Son and current rosh yeshivah, Rav Simcha Scheinberg, reveals the secret of his father’s drive and passion
Photos: Elchanan Kotler, Mishpacha archives
Not everyone has the zechus to have the rosh yeshivah as the sheliach tzibbur on Rosh Hashanah, but for the talmidim in Jerusalem’s Torah Ore yeshivah, there was nothing more elevated than basking in their rebbi’s tefillos for two days straight. Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg ztz”l, who passed away at exactly 101 and a half on 27 Adar of 2012, took the entire Yom Tov davening upon himself from the time he came to Eretz Yisrael in the early 1960s. And it wasn’t just talmidim who came to be transported on the tefillos of the elder sage, whose holy soul came into the world on 27 Elul, in the week of Rosh Hashanah. Many of the old-timers of Jerusalem’s Mattersdorf neighborhood, where the Scheinbergs lived, wouldn’t enter the New Year without Rav Scheinberg carrying them on his shoulders.
“People who heard him daven — the krechtz that he gave when he said ‘hashiveinu avinu lesorasecha,’ the krechtz by ‘VeliYerushalayim ircha berachamim tashuv’ — knew he was shaking the Heavens on behalf of Klal Yisrael,” says his 80-year-old ben yachid Rav Simcha Scheinberg, who became Torah Ore’s rosh yeshivah after Rav Chaim Pinchas’s passing.
And, says Rav Simcha, it was those two loves — ahavas Torah and ahavas Eretz Yisrael, that propelled him to take his own life-altering step, which would ultimately affect the entire Torah world.
If there’s any inspiration to move a person forward, to awaken him to do something greater the coming year, to stretch himself, it was the life of Rav Scheinberg. That’s exactly how we felt when we came across an old photograph of Rav Scheinberg walking down the steps of an airplane onto the tarmac of Eretz Yisrael, suitcase in hand, ready to start a new chapter in his life by making the move to Jerusalem in 1965. He was in his 50s then, but was infused with the energy of a young man as he actualized the plan to move his Brooklyn yeshivah to the Holy Land.
“It all started when, after serving as mashgiach ruchani in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim for 25 years, my father decided to leave and was at a crossroads about what to do,” remembers Rav Simcha, who was a bochur at the time. “My uncle, his brother Rav Shmuel, and my brother-in-law, Rav Chaim Dov Altusky — my sister Fruma Rochel’s husband — thought it would be a good idea for him to open his own yeshivah.”
And so, Rav Scheinberg — who famously left the comforts of America with his bride, Rebbetzin Bessie, and joined the Mir yeshivah in Poland for five years in the 1930s, where there was no running water or electricity — opened Torah Ore in 1960 with six students in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, whose Jewish population at the time was predominantly Sephardic. It quickly grew and attracted many local Sephardi boys, whom the Scheinbergs treated as their own sons — raising money to marry them off and even paying their dentist bills.
“My parents were living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, so my father would travel every day,” says Rav Simcha, who had been learning in Lakewood. “I got married a short time later so we lived close by. When my father opened the yeshivah, he asked my mother, ‘Will you help me make this happen?’ And she readily agreed. On the first day of the zeman, after Succos, my parents walked into the yeshivah, my father with seforim and my mother with a basket of food for the bochurim’s lunch. My mother did everything for them. She worked in the office and dealt with the banks... Everything.” Life might have continued like that, but then something happened that would turn their lives around.
Rav Scheinberg’s father passed away, and Rav Scheinberg wanted him to be buried in Eretz Yisrael, which he arranged.
“Afterward, my grandmother wanted my father to visit the kever, because they hadn’t been at the burial,” says Rav Simcha. “After Succos of 1963, my father traveled to Eretz Yisrael, and at the same time, the idea of creating the Mattersdorf neighborhood on what was then the outskirts of Yerushalayim was raised.
“My father went for a few weeks and then returned and said, ‘I’m moving the yeshivah to Eretz Yisrael.’ He offered two reasons: He was captivated by the reinkeit, the purity of the children, the holiness that he saw on the children of Yerushalayim. And the second thing he said was that an American bochur could really grow in Eretz Yisrael. It really was the first yeshivah for Americans in Eretz Yisrael.
“The truth is,” Rav Simcha continues, “that my grandfather, Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman [Rav Chaim Pinchas’s father-in-law, and hero of the book All for the Boss, by his daughter Ruchoma Shain — Ed.] who had moved to Eretz Yisrael many years before, constantly urged his children to come. Years before in fact, his own father lived here for a while, and believe it or not, he was Rav Elyashiv’s shadchan, but that’s another story. Anyway, my mother wanted to go, but they’d just established the yeshivah in America and they had lots of debts. So how could they just pick up and go? But once my father was here, he made a decision: Despite the debts, it was worthwhile to go. It was so clear to him. And even though my mother began to hesitate, there was no discussion. He was super-focused on the goal.
