There’s an uncanny parallel between the two dwellings a short, three-minute stroll from one another. Both buildings are framed in stucco cement that can only be described as “drab brown,” and when walking up the steps in each building, you can’t help but wonder why, given the stature of its residents, somebody hasn’t invested in making a more presentable entryway.
Once inside, you might wonder once again why the homeowners wouldn’t invest in more comfortable amenities — perhaps even as little as a long overdue paint job to cover the cracked and peeling walls.
Until you realize that the inhabitants of these two apartments are missing not a thing in this world. The value of any creature comforts is dwarfed by a single sefer — and there are hundreds upon hundreds such volumes lining the walls, floor to ceiling, in each home.
Welcome to Bnei Brak, to the homes of HaGaon HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman shlita, and his devoted gabbai and scribe, Rav Moshe Yehudah Schneider.
Rav Schneider, an effusively warm man with a graying beard and a quick smile, is quick to dispel any sort of parallel between him and his rebbi, “der Rosh Yeshivah.” When I mistakenly wonder what it must be like to be a chavrusa with the gadol hador, he quickly interrupts my sentence. “Nisht a chavrusa — halevai a talmid.” (“I’m not a chavrusa, I wish I could be classified as a disciple.”)
“I don’t know why people think I’m a chavrusa,” he muses. “Maybe because the first time the Rosh Yeshivah went to America, he asked me to join him, and I guess he had no one to learn with on the trip but me. So someone saw me learning with him and decided that I’m a chavrusa, and ever since then the title stuck. The Rosh Yeshivah doesn’t have any chavrusos — halevai talmidim.”
But Rav Schneider’s protests are mitigated by the testimony of an American rav who is part of a weekly chaburah with the Rosh Yeshivah, who says, “If Rav Steinman krechtzes, Rav Schneider can explain to you what that krechtz means.”
Rav Steinman, who is around 100, was born and raised in Brisk, and later studied in Kletzk. He managed to flee to Switzerland during World War II, and then moved to Eretz Yisrael with his wife, Rebbetzin Tamar (Tema, née Kornfeld), whom he had married in Switzerland after the war. The Rebbetzin passed away in 2002.
He led Kollel Ponovezh for a number of years, until the Ponovezher Rav opened Ponovezh L’Tzi’irim in 1955 and asked him to serve as rosh yeshivah alongside Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz ztz”l — a position he has held ever since. Today he is considered the leading figure of the Torah community in Eretz Yisrael, guiding tens of thousands of families through either direct counsel or by setting public policy.
The Schneider family’s connection to the Rosh Yeshivah actually goes back to Rav Moshe Yehudah’s early childhood. “My father emigrated from Englandto Eretz Yisrael when he was just 16 years old,” he relates. “He went to the Steipler to ask him for advice on some issues, and the Steipler directed him to Rav Chatzkel Levenstein, then mashgiach of Ponovezh. When Rav Chatzkel passed away in 5734 , my father returned to the Steipler to ask whom he should turn to for guidance, and the Steipler sent him to Rav Steinman.
“From when I was a young boy, we were always in and out of the Rosh Yeshivah’s home. Whatever issue we had — big to small — we went to the Rosh Yeshivah. Whether in halachah, health issues, general spiritual guidance — we had one address.”
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