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The Novaminsker Rebbe’s 4th Yahrtzeit

by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Jewish Link

Today is the yahrtzeit of Rav Yaakov Perlow, zt’l, the Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh Agudas Yisroel of America.  He passed away at the age of 89, a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, r’l.

What a grave shock it was. All of Klal Yisrael became yesomim. We still are.

We miss his leadership.  His love for Klal Yisroel. We miss everything about this extraordinary gadol.

The Novominsker was a remarkable talmid chacham and extraordinary pike’ach (clever person) whose wise leadership was tapped by Agudath Israel of America to be its head since 1998. This was a few months after Reb Moshe Sherer had passed away. Rav Perlow was the rosh yeshiva of the Novominsker Yeshiva in Boro Park since he established it in 1981.

Every Shabbos morning he gave a shiur in the Ohr HaChaim on the parashah at his yeshiva on 16th Avenue and 48th Street, a shiur that was well-attended and one in which he could impart his hashkafos to the attendees. This author attended that shiur throughout the 1980s and 90s. After the shiur once, I asked him about a strongly worded hashkafic letter that he had written responding to a college professor’s inquiry about something he had said. The letter was an inspiring and robust defense of the concept of “dakei dakos”—that any time we speak of the Avos and others in Tanach, any aveirah is one that is infinitesimal from our perspective. He was somewhat disturbed that the letter had gotten out to others.

He would quote his illustrious forebear, the Kotzker, as saying, “One must endeavor in Yetzias Mitzrayim with the very same effort that one works to understand Shas and a Tosfos.”

The Novominsker would explain the nature of the mitzvah of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim and the statement of Chazal in the words, “V’chol ha’marbeh l’saper b’Yetzias Mitzrayim, harei zeh meshubach” — the more one continues to discuss the Exodus from Mitzrayim, the more praiseworthy he is.” He said that had Hashem not taken us out during that time, we would have sunk to the 50th level of tumah and remained there forever. The mitzvah is an expression of hakaras ha’tov, gratitude, and to the concept of gratitude there is no limit. It must be expressed out loud, at great length, and with genuineness.

The Rishonim established the simanim of the Seder at the very beginning of the Seder. Rav Perlow would quote his grandfather’s explanation that Klal Yisrael is likened to a lost sheep, and an aveidah is only returned to its owner with simanim. Hence, we will be returned to Hashem with simanim.

Rav Perlow, zt’l, used to explain that the reason we dance at Kiddush Levanah is because it represents the very first mitzvah; the rise of Klal Yisrael as a nation; and our marriage to Hashem YisbarachKlal Yisrael is likened to the moon as it rises to its fullness. We dance to celebrate our future redemption and closeness to Avinu she’ba’Shamayim.

The Rebbe once asked why we don’t count two different days of Sefirah like we observe two days yom tov in chutz la’aretz on account of sfeika d’yoma. He explained that the reason why Shavuos is still two days even though we already know from the end of Rosh Chodesh Nissan the true date is in order not to make a distinction between each holiday. Since for the majority of Sefirah we already know the date, we keep it for one day.

The Novominsker was passionate about issues that affected Klal Yisrael. A few years ago, someone had made a statement minimizing the amount of victims of the Holocaust. He responded passionately with the following statement:

“I condemn in the strongest terms possible the outrageous claim that fewer than a million halachic Jews were killed in the Holocaust. This claim is demonstrably false, profoundly offensive, and extremely hurtful. It is an affront to the Six Million kedoshim, precious, holy, Jewish souls whose lives were snuffed out by the sonei Yisrael. Minimizing the degree of the terrible destruction of Churban Europa, in a most morally irresponsible manner, does a grave disservice to truth and only gives enemies of Klal Yisrael ammunition for their lies.”

At an earlier time, I had once asked the Novominsker a she’eilah concerning an offer of the president of Iran to engage with the American Jewish community in an Orthodox shul in New York. The terms were that the film crew and discussion would be controlled by Torah-observant Jews. The Novominsker became angry at the thought of it, saying, “How could one possibly consider this, with a rasha who daily threatens to bomb Eretz Yisrael!” After that, the point was moot.

The Rebbe was born in Brooklyn, and was the son of Rav Nochum Mordechai Perlow, zt’l, the previous Novominsker Rebbe, and Rebbetzin Beila Rochma, née Morgenstern. The Rebbe was named after his great-grandfather, Rav Yaakov Perlow, the first Novominsker Rebbe. On his mother’s side he was a descendant of the famed Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk and shared his well-known sense of humor.

The Rebbe’s father passed away in 1976. His wife passed away a few years ago. Rav Perlow was the father-in-law of Rav Elisha Horowitz, who lives in Lawrence. One of the Novominsker’s close friends was Reb Moshe Sukenik, z’l, from Kew Gardens, NY.

