| For the Record |

The Mistaken “Murder” of Rav Meir Simcha  

Rav Meir Simcha was a dominating presence at rabbinical conferences in the waning years of czarist rule

While Mark Twain was on a trip to London in 1897, a New York newspaper reported that he had died. Upon hearing the news, the legendary writer responded, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Some two decades later, the reports of a gadol hador’s death were similarly exaggerated.

The overthrow of the czar and the subsequent seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in 1917 plunged the former Russian Empire into a bloody civil war. The crossfire claimed countless Jewish victims; the toll may have even reached six figures. During the chaotic days of 1919, the Yiddish newspaper Haynt reported that a Russian bullet had taken one of the gedolei Yisrael — Rav Meir Simcha HaKohein of Dvinsk, known by the title of his magnum opus, the sefer Ohr Sameiach.

Rav Meir Simcha was the beloved rav of the non-chassidic community of Dvinsk for nearly four decades, alongside the Rogatchover Gaon  — Rav Yosef Rosen — who headed the local chassidic community. Rav Meir Simcha was a dominating presence at rabbinical conferences in the waning years of czarist rule.

The tragic report was picked up by newspapers worldwide, and Jewish communities as far away as Yerushalayim mourned the terrible loss. With the fog of war impeding clear and consistent communication, it took a couple of months to clarify that Rav Meir Simcha was alive and well. Still healthy and strong at the helm of the Dvinsk rabbinate, he’d continue leading Klal Yisrael until his passing at a ripe old age in 1926.

Side Note

One of those who wrote an article about the Ohr Sameach at this time was Rabbi Nachman Heller, a brilliant rav and author, and older brother of the great rabbi and scholar Rabbi Chaim Heller. He immigrated to the United States at the end of the 19th century and served as rabbi in several cities across the country. He was the author and translator of several important seforim, and passed away suddenly in 1932 at age 58.

Did you know

Rav Meir Simcha’s legacy is undoubtedly his seforim — his acclaimed commentary on Chumash, Meshech Chochmah, as well as his monumental work on the Rambam, Ohr Sameiach. While both are widely studied today, the latter was an immediate sensation. Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman described the scene in Slabodka when a new volume of Ohr Sameiach arrived. Each talmid was allotted a half hour slot to peruse the sefer, and many would excitedly await their turn even at 3 a.m.!

Personal Tragedy

Though the report of his own early passing was unfounded, Rav Meir Simcha sustained the tragic loss of his only daughter and son-in-law during his lifetime. Rav Avraham Luftvir was the chavrusa of Rav Menachem Ziemba and a rising star in the Warsaw rabbinate, when he passed away in 1918 at a young age without progeny. As a testimony to his greatness, he was buried right outside the ohel of the Chemdas Shlomo in the chelkas harabbanim of the Warsaw Jewish cemetery.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 841)

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