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Paper Trail of a Forgotten Posek

Eytan Kobre

Half a century ago, Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin ztz”l was the rav of every rabbi. But just 40 years after his passing in Av 1973, his hundreds of personal responsa — of which he never made copies — were on the verge of being lost forever, if not for an intrepid young talmid chacham from Lakewood who turned into a veritable sleuth on a rescue mission.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Imagine a Torah giant whose name, once a household word, has been all but forgotten even in the citadels of Torah mere decades after his passing. Now imagine something even more far-fetched: One young talmid chacham decides to single-handedly reclaim the Torah legacy of this gaon and tzaddik.

Sounds improbable, but that’s precisely what Rabbi Doniel Osher Kleinman, a 30-something-year-old Lakewoodyungerman, has set out to do. His mission? To redeem from relative obscurity the memory of the man Rav Elyashiv called America’s mara d’asra: Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin ztz”l. When the first volume of Gevuros Eliyahu — a comprehensive collection of Rav Henkin’s halachic responsa, freshly edited and augmented by hundreds of recently discovered manuscripts — goes to print next month, it will mark the culmination of a veritable detective story.

While seforim publishing seems to be in the Kleinman genes — his father, Rabbi Heshy Kleinman, is well known for his English-language works on tefillah — the junior Rabbi Kleinman was, until just a year ago, a most unlikely detective. He spent his formative years at the Philadelphia Yeshivah, where he developed a close relationship with its venerable rosh yeshivah, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky. After Rabbi Kleinman married, he studied in Eretz Yisrael and then joined Rav Shlomo Miller’s halachah kollel in Lakewood, and it was there that his long-standing kesher with Rav Shmuel took an unexpected turn.

Although the Rosh Yeshivah is renowned as a font of leadership for our generation and of counsel for institutions and individuals alike, his yeshivah alone had always been the main beneficiary of his expertise in psak halachah. But over the last several years Rav Shmuel began transmitting his halachic rulings to his devoted talmid. Since the all-consuming project’s inception, Rabbi Kleinman has worked tirelessly editing and adding his own elaborative glosses to Rav Shmuel’s piskei halachah, and publishing them in a series entitled Koveitz Halachos, comprising seven sizable volumes to date.

While working on the as-yet-unpublished eighth volume on hilchos Shabbos, Rabbi Kleinman had to deal with the complex topic of halachic zmanim, the intricate discussions regarding the onset of day and night and the international dateline. “I went to discuss the sugya with Rav Shmuel and he began quoting Rav Henkin left and right. ‘Rav Henkin said this’ and ‘Rav Henkin holds that.’ He was also very emphatic on following Rav Henkin’s view on waiting until 60 minutes after shkiyah, even to break the fast after Tisha B’Av.

“Now, zmanim is a hot topic in halachah these days; there are entire seforim that have come out in recent years just on this subject. Yet not one of them quotes Rav Henkin. So I said, ‘Rosh Yeshivah, where’s all the Torah you’re citing coming from?’ He looked at me and said, ‘You don’t know? He wrote seforim.’ ”


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