The Rebbe was a close talmid of Rav Hutner, zt’l, at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn. One could see his rebbe’s influence on him in that he would often quote Maharals, just like Rav Hutner did. The Novominsker would also cite Sefornos and the Mussar aspects of the Ohr HaChaim’s peirush in his shiurim in the same manner that reflected the Slabodka influence on Rav Hutner, zt’l.

Rav Perlow studied in BMG in Lakewood. Rav Perlow was the author of the six-volume series called Eidas Yaakov on Shas and the yomim tovim. Later, he became a rosh yeshiva under Rav Aharon Soloveitchik in Chicago and became enamored with the Torah of Brisk. His rebbeim were lifelong influences upon him and he would quote them and their rebbeim before them. After that he was also rosh yeshiva of the beis ha’midrash of Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in Washington Heights. He would give a parashah shiur every Thursday night there for many years.

The idea of chillul Hashem bothered him to the core. Once, at the Agudah Convention, he spoke out strongly against a group of people that he felt was causing chillul Hashem in their almost daily activities. He also came out against those that supported them.

The Novominsker spent much time trying to make shalom between those who were in machlokes, whether it was between ba’alei batim, matters of shalom bayis, or even issues between rabbanim.

Kiruv was a matter that was close to his heart. He served as the head of Torah Umesorah and strongly supported those on the frontlines of chinuch and kiruv. People constantly consulted him on such subjects. They also sought his berachah and advice on all matters in life.

Once a young lady sought his eitzah about a tzarah that she was experiencing. It was the same year that his rebbetzin had passed away. He advised her about always accepting Hashem’s plan. The Rebbe told her, “What should I tell you? I also davened and davened for the Rebbetzin. But it wasn’t Hashem’s plan. We need to accept what Hashem does.” This woman continues to embrace all of the Novominsker’s sagely advice as a source of inspiration in life.

The Rebbe passed away in his home at 3 a.m. on the 13th of Nissan. May he be a meilitz yosher for all of Klal Yisrael.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

6 Responses

  1. I am not quite clear how you pick out which Johrzeits to mantion on YWN; Granted the Novominske & Rav Shimshon Pincus are giants, but 3 days ago on Nisson 10th was Jorzeit of מרים הנביאה who somehow didn’t make it onto YWN, and day before that was Johrzeit of Rav Aryeh Levine who also somehow didn’t make it onto YWN. This is very baffling that these 2 huge giants didn’t qualify to have their Johrzeits on YWN.
    Tonite is also Johrzeit of the Mechaber Moreinu HoRav Yosef Caro, & somehow his Johrzeit also didn’t make it onto YWN:- Very mystifying??

  2. I remember reading an astonishing story about him, he was respected for being someone not affraid to speak the truth (even in some fancy events with fancy “officials”), some people say the last generations are weaker but I strongly disagree with that, we can learn from our fathers and improve what they have already achieved. There is no such thing as a “tzarah”, there are only remedies that need to be provided to whoever needs it, and regarding the machlochet, I believe it’s a great mitsvah to help people being bechalem, no matter how hard it can be or the pressure we have to deal with during the process. No one like to be involved into this kind of things, but as we all know, soon after the darkest time of the night, the sun rises up. Each zman has its own purpose. Also I don’t believe anyone died of this corona thing but others means were used to make people sick. All the truth will unfold regarding the engineered “tzarah”. Pandemic yourself, TRUMP!

  3. ““I condemn in the strongest terms possible the outrageous claim that fewer than a million halachic Jews were killed in the Holocaust. This claim is demonstrably false…and only gives enemies of Klal Yisrael ammunition for their lies.””

    That probably depends on your definition of “halachic”. If you mean “born of a Jewish mother” then, yes, that claim is offensive, etc. But if your definition is “Shomer Torah and mitzvos” then from Rav Miller’s writings it would appear to be quite possible.

    “At an earlier time, I had once asked the Novominsker a she’eilah concerning an offer of the president of Iran to engage with the American Jewish community in an Orthodox shul in New York. The terms were that the film crew and discussion would be controlled by Torah-observant Jews. The Novominsker became angry at the thought of it, saying, “How could one possibly consider this, with a rasha who daily threatens to bomb Eretz Yisrael!” After that, the point was moot.”

    The offer may have been moot but not its point.

    That meeting could have had tremendous value to Jews and Judaism, particularly in showing the world that Zionism is opposed to Judaism, not its representative as the Zionists baldly lie.

    Despite this tremendous benefit, this meeting could not happen because the guy is a rasha and you can’t be mischaber laRasha even for a good purpose (never mind how this is almost totally disregarded with regards to being mischaber to Zionism and its idol State).

    The darkness is overwhelming. We desperately need Mashiach.

  4. 747: R’ Hoffman typically writes about gadolim with whom he either had some direct or indirect personal connection. h Perhaps if you have some chidush to offer about the life of another gadol whose yahrtzeit if upcome, send a letter to the editor or add a short comment in the CR or on another thread.

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