(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com)
“Rosh Yeshiva, there is a Jewish fellow who wants to become a reform Rabbi. Someone suggested that he attend a yeshiva first. Could he start coming to shiurim here?”
“Of course! What is the question?”
“Rosh Yeshiva, there is a Jewish fellow that is kind of involved with the mafia. He wants to start attending our Gemorah shiurim. Is it alright if he comes and learns in the Yeshiva?”
“Every neshama that was at Har Sinai deserves to know of his birthright. Of course he should come!”
Both of the above conversations took place within the confines of Yeshiva Kesser Torah of Queens – close to three decades ago. I know, because I was the one who posed both of the questions.
Rav Elyakim Getzel Rosenblatt zt”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Kesser Torah of Queens, was a Talmid of both Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l and Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l. He began learning at BMG in 1951, at the age of 18. At the age of 27, he went to learn under Rav Henoch and remained a Talmid of both of them.
Rav Rosenblatt and yblc”t his aishes chayil, Rebbitzen Trani were early pioneers of a unique brand of Kiruv. They combined tremendous ahavas yisroel, with warmth, love, delicious meals, hartzigah singing, and an in-depth Talmud study for Baalei Teshuvah and those who needed more personal instruction. The thousands of Talmidim show how successful they truly were.
As Rav Hershel Welcher shlita pointed out in his hesped at the levaya, Rav Rosenblatt zt”l and his rebbitzen embodied what Rav Chaim Volozhin’s son writes about his father in the preface to the Nefesh haChaim:
She’zeh kol haAdam. Lo l’atzmo nivrah, rak l’ho’l l’achrini – kechol asher yimtzah b’kocho laasos. – For this is all of man. He was not created for himself. Rather to do for others – in all that he is capable of doing.
And the two of them certainly did for others.
Rav Rosenblatt’s Talmidim and their children and grandchildren, number in the thousands. They have entered and taken part in Jewish community after Jewish community. They fill the rosters of Yeshivos and Beis Yaakovs across the country and in Eretz Yisroel.
Vehanefashos asher asu b’charan.
There have been Yeshiva Kesser Torah talmidim who have entered the portals of that remarkable Yeshiva and have emerged as Roshei Yeshiva themselves. Some went on to other great Yeshivos as well. A number received smicha from Rav Dovid Feinstein shlita. Others have gone on and helped lead mosdos of Torah in their own right.
What was it about this remarkable man that broke such barriers? What was it about this couple that gave them such clarity of purpose – that we are here to bring people tachas kanfei HaShechina?
At the levaya, the Rosh Yeshiva’s brother, Rav Zev Rosenblatt shlita, mentioned their upbringing in Brownsville, New York – where everyone around them were survivors of the holocaust. It was a time when no one had grandparents and the parents who had come over to America were struggling to survive. Even as a young man, Reb Elyakim Getzel’s overriding concern was the spiritual growth of his peers. Ever the masmid, ever the baal mashpiah, he directed his peers and his younger brother to draw from the life-giving waters of the Gedolei Torah who taught shiurim. Whether it was in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, Telze, or Lakewood, he would encourage others to attend and make the most of it. They did, and today, many of them stand as leading rabbinic personalities.
He himself was a Talmid of Rav Aharon Kotler zaicher tsaddik livracha. The influence of Rav Aharon on his thinking and learning was profound. He carried Rav Aharon’s shmuessim with him until the day he passed away. But perhaps more importantly, he was able to break down Rav Aharon’s incredible mussar insights into manageable and contemporary lessons for his Talmidim. He did this for Rav Henoch’s Shmuessim as well. Although one would never detect it from the way he carried himself, he was a master of the Slabodka-esque mussar shmuess. He would spend hours horving over Rav Leib Chasman’s Ohr Yahel and unfolding the subtle differences between the approach of Rav Chasman and that of Rav Aharon in a particular mussar inyan. His love of the Slabodka mehalech of shmuessim permeated his being.
At one point, Rav Rosenblatt decided that he must also learn by Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim. He learned there too and continued to drink of the well of his beloved Mussar.
Rav Rosenblatt also loved the in-depth unfolding of the steps of the Gemorah that Rav Dovid Leibowitz zt”l and his son Rav Henoch were noted for teaching. What was the movement in the Gemorah’s thinking at each point? What was the shift between the hava amina and the maskana? Are there words in the rishonim that can prove one way or the other? He loved this method of study and taught it his talmidim.
