The skeletal remains of HaRav Yehoshua Heschel Levine zt”l, the well-known author of Aliyos Eliyohu, were flown to Eretz Hakodesh on Wednesday after being disinterred from a French cemetery and placed in a box that was stored for eight years because the burial fee had not been paid, as per French law. Following a prolonged campaign with the French authorities and a search for relatives to sign various forms, this week the bones were brought to Israel, where they were buried in the rabbinical section of Har Hazeisim in Jerusalem, 124 years after his passing.
Born in 5578 (1818), Yehoshua Heschel Levine was one of the grandchildren of HaRav Aryeh Leib Epstein, author of Sefer Hapardes, and among the gedolim of his generation. At a young age he gained recognition as a diligent, dedicated student and a great prodigy. He was chosen to marry the daughter of HaRav Eliyohu Zalman, the son of R’ Yitzchok of Volozhin, who was the son of R’ Chaim of Volozhin, and later was appointed one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Volozhin. He soon became widely known as a genius, a lamdan, a masmid and a tzaddik, and won the respect of gedolei Yisroel, especially the Beis Halevi of Brisk.
His book Aliyos Eliyohu, was the first work written about the Vilna Gaon ztvk”l, and serves as a vital source for the Gaon’s biographical details and customs.
His other works are Hagahos Al Medrash Rabboh, Pleitas Sofrim and Tzion Yehoshua. He was also provided with the writings of his father-in-law, R’ Chaim of Volozhin, and published Ruach Chaim on Pirkei Avos, with his own commentary, Ma’ayanei Yehoshua, and an essay called “Mitzpeh Yehoshua.”
The founder of the Mussar Movement, R’ Yisroel Salanter, who moved to Paris in 5640 (1880) to strengthen religious practice and institutions in the city, appointed HaRav Levine as his replacement when he came to the city to consult with physicians and R’ Yisroel returned to his city.
When R’ Yisroel Salanter passed away in 5643 (1883) HaRav Yehoshua Heschel arranged a large eulogy for him in Paris. HaRav Yehoshua Heschel’s personality made a great impression on Paris and he embarked on his holy task of returning Yiddishkeit to its original shining glory. A short time later, in 5644 (1884), he passed away at the height of his efforts to promote Torah and elevate the Name of Heaven, and was buried at Mon Parnas Cemetery in Paris.
Based on French law, since the family did not pay the hefty fee required to renew the burial license every 50 years, the remains were disinterred and placed in a box stored in the building adjacent to the Perlshaz Cemetery, which also contains the Jewish section where HaRav Dovid Zintzheim lies buried.
Eventually a young Jewish man discovered what had happened and notified HaRav Yirmiyohu HaKohen, the av beis din of Paris, and after making the situation known relatives were located to sign the documents needed to bring the remains to Eretz Hakodesh.
After lengthy dealings with French bureaucracy, the remains were released and a procession was held in central Paris before the bones were flown to Eretz Yisroel. The levaya, held on Rechov Padwa, began with a series of eulogies by HaRav Yirmiyohu HaKohen, along with several roshei yeshivos and prominent rabbonim. The remains were then brought from the Shamgar Beis Halvayos in Jerusalem, to the Mount of Olives Cemetery and buried in the section reserved for the gedolei olom who were disciples of HaRav Yehoshua Leib Diskin zt”l.
(By Yechiel Sever for Dei’ah veDibur)