“One of my father’s students came to him with a complaint when he heard that the Rosh Yeshivah was moving to Eretz Yisrael: ‘Rebbi, how can you leave us? You need to sustain the talmidim who are here.’ The next morning, my father told him: ‘I didn’t sleep all night. I thought about it, but I know I’m right about this, and I’m not changing my decision.’ ”
Meanwhile, that same year, Ruchoma Shain, Rebbetzin Bessie’s sister, visited their father in Israel and toured the planned Kiryat Mattersdorf development, which was founded by Rav Shmuel Ehrenfeld, the Mattersdorfer Rav — who was the Shains’ neighbor in New York. Rabbi Akiva Ehrenfeld, the Rav’s son and representative in supervising the construction and sale of apartments, offered the Scheinbergs attractive terms for apartments and land for the yeshivah.
And so, the Scheinbergs, their daughter Rebbetzin Fruma Rochel Altusky and her family, Rav Simcha and his family, and over 20 of the yeshivah’s 60 bochurim made the move. Reb Asa Wittow, who served as Rav Scheinberg’s longtime driver and became a beloved travel agent in Jerusalem, was one of the married men who made aliyah with his rebbi. He even moved into the same apartment building. And Rabbi Mordechai Dolinsky, who served as mashgiach for many years in the yeshivah, also accompanied Rav Scheinberg on the move.
And from then on, Rav Simcha Scheinberg was his father’s right hand, in total service on both a personal level and in moving the yeshivah forward — and a special mechanech in his own right, known for his especially warm relationship with and commitment to every bochur for nearly six decades. And even today, he’s still moser nefesh in continuing his father’s work, traveling around the world to uphold Torah and the mosdos he helped his father build.
But back then, Mattersdorf was nothing like the bustling neighborhood it is today.
“There was nothing here,” Rav Simcha says now as he looks out the window from his apartment on Panim Meiros 6. “There was one building, and a few families had moved in. Before we moved, my father traveled here to check things out and came back with a few options. He was offered a space for the yeshivah in the building of the main Meah Shearim yeshivah, but it was in the middle of the shuk, with all the noise and the shechitah going on there. In the end, my uncle, Rav Nochum Dovid Herman, spoke with Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Rothstein, who managed the Diskin Orphanage, which was by then essentially a home for children from broken and dysfunctional families. Rabbi Rothstein agreed that seeing American bochurim who came to learn in yeshivah would be a good influence on the children, and that’s what happened. We lived here in Mattersdorf, and my father walked every morning to Diskin, via the Lifta wadi.”
When the Six-Day War broke out in June 1967, and many Americans headed back home, Rav Scheinberg encouraged his students to stay. During those days, he remained with his talmidim in the orphanage, gathering them around him to learn and staying protected by the zechus of his Torah.
Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg was born in 1910 in Ostrov, Poland, the second son of Rav Yaakov Yitzchok and Yuspa Scheinberg. Earlier that year, Rav Yaakov Yitzchak fled to America to avoid conscription in the Polish army, but the family wasn’t reunited until 1919, when he was able to bring his wife and children to the US. They moved into a small apartment on the Lower East Side, where his mother gave birth to twins, Shmuel and Chana Baila. Chaim Pinchas was enrolled in the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School (RJJ), where he studied until age 14. At that time, Reb Yaakov Yosef Herman, who influenced promising young bochurim to advance in their Torah learning, encouraged him to transfer to Rabbi Yehuda Levenberg’s Beis Medrash LeRabbonim yeshivah in New Haven, Connecticut. And he also thought the bochur would eventually be a good match for his daughter Bessie, whom Rav Scheinberg would marry when he was 19 and she 17.
Before that, though, he finished Shas at age 16 when he left New Haven for Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), where he learned until age 19. He received semichah from Rav Moshe Soloveitchik on his wedding day.
After their marriage, with the encouragement of Rabbi Herman, the new couple spent five years in the town of Mir, where Rebbetzin Bessie did her best to cope with the primitive lifestyle of the Polish countryside, and where their first two daughters, Fruma Rochel and Rivka, were born. They returned to New York in 1935, where their daughters Zelda and Chana, and son Simcha were born, and where Rav Scheinberg became mashgiach ruchani in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Queens, under the leadership of Rav Dovid Leibowitz and later Rav Henoch Leibowitz. He served in that position for 25 years until leaving to open his own yeshivah in Brooklyn, Torah Ore, which he moved to Eretz Yisrael in 1965.
