The Alter of Slabodka’s Levaya


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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, the Alter of Slabodka passed away on Monday evening, January 31st, 1927 (the 29th of Shvat).  The funeral was held the next day.

He had fallen ill in the last week of September in 1926. It was on Chol HaMoed.  He moved from his home above the building next door to the Yeshiva in Chevron to the Warshawsky Hotel in Yerushalayim on Shivtei Yisroel Street. The hotel was owned by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herling and was previously the British Hotel known as Hatzman. It was also called Beit Olivat.

Reb Laizer Yudel, the Alter’s son and the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Poland, had arrived in Eretz Yisroel two weeks before the Alter’s passing to visit his bed-ridden father.

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The Alter had round the clock care of his talmidim who took care of him.  There was no question of this being provided for him.  It was the Alter’s philosophy to provide such care to each of his students in the Yeshiva.  Any bochur who was sick had shifts of other bochurim watching over that bochur.  The Talmidim, both married and bochurim also provided the Alter with a minyan.

On Friday before his passing, the Alter told Ephraim Sokolover to go back to his wife, Fannie, in Chevron for Shabbos.  While in such dire medical condition, he inquired of Reb Ephraim regarding the welfare of a young American talmid – whether he was growing in ruchniyus.  The Alter was a master pedagogue until the very end of his life.

The levaya began in front of the Warshasky Hotel at 11:00 AM, and continued to proceed on foot to Har Hazeisim.  The area between Meah Shearim and the walls of the Old City was filled with mourners.  At the hotel itself, mourners stood on the roof, the ledges and in front of the entranceway.

The levaya was reported in the four-page Palestine Bulletin in its February 1st, 1927 edition.

The maspidim were Rav Yoseph Chaim Sonnenfeld (Head of the Eida HaChareidis), Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook, Rav Eliyahu Klatzkin (author of the Dvar Eliyahu), Rav Shlomo Aronson (Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv), Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer (Rosh Yeshiva of the Etz Chaim Yeshiva), Rav Leib Chasman (author of Ohr Yahel), and others as well.

When the Alter had passed away, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, was in the United States raising funds for the Yeshiva.  He sent the following telegram:

Rav Sarna and the Yeshiva. We are shocked by the trgedy that has befallen us and Klal Yisroel, when our teacher, our father, the Chariot of Israel, has been taken from us. Slacking [in Torah study], however, will destroy the yeshiva.  Be strong.

With hope, the Father of orphans will comfort us.

One who is beaten, yet hopeful,

Moshe Mordechai

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  1. It’s fascinating that the Maspidim included both Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld ZT”L of the Eida haChareidis and Rav Avraham Yitzchak haKohen Kook ZT”L, the leading light of Religious Zionism. I’d be hard-pressed to think of anyone today who would be eulogized by the Ga’avad of the Eida and someone like, say, Rav Drukman, Shlita – or someone at whose Levaya both would be able to speak without disruption, v’hamevin yavin.

    an Israeli Yid

  2. Even though Rav Zonnenfeld opposed Rav Kook vehemently on hashkafic issues (and declared a taanis tzibur on the day Rav was inaugurated as Chief Rabbi), he always took great care to show that on a personal level he and Rav Kook got along well. More recently, a few hours after the Alter’s great-grandson and namesake the Mirer Rosh Yeshiva was niftar in 5772, before the levaya, the Gaavad went together with his neighbor R’ Nosson Tzvi’s brother R’ Gedalia Finkel, shlita, to comfort the new widow, and not long afterwards R’ Aharon Leib Steinman, whose positions the Gaavad strongly opposed, said the first hesped at the levaya. And the Eida declared a bitul malacha for the levaya.

  3. @anIsraeliYid – That is because you would be hard pressed to find someone who realizes – who knew the history – that Rav Avrohom Yitzchok HaKohein and Rav Yosef Chaim were not only in the same book but on the same page.

    They traveled the length and beadth of Eretz HaKidoshah to encourage Yidden to fulfill the mitzvos ha’tiluos ba’Aretz. They participated as Sandak and Mohel together at many brissin. They jointly attended political meetings.

    They loved all Yidden and stood strongly and steadfastly for limud ha’Torah and shmiras ha’mitzvos.

    And little has changed. Who are the farmers Keren HaShvi’is are supporting? Who are the students in Chinuch Atzmai and Shuvu Schools?

    Please stop the baseless and imagined hatred. We share much more than we disagree on. And YES I do speak for the majority of Yidden who allow Torah not politics be their guide.

  4. por and shauli – I think you both may have misunderstood the point I was trying to make. I was not, C”V, trying to sow disunity, but on the contrary, was trying to show how wonderful it was that two Gedolim who had such different Hashkafic perspectives got along and respected each other. The contrast to today’s situation is something to bemoan – my point was how unfortunate it is that today’s leaders of the two groups don’t have such a relationship, and even more so the antipathy that the followers of one group often have for members of the other.

    I think it was the-Col. Ofir Winter who noted that on 90%+ of Torah and Halacha, we are in agreement. Why is it that we have to focus on the 10% or so that we don’t agree on?

    an Israeli Yid