Rav Elyakim Getzel became a life-long Talmid of Rav Henoch. He and his wife shared a very close bond. Eventually, Rav Rosenblatt taught the mechina shiur in the high school.
Rav Dovid Harris shlita, one of the two concurrent Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, said at the levaya that Rav Rosenblatt was his ninth grade Rebbe, and made a strong impression upon him.
Eventually, Rav Rosenblatt, went on to become a Rav in the Corona section of Queens. There, he and his Rebbitzen continued in their Kiruv efforts, forming life long relationships. They hosted Shabbos meals replete with incredible food. Incredible zmiros. And incredible shiurei Torah.
Vehanefashos asher asu b’charan.
He looked at his Talmidim as family. And they looked at him as a father. He catered the shiurim in the Yeshiva toward anyone and everyone who had time to learn. The Yeshiva was unique in that there several hours of shiurim every day where people could pop in and learn Torah in depth. He would meet people in the streets of Kew Gardens Hills, or Kew Gardens and remark, “We have a businessman’s special! Come to the Yeshiva and learn at the early shiur and then go to work having your daily Gemorah shiur!”
They did. The experience made them into Bnei Torah. These businessmen talmidim eventually established Torah-dika homes themselves and helped create a new generation of Bne Torah.
One talmid remarked, I lived in KGH from about 2007 through 2012. In 2007, I was just back from Yeshiva in Israel and starting law school at St. John’s University.. I often found myself in Kesser Torah learning between my law school classes. I got married in 2010 and moved away in summer 2012.
The impact of Rav Rosenblatt zt”l and yblctv”a his Rebbitzen – in terms of facts on the ground – number into several thousands. In Maalei Adumim, for example, just one of his Talmidim has influenced thousands himself. What better revenge against the tragic desolation that the Nazis yimach shmam made upon Klal Yisroel.
Vehanefashos asher asu becharan.
Rav Rosenblatt was also a remarkable Baal Menagain. While in BMG in Lakewood, Rav Aharon Kotler would enjoy his young Talmid’s hartzigah singing. The young Reb Elyakim Getzel would also compose his own niggunim. Rav Aharon had a special appreciation for zmiros and niggunim and encouraged his Talmidim in that regard. One day, a former talmid of Rav Aharon, who had initially gone out in the world to bring others tachas kanfei hashechina, came back to BMG for a Shabbos. He joined the bachurim for the singing of zmiros and naturally wanted to assume his former position of being the baal menagain at the seudah. Rav Aharon nodded his head, “No.” He then pointed to Rav Elyakim Getzel to lead it. The former baal menagain went on to make a major impact in the Jewish music world. Rav Rosenblatt took Rav Aharon Kotler’s approval and encouragement of his niggunim and singing as an inspiration to incorporate music and zmiros as part and parcel of the approach one should have to chinuch and Kiruv. Eventually Rav Rosenblatt put out two albums of his niggunim.
Rav Rosenblatt thought deeply about everything that he did. He decided, after much thought, that to best attract Talmidim he would reconfigure the method of in-depth learning that was taught in his Yeshiva. The new mehalech was to learn the halacha in the Rambam. Whether it would be in Shabbos or brachos or one of the other sections of the yad hachazakah it depended on what was being learned. Then, he and his talmidim would carefully learn the Gemorah’s that the halacha was based upon. He would then trace it through the Rambam, Rosh, Kitzur Piskei HaRosh (written by the Tur), Tur, Beis Yoseph, and Shulchan Aruch.
To Rav Rosenblatt, the Shulchan Aruch was an amalgamation of the various thoughts of the rishonim – where Rav Karo incorporated their wording. He also loved the Frankel edition of the Rambam and would love exploring from where exactly the Rambam had derived his rulings. He would carefully learn through all of these sources and involved his Talmidim. His clarity was remarkable and he was able to get his Talmidim to provide their own in-depth and thought provoking explanations. The Talmidim responded beautifully. They were genuinely contributing to cutting-edge deep Talmudic thought!
This respect for his talmidim not only emerged from his shiurim – it was part and parcel of his daily interaction with others. He would call a Talmid, “Rabbeinu.” This was because he meant it – such was his anivus.
