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One Address

Menachem Pines

From Vilna, from Bnei Brak, from New Yorkand Prague— the letters found their way to one address, one figure with both the heart to empathize and the influence to help. Rav Eliezer Silver, legendary rav ofCincinnati and indefatigable activist, received a non-stop flood of correspondence from the Torah leaders of the era. Now the Kedem Auction House allows us a glimpse into the unusual archive that is a vivid record of the troubles, trials, and triumphs of the Jewish nation in a critical time.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

inkwellIt was long before advances like email, instant messaging, or 24/7 accessibility were in vogue. But the scene that met the young Israeli visitor when he stepped into theCincinnatihome of the famous rabbi carries the frenetic feel of a modern newsroom.

“Every day he receives dozens of letters and telegrams,” wrote the visitor, young Menachem Glickman-Porush. “The telephone never stops ringing. I was there for an hour and he received a telegram fromShanghai, four express letters – one fromBoston, one fromChicago, and the other two fromNew York. The telephone rang, and there was someone on the line fromPrague. He responds to them all without delay… He does not know the meaning of fatigue, may Hashem give him strength.”

The man who presided over the non-stop correspondence was none other than Rav Eliezer Silver, the Lithuanian-born genius and Torah scholar who decided, in 1907, to flee a continent soon to erupt. InAmerica, he found safety — but also a mission. After serving rabbinic positions inHarrisburg,PennsylvaniaandSpringfield,Massachusetts, Rav Silver accepted a rabbinic position inCincinnati,Ohio, in the early 1930s.Cincinnatiremained his home until his passing in 1968, and the home base for an almost superhuman list of accomplishments.

A dedicated Hatzolah activist who moved worlds to save Jews from the Holocaust, an uncompromising rav who bolstered kashrus and educational standards, an internationally regarded leader who became one of the prime forces behind the formation of Agudath Israel of America, the Lithuanian native managed to accrue rare influence and connections on very foreign shores. But in some ways, he never really left Europe. The plight of his rebbeim, peers, and fellow Jews was his constant focus – and a deluge of correspondence from the world of his youth followed him to his new home.

Shortly before they will be made public by the Kedem Auction House, Mishpacha was granted permission to view and record some of those letters, including correspondence with some of the greatest Torah sages of the last century. Between the lines, one can discern the dual identities of the addressee: a brilliant Torah scholar acclaimed for his incisive knowledge, and a keen activist with the connections and influence to solve pressing community issues.

The archive contains hundreds of letters and myriad emotions. One letter is from “the grandson of the Alter of Slabodka,” who writes, “I cannot sit by; I must call out … to whom can I turn if not to the leader of Klal Yisrael who is known for his kindness and salvation, for he is among the descendants of Dovid Hamelech…” There is a plea for aid to reunite a family separated by the war. There is a letter from an American rav demanding an explanation as to why, in a conference of the Agudas Yisrael, extensive praises were heaped on the roshei yeshivos who were mentioned, but when Yeshivas Chevron was mentioned, “They forgot to mention the name of the great gaon, the Rosh Yeshiva. Is there some political consideration here, chas v’shalom? Is such a thing possible?” Another letter bears the signature of Rabbi Avraham Kahaneman, the president of Yeshivas Ponovezh, of which Rav Silver served as American president. A letter in Yiddish from the Rosh Yeshiva of Knesses Yisrael Chevron thanks the committee for its donation enabling the construction of an additional dormitory room.

From letters dealing with kashrus and mashgichim, with monetary laws and the selection of dayanim, one can see Reb Eliezer’s intense involvement in various battles of chareidi Jewry. Thus, for instance, there is a letter from Reb Chaim Shaul Karelitz, penned on the letterhead of the “Committee for Protecting the Dignity of the Deceased,” in which he states that the problem of autopsies is one of the most painful situations of the time.

Then there’s a missive from the Mazhirei Shabbos organization, requesting that Rav Silver exercise his influence so that “the airline Al Italia cease its flights to Ben-Gurion airport on Shabbos.” They also request that the Jews of America refrain from investing in companies in Israelthat do not keep Shabbos, and that “they stipulate explicitly that their activities not violate the Shabbos in any way, without seeking any heterim.”

One could sit and pore over these writings for hours on end, touching bygone eras, gazing at the ink mixed with blood and tears, at the letters of gedolei yisrael and oppressed Jews. Even a small sampling of ten letters provides a glimpse at the powerful personality who was seen by so many as an address — with both the heart to feel their angst, and the means to assuage it. 

 

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