In the decades he lived in Eretz Yisrael, Rav Scheinberg had become a venerated posek, especially beloved by the English-speaking residents of the country; and, as one of the last living talmidei chachamim educated in the yeshivos of prewar Europe on one hand and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah on the other, he was often consulted on a wide range of communal and personal halachic issues.
Many came to him for brachos, and many merited to have children and see other yeshuos in the zechus of those brachos, which Rav Simcha says “were all from the koach of his Torah.”
But he was also considered a bit of a mystic, a hidden tzaddik, and had certain hanhagos people saw but that he never discussed. For example, he could be spotted at the end of a wedding collecting leftover rolls, and some say it was because he was makpid only to eat from a seudas mitzvah.
“Well, that’s not exactly accurate,” says Rav Simcha. “But it is true that he preferred to eat from a seudas mitzvah whenever possible.”
Of course, the question everyone wanted to know was why he had the practice of wearing so many pairs of tzitzis, a veritable mountain on his back.
“He himself never gave the reason,” Rav Simcha admits, deflecting our hope that maybe, seven years after the Rosh Yeshivah’s passing, the answer would finally come to light. “But after my father was niftar, a bochur from Toronto told me that he once approached my father when he was trudging up the stairs and said: ‘Rebbi, perhaps it is hard for you?’ And he replied: ‘You think I’m carrying the tzitzis...Maybe the tzitzis are carrying me?’
“I’m sure he had a reason. He said that every tzitzis is a mitzvah, among other things, but he never revealed the real reason. People had complaints against him, even Torah scholars. It really looked strange, but in the end, even those people recognized his greatness.”
According to Rav Simcha, the Rosh Yeshivah was quite successful at concealing himself. Everyone saw the yeshivah, the talmidim, and also that he was one in a generation — a posek, a baal mussar, and a baal eitzah. But his overarching goal?
“To build talmidim,” says his son. “I once heard him quote the pasuk in parshas Ha’azinu, ‘V’efes atzur v’azuv,” on which the Gemara in Sanhedrin (97a) explains, ‘Ben David does not come... until there are fewer talmidim.’ My father asked in his old age: ‘What does this mean? We see today so many yeshivos, and they are growing all the time. Moiradig. So what does it mean?’ And he replied that indeed, there is a lot of Torah being learned, but the genuine talmidim are diminishing in number.
“He built talmidim, talmidei chachamim who became rabbanim in Eretz Yisrael and America. Rav Avraham Weg, Rav Yisrael Goelman of Ramot, Rav Tzvi Sherlin, Rav Nochum Eliyahu Frankel of Givat Shaul, Rav Elchanan Peretz of Beit Shemesh, Rav Yisrael Plutchok and Rav Mordechai Rennert, both roshei yeshivah in Derech Chaim in Boro Park, Rav Noach Orlowek, grandson Rav Mordechai Altusky, and many more great talmidim.
“Rav Yosef Farbstein ztz”l was a ram in Yeshivas Ohr Elchanan, but he davened at the yeshivah by us during Yamim Noraim. I once asked him: ‘What brings you to daven here and not in your own yeshivah? He said he wanted his children to see the Rosh Yeshivah, to see a Yid who doesn’t divert his attention away from Hashem for one minute.”
That was another thing about Rav Scheinberg. For all his projects, travels for the yeshivah, and community service, his eyes rarely left the pages of the sefer. In fact, it’s told that when Reb Yerucham Levovitz of Mir passed away, there were hespedim delivered each day for him in a different beis medrash in the town, and the only one who remained behind to learn was Rav Chaim Pinchas.
“What I can tell you is that the story is not true, simply because when Rav Yerucham passed away, my father wasn’t in the Mir anymore, he was back in America. Rav Yerucham was there at the mesibas preidah they made for him when he left Mir,” says Rav Simcha. “But the idea is true. Rav Leizer Yehudah Finkel, Mir rosh yeshivah in Europe, said of my father on occasion that the biggest masmid in the entire period of the yeshivah was my father.
“But his greatness and his hasmadah were there even when no one was looking. He did it quietly. I don’t remember a time, except when he didn’t feel well in later years, that he ever lay down during the day. There was no such thing, not during the week, not on Shabbos.
“There was a talmid in the yeshivah named Rav Yisrael Berl, a big talmid of my father, and very close to him. He got married to the daughter of Dayan Grosnass and asked my father to fly to London to the wedding. He stayed at the home of the big baal machnis orchim Reb Yaakov (Jacky) Levison, who told me later that he’d never seen such a thing in his life. Besides a few meetings that he held with people for the yeshivah and eating a bit, he learned 18 hours a day nonstop.
