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In a Class of his Own

C.B. Gavant

Rav Ephraim Greenblatt was a world-class posek and author of the monumental Rivevos Ephraim, but that didn’t stop him from teaching third-graders in his beloved Memphis — a community he dedicated 58 years to after arriving as a bochur who barely knew English. Approaching his shloshim, the Jewish community of Memphis, Tennessee, shares memories of its own personal gadol.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Memphis, Tennessee, circa 1950.Population 400,000. Jewish population, under 10,000. This is a city where segregation still plays a part in people’s daily lives and the word “yeshivah” is associated with far-off New Yorkand Israel. Most of the Jews here have shed their Yiddishkeit in their trek across the globe from their Eastern European points of origin. Others are valiantly struggling to attend minyanim and maintain the local mikveh while they support their families by running mom-and-pop grocery stores and old-time rag businesses.

Into this sleepy Southern town steps young Ephraim Greenblatt, a Yerushalmi-born bochur raised with ten other siblings in a one-bedroom apartment in Jerusalem’s Mekor Baruch neighborhood. He’s arrived to serve as the city’s shochet, but his influence is immediate and far-reaching. Over the course of the next 56 years, Rav Ephraim Greenblatt never loses his connection to the yeshivos that molded him in his youth, nor his thick yet soft Israeli accent. Simultaneously, he succeeds in touching the hearts of a community that recalls him with love and adoration — and following his petirah this month, with a feeling of loss over its personal gadol.

Ephraim Greenblatt’s parents, Rav Avraham Baruch and Aliza, raised 11 children in a Torah-rich environment in Yerushalayim, sustained by Ephraim’s grandfather Rav Yitzchak Greenblatt, a darshan from Brisk who had moved to the United States in the 1920s. In 1951, Rav Yitzchak fell ill and asked his son and daughter-in-law to send their oldest son, 19-year-old Ephraim, to America to assist him in his duties as a shul rav.

A brilliant bochur with an adventurous streak, Ephraim was then learning in Rechovot’s Kletsk Yeshivah under Rav Shach. He approached several gedolim to consult with them about the proposition, and was instructed by Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer (from whom he received semichah), that he should go — and that he would be successful.

Ephraim arrived in Americawith virtually no knowledge of English. After his grandfather’s passing, he assumed Rav Yitzchak’s position in his BoroParkshul, which meant serving as baal tefillah and giving a derashah on Shabbos. During the daytime, he was free to learn — which he did, in the nearby Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, headed by Rav Moshe Feinstein. Thus began a lifelong connection that shaped Rav Ephraim’s entire future.


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