Imagine:  Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l – A Rosh Yeshiva in New York

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

The year was 1946, and the war was over.  The bulk of the Mir Yeshiva students in Europe were now in Shanghai, China.  China was undergoing great turmoil, as the Chinese civil war had resumed and the Soviets were encouraging the takeover of the hard-liners.  The Yeshiva refugees needed to leave, but where could they go?

The British had previously imposed the White Papers and the difficulties involved in entering Eretz Yisroel were well near impossible.  The future pointed to America, and numerous Mir Talmidim had applied for visas to the US.  Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l (1902-1979) remained in Shanghai and looked after his orphaned Talmidim to ensure that they each had a visa to exit China.

Unfortunately, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz could not get one for himself and his family.  During the war, Rav Avrohom Kalmanovitz was essentially responsible for saving the Mir Yeshiva bochurim and was given permission to establish a branch of the Mir Yeshiva in America.  He and Rabbi Yechezkel Kahane (father of Rabbi Meir Kahane) established the American branch of the Mir Yeshiva in Far Rockaway, New York, in 1946.   It was Rav Kalmanovitz’s yeshiva, even though Rav Chaim Shmulevitz was the son-in-law of Reb Lazer Yudel Finkel zt”l.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz entered into discussions with Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l to become a Ram there, at the Rabbinical Seminary of America/ Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim – then located at 135 South Ninth Street, in Williamsburg, New York.  A contract was written, and Rav Leibowitz made his best effort to obtain a visa for Rav Shmulevitz and his family.

This chapter in yeshiva history was genuine.  It was NOT an imaginative method of obtaining a visa.  Rav Leibowitz wrote to the Consul General in Shanghai.

The letter is addressed to Monnet Bain Davis (1893-1953), the American Consul General in Shanghai, who eventually became the second Ambassador of the United States to the State of Israel.  It was written by Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l on Erev Shabbos, August 2nd, 1946.

Honorable Sir: 

This Seminary entered into a contract with Rabbi Chaim Leib Szmilowicz, who is presently in Shanghai, China. The contract provides that Rabbi Szmilowicz be engaged as a professor of Talmud in our Seminary at a salary of $4,150 per year. [in 2021 dollars this amounts to $57,822 yh]

We wish to advise you that our graduates are in an ever increasing demand in all parts of the United States as well as in Canada, Mexico, and South American countries.  We are compelled to increase our facilities.  But there is a definite lack of qualified instructors in the United States and we must invite Rabbinical authorities from other countries to take up a post in our Seminary.

We further wish to advise you that Rabbi Szmulowicz is a distinguished Rabbinical authority. Before the war, he served in the capacity of Professor of Talmud in the Yeshiva of Mir, Poland.  He is a man of letters and renown in his field. 

We will be most grateful to you if you expedite the issuance of a visa to Rabbi Szmilowicz that he, who is accompanied by his wife and children, could arrive at our seminary at the earliest possible moment.

Respectfully yours,

Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz

Chairman Board of Trustees

Eventually, Rav Shmulevitz obtained a visa to France and from there he was able to join his illustrious father-in-law in the re-established Mir Yeshiva in Yerushalayim.  This was, undoubtedly with the bracha of Rav Leibowitz zt”l.

Many of the Mir Talmidim who came from Europe continued learning at the Mir branch which had moved from Far Rockaway to Brownsville and eventually to Fltbush.  Others learned at a new Yeshiva called Bais HaTalmud, but undoubtedly some would have learned under Rav Chaim Shmulevitz had he taken the position in Chofetz Chaim.  The Mashgiach at the time was Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l, and a temporary Rosh yeshiva was Rav Mordechai Shulman zt”l, a son-in-law of Rav Yitzchok Isaac Sher zt”l.

The author can be reached at [email protected].

The author welcomes input from anyone who has more information or documents.