadt , in Austria, under Rav Shalom of Vienna who he considered to be his primary teacher.
His wife died and in 1387 he opened a yeshiva in Mainz. He remarried a wealthy widow, but refused to benefit from her wealth. He always spoke to her in third person. During his time many calamities occurred to Ashkenazic Jewry. In 1421 many Austrian Jews were massacred. War in Bohemia led to the death of countless Jews there and in the Rhine Valley. Many of the responsa authored by the Maharil deal with these calmaities as he addresses issues of orphans and spouses who couldn’t be located, inheritance and mourning.
Maharil served as the chazan in his community and felt strongly about not changing the tunes of the davening from the traditional ones, although he did compose some original tunes of his own. His students compiled his book of minhagim which greatly influenced Western European Jewry. He instituted the idea of semicha among Ashkenazic Jewry (this is the modern semicha, as opposed to that which existed from Moshe until the Amoraim.)
He would sleep late on Shabbos morning, because the kohanim would get up late to do the service in the Beis HaMikdosh on Shabbos. He was opposed to using any of the cures found in the Talmud as he felt that they were poorly understood and if they failed it would lead to people ridiculing the Talmud.
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The 23rd of Elul is the yahrzeit of Chacham Meir Yehudah Getz (1924-1995). Born in Manzil, Tunisia, when he was an infant his family moved to Tunis where he attended the Ohr Torah school. He showed an aptitude for languages and developed fluency in 11 languages. During WWII his brother Dovid was taken to a labor camp by the Nazi occupiers. Chacham Meir Yehudah went there to see how his brother was faring, and he was arrested and forced to do hard labor as well. During a British bombing of the camp, he managed to escape. Confronted by a Nazi guard, he hit the guard with a shovel and got away.
His parents died during the war years and in 1944 he married Esther Gez, a distant cousin. They lived in Nabeul, Tunisia, her hometown, where Chacham Meir Yehudah managed a store. He took a correspondence course from the Sorbonne and received a degree in jurisprudence. In 1946 he received semicha and the following year he passed the bar and also became a notary.
Chacham Meir Yehudah took a rabbinic position and was known for encouraging his congregants to emigrate to Israel. In 1948 the Joint sent him and his family to Grenoble, France, where he taught Torah and love of Israel to children from North Africa as they awaited papers allowing them to continue on to Israel. In 1949 he and his family moved to Israel where he worked for Keren Kayemet and put his knowledge of languages to good use. He was named the rabbi of Har Edom where he established an agricultural school.
Despite being over 40, he joined the army and served in an infantry battalion. During the Six Day War his son Avner was killed in the battle for Yerushalayim. The family moved to Yerushalayim to be near his burial place. In 1971 they became one of the first families to move to the Old City.
He was appointed the Sephardic rabbi of the Kotel and he reestablished Yeshiva Beit El, a kabbalistic yeshiva. Later, when the Ashkenazic rabbi of the Kotel passed, he was the sole rabbi. In his role, he was involved in a number of archeological explorations near the Kotel.
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The 25th of Elul is the yahrzeit of Rav Binyomin Zilber (1916-2008). Born in Yawza, Russia, to a family of Trisker chassidim, he lost his mother when he was nine. When he was 11 his father borrowed money to pay for Rav Binyomin to travel to Warsaw to yeshiva. The trip did not work out as planned and he never made it to Warsaw, but on his way home he met someone who convinced him to go to Brisk instead. After two years in Brisk he joined the Novohrdaker yeshiva in Mezrich. There his peers began to call him Binyomin HaTzadik. In 1933 he joined a group of bachurim and moved to Palestine where they founded Yeshiva Bais Yosef of Bnei Brak. He had left on his trip without a ticket and arrived at the train station where he found that one of the bachurim was too ill to travel and the ill bachur gave him his ticket. In Bnei Brak he attended the shiurim of the Steipler Gaon who was then rosh yeshiva of Bais Yosef. Shortly after arriving in Eretz Yisrael he married and left the yeshiva.
During this time Rav Binyomin drew close to the Chazon Ish. Except for a brief period of time, he never had any official position. His father and most of his relatives were murdered during the Holocaust. He conducted himself according to the Novohrdak style by not speaking from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur, regularly making a cheshbon ha’nefesh, not wearing any sort of shoes on Yom Kippur, and other customs.
Rav Binyomin was a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the Agudah. His wife passed away in 1983 and shortly thereafter he married the widow of Rav Azriel Moshe Rothstein, author of Nachlas Moshe. He published 14 volumes of responsa called Az Nidberu, which follows the style of the Chazon Ish. He claimed he had no derech (specific learning approach) and just looked at each topic on its own terms. He published many other works including commentary on several of the seforim of Rabbeinu Yonah, such as Shaarei Teshuvah and Sefer HaYirah.