Rav Rosenblatt believed in people. This was another something that was unique about him. The encouragement and trust that he placed in people was essential to their growth. A talmid would think, “Wow! The Rosh Yeshiva places such trust in me!” And the Talmid would strive to live up to it. Invariably, that Talmid did. Rav Rosenblatt had a depth of understanding of the importance of building self-esteem in others that was most profound and essential in his success.
Once, one of his Talmidim, was needlessly killed in a horrific tragedy. The incident affected him deeply and he spent much time with the Talmid’s mother on the phone comforting her. He was her only child. His Talmidim were family.
In his divrei Torah, he would always focus on pshat. But he also explored other areas of thought. One talmid recalled how he loved creative approaches to Torah and having genuine fun with Torah. Another one of Rav Rosenblatt’s trademarks was, “This is the simple pshat. The chassideshe Torah’leich say…”
And then there were the parsha sheets. When I was first hired as the mashgiach and a Rebbe at Yeshiva Kesser Torah I was enamored at both the ease of accessibility of the depth of the mussar shmuessim. How lucky were the Talmidim of Yeshiva Kesser Torah! Here was a clear and depth-filled exposition of both Rav Aharon Kotler’s as well as Rav Henoch Leibowtz’s approaches to a mussar inyan as well as the other Gedolei haMussar. It was kind of like the first Schottenstein Artscroll Gemorah for Mussar. I suggested to Rav Rosenblatt that the shmuessim be written up and distributed in shuls and Yeshivos. He took up the suggestion and for the next number of years, many hours were spent each week editing, re-editing and further editing.
The printed Mussar Shmuessim became a huge success. Each week, dozens of shuls and Yeshivos requested to be added to the distribution network. Distributors were hired. Letters of appreciation came in. Letters arguing points came in. Eventually, they were put into sefer form.
Rav Rosenblatt zt”l would sometimes throw convention to the wind in his ardor to bring out a point. Rav Rosenblatt wanted certain ideas emphasized in the written word as well that can be emphasized in the spoken word through voice modulation. But how to do that in the written word? Rav Rosenblatt decided to use the bold function of the computer liberally.
“But Rosh Yeshiva, this is not done.”
“But why not?” he would respond. “If it can help bring across a point of Torah thought, then let us throw convention to the wind.”
For many years later, he would show me other seforim in lashon haKodesh in which a particular page would have five or six lines of bold.
Eventually, the printed shmuessim would regularly incorporate one phrase that would convey a question that the Gedolei Mussar would ask on that week’s parsha.
“This is mystifying” – would invariably appear in each sheet. It became a catchphrase, like product branding, or a trademark. It eventually brought one struggling former Talmid – back to Yeshiva and the Torah way of life.
Oh, and what ever happened to the two people mentioned at the beginning of this appreciation? One went on to build a beautiful Torahdika mishpacha and became a pillar in his community. The other, the wealthy “connected” person learned for several years at the Yeshiva and looked upon Rav Rosenblatt as his own Rosh Yeshiva. He devoted his life to helping other mosdos of Torah. Once that Talmid was so taken by the story of the Mirrer Yeshiva’s salvation through Shanghai, CHina that he approached Rav Kalmanovitch zt”l about the possibility of making a movie about it. Rav Kalmanovitch zt”l responded in the negative, because he knew that in order to make a movie popular, there would have to be scenes in it that are incompatible with what Torah is all about. The Talmid dropped the project.
There is no question that the world is a different place without Rav Rosenblatt. As a consolation, his shmuessim can still be heard on Torah anytime. They can be read in Yeshiva Kesser Torah’s parsha sheets. His nigunnim can be heard on Shaar haNeginah tapes and CD’s. But there is no full replacement of this remarkable individual who impacted such a large section of Klal Yisroel.
The author can be reached at [email protected]
Shiva Hours for the Rosenblatt Family at 147-36 69th Road will be as follows:
●Sunday 3/31/19-Tuesday 4/2/19
- 9AM to 2PM
- 4PM to 10PM
Davening Times will be:
●Mincha(followed by Maariv)
The Rosenblatt Family will be getting up from Shiva on Wednesday Morning after the 8 AM Shachris.