“In fact, when he was a young married man in the Mir, Reb Yerucham wanted my father to go learn under the Brisker Rav for a period of time. While most Americans who came to learn in Mir were on a lower learning level than the Europeans, my father was one of the few who integrated. My father was in Brisk for just a few days, and when he returned to Mir, he evaded Rav Yerucham, until one day, Rav Yerucham caught him and asked him what happened in Brisk. Then my father told him that they learned in a beis medrash and when it came time for the shiur, they went upstairs to the Rav’s shiur. Between the end of the seder and the beginning of the shiur were ten or fifteen minutes so they should have time to go upstairs, and he was afraid of this bittul Torah...
“On the other hand, on Simchas Torah, when everyone danced, he sat in the corner and learned. This fact reached Rav Yerucham, and he called my father and gave him mussar. There’s an ‘eis lirkod,’ he told him, ‘a time to dance. Everything has its time.’
“Back in Mir, he became very close to Rav Yona Misnker (Karpilov) Hy”d, the author of Yonas Elem. I think he also ate at his house on Shabbos. During the Holocaust, my father turned the world over to try to save him. He traveled to Washington. But it was ordained from Above that he shouldn’t succeed. My father shed tears for him, crying every time he remembered Reb Yona, and when he met his nephews here, he also started to cry.
“He also learned b’chavrusa, bein hasedarim, with Rav Michel Feinsten (who later married the Brisker Rav’s daughter Lifsha). They learned Taharos, Mikva’os. Years later, Rav Michel and Rebbetzin Lifsha, the Brisker Rav’s daughter, were once here for nichum aveilim when one of the founders of Ohr Somayach, Rav Yaakov Rosenberg, who would daven in the yeshivah, lost his father.
“My father told his driver, Reb Asa Wittow a”h, that he should take them wherever they wanted to go. They wanted to go to the Kosel, and Reb Asa took them. The Brisker Rav, as is known, did not approach the Kosel, so out of deference, Reb Asa stood far away. Reb Michel did get a bit closer, but the Rebbetzin remained further back with Reb Asa. Standing with him, she told him how she still remembered my father’s diligence from those days when he was in their house in Brisk. And she was just a girl, but it made such a strong impression that she never forgot.
“But you know, all his power was in his Torah. I heard recently a moiradige zach, an amazing story that people don’t know. When my father was 14, he had a kesher with my grandfather, Reb Yaakov Yosef Herman, years before he became his son-in-law. He sent my father to learn in a yeshivah outside New York, in New Haven, under the rosh yeshivah Rav Yehudah Zev Levenberg, a Slabodka talmid who opened a yeshivah there. Someone who learned there at the time remembered that although he himself learned 14 hours a day, ‘I wasn’t able to reach the level of Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, who learned 18 hours a day!’ That was at the age of 14, in yeshivah ketanah! And when he left, at the age of 16, they made a mesibah for him and he made a Siyum HaShas.”
Until he was close to 100, Rav Scheinberg didn’t cease traveling to support his mosdos and the hundreds of bochurim and avreichim whose Torah learning was on his shoulders. But even in the early years, he had emunah that his efforts would pay off, even though he didn’t always know how.
“When he started the yeshivah,” says Rav Simcha, “someone once asked him where he’d get the money from so he related a story. When we were children growing up on the East Side, on Succos, my father would go into Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Kopyznitzer Rebbe in Boro Park, who was a holy and saintly man. My father would go in to shake his arba minim. Once he entered and the Rebbe said to him: ‘Rav Scheinberg, I need to tell you a story about this esrog.’
“There was a store on the East Side called Otzar Haseforim, which had two owners, Goldman and Reinman. The Rebbe would always go in there to buy his esrog and always chose something special, the most beautiful esrog they had. And they really gave him something special. The Rebbe asked, ‘How much is it?’ and they told him $50. This is 70 years ago, so today that’s probably something like a thousand dollars. A balabos was standing there and said, ‘Rebbe, $50 for an esrog? Five dollars, ten dollars, but fifty?’ So the Rebbe replied, ‘You think I have ten dollars? I don’t have that either. I have bitachon in Hashem. So with that same bitachon I can buy it for $50 also.’
“That’s what my father would say to people who asked: ‘You think I have a bit? I don’t have that either. But with bitachon, one can build buildings.’ ”
And that, says Rav Simcha, was his secret, what propelled him forward at an age when most people are thinking of retirement, what gave him the capacity for renewal and rebuilding even against the odds. He had a vision of Torah in Eretz Yisrael and never let the past derail the future.
“At a wedding of the daughter of a choshuve rav to a talmid of Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Rav Baruch Mordechai was to be mesader kiddushin, and my father was honored with the sheva brachos. When he got to Sos Tasis, the brachah that concludes with mesameach Tzion bevaneha, he burst out crying. Rav Baruch Mordechai couldn’t get over it — how it was in my father’s bones, even under someone’s chuppah.”
Rachel Ginsberg contributed to this report
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 779)
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