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The Early Years

Aryeh Blum

Before they received a place on the mizrach vant of Yerushalayim or Bnei Brak — and before they became an address for bnei Torah seeking counsel and insight —many of our gedolim found homes and callings in less visible or likely venues. Those early posts, responsibilities and interactions, often far from the limelight and familiar hubs of Jewish life, foretold future greatness.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

old mapNo Compromises in London

Rav Yitzchak Tovia Weiss

 Rav Yitzchak Tovia Weiss, currently the gaavad of the Eidah Chareidis, has a long history as a fighter. It’s been almost a decade since he left his prominent rabbinical position in Antwerp to assume the post held previously by Rav Yisrael Moshe Dushinsky ztz”l. During this time, he has waged a fierce, uncompromising struggle for the image of Judaism in Eretz Yisrael in general, and the character ofJerusalem in particular. Yet, the groundwork for his role as Yiddishkeit’s defender actually took place somewhere else, a country that he’s usually not associated with:England.

Rav Yitzchak Tovia arrived in Englandon a Kindertransport, after his hometown in Slovakia was subjected to a German aktion during the Second World War. Eventually, he made his way to Gateshead, where he studied in the kollel headed by the legendary Rav Eliyahu Dessler ztz”l, the author of Michtav MeEliyahu. Even today, Rav Yitzchak Tovia often quotes divrei Torah and mussar thoughts from his esteemed rebbi.

When Rav Dessler left Englandto settle in Eretz Yisrael, Rav Yitzchak Tovia assumed leadership of the Gatesheadkollel, but the connection between the two wasn’t severed. Rav Yitzchak Tovia would mail his questions to Rav Dessler, asking the rav to relay the questions to the Chazon Ish. Rav Yitzchak Tovia once remarked that although he had never had the privilege of meeting the Chazon Ish in person, he had learned a tremendous amount from the great sage through these letters.

A few years later, Rav Yitzchak Tovia left Gateshead and moved to London, where he was appointed maggid shiur in the yeshivah headed by Rav Elyakim Schlesinger, a student of the Chazon Ish. In that position, Rav Yitzchak Tovia demonstrated his erudition and the entire yeshivah benefited from his vast Torah knowledge.

During his Londontenure, he developed a close relationship with Rav Shlomo Baumgarten ztz”l, who was one of the great rabbanim of London and the president of Kollel Shomrei Hachomos. At the time, Rabbi Baumgarten was also serving as the rav of Torah Eitz Chaim, which davened nusach Ashkenaz. Since many of the members of the shul davened nusach Sfard, Rabbi Baumgarten established a separate minyan for them on an upper story of the shul and designated Rav Yitzchak Tovia to serve as the rav of that beis medrash.

Rav Yitzchak Tovia began to engage in shimush with Rav Chanoch Henoch Padwa ztz”l, the av beis din of London, as well as corresponding with the Minchas Yitzchak, who was then living in Manchester. He also made a memorable connection with the Divrei Yoel of Satmar when the Rebbe stopped in London during a visit to Eretz Yisrael. Many years later, Rav Yitzchak Tovia would recall the passion and sanctity with which the Satmar Rebbe recited Kiddush on Friday night, a sight that remained indelibly etched into his own heart. He also wrote down all of the divrei Torah that he heard from the Rebbe and later gave permission to students of the Satmar yeshivah in Kiryas Yoel to publish them for the benefit of the public.

Meanwhile, a machlokes was brewing in the London yeshivah where Rav Yitzchak Tovia served as a maggid shiur. Several influential members of the community wanted to include secular studies in the yeshivah curriculum, a practice that was not accepted in the yeshivah world. Rav Yitzchak Tovia fought their efforts with all his might, but the yeshivah’s administration members, who were probably at the mercy of the government authorities, turned a deaf ear to Rav Yitzchak Tovia’s pleas.

When he learned of their decision, Rav Yitzchak Tovia resigned from his position. “I would rather support myself with physical labor than occupy a Torah position in this type of framework,” he declared.


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