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Under the Rebbe's Wing

Yossi Elituv and Aryeh Ehrlich

Twenty-two years after the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s passing, and half a century removed from the penniless, orphaned war refugee, Rabbi Yitzchok Raitport is still a humble talmid

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

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Rabbi Yitzchok Raitport presenting another newly written sefer to the Rebbe. Regarding the Rebbe's one-time haskamah, "The one I gave Raitport is my personal matter"

When Rabbi Yitzchok Raitport came to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s beis medrash in the 1950s, he was a penniless, orphaned war refugee. But he was also a brilliant Torah scholar who, under the Rebbe’s personal guidance, became a prolific author and — with the subsequent windfall blessing of wealth — a generous benefactor. Twenty-two years after the Rebbe’s passing, he’s still a humble talmid.

Rabbi Yitzchok Raitport is a man of contrasts. With his encyclopedic mind and incredible hasmadah in learning, he’s one of the great talmidei chachamim of the generation. Yet despite his classic multivolume commentary on Rambam, the dozens of kuntreisim he’s authored, and the halachic arbitrations he’s issued, he’s never run after the title of “gadol” — and if you’re not a Chabad chassid or you don’t live in Brooklyn, chances are you never even heard of him. 

Unless you happen to be a fundraiser. Because Rabbi Raitport, who for years struggled to feed his family and literally fulfilled the dictum of the Sages to acquire Torah through unadorned bread and measured water, has also been blessed with major wealth. He’s one of the greatest benefactors of mikvaos (he’s built over 120 of them around the world), finances the publications of many struggling Torah authors, and supports dozens of institutions. 

Rabbi Raitport’s Boro Park home is well-appointed, but he doesn’t really seem to notice — his refuge is his study, and as rosh kollel of the Kollel Hametzuyanim he established in Brooklyn, his desk is piled high with both new seforim and old volumes yellowed with age and use. And this is the table from where some of the most thought-provoking piskei halachah of the decade have emerged: one such psak listed ten reasons why the water coming out of Brooklyn taps — infested with microbes and bugs so big they were visible to the naked eye — was permitted to drink without a filter; another was a two-volume kuntress during the “Indian hair wig scandal” (where hair is ritually cut as a temple offering, and then gathered up by the priest and sold on the market to wig manufacturers) explaining in great detail why it is permitted to wear a wig made out of Indian hair even if that hair had been donated to a Hindu temple.

"We knew we had to get off that train right away - my sister was the first to jump"

Now, as he closely peruses the tiny letters of his beloved seforim, it’s clear that the huge fortune and material wealth attributed to him can’t compare in worth to a small comment written into one of the margins. Because for Rabbi Raitport — refugee child, brilliant teenage scholar, prolific author, and supporter of institutions — it’s about fulfilling the blessing of a holy tzaddik at the outset of World War II, about perpetuating the legacy of G-d-fearing parents, and about staying connected to the rebbe who spiritually nurtured him for decades.

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