Thursday, August 27, 2009
The Battles That Brought Down Yeshiva Torah Vodaath - The Mother Of American Yeshivas. Part One
I am not a historian, but the information that I intend to share with you in this and future posts, reflect an unbiased and accurate picture of Torah Vodaath post the passing of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz ztvk"l. It is information that I gathered firsthand from people that were directly involved in the yeshiva. It is what a psychiatrist would call repressed memories, that come back to haunt you when certain triggers are set off.
There are no books to sell here, there will be no sensationalism for that end, or manufactured half-truths because of any particular agenda, or outright lies to distort the record. This is the correct historical record for the present and future generations, painting a picture of the distortion of the legacy of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz's vision for American Orthodox Judaism, fueled by corruption, greed, thievery, incompetence, by no less a figure than one he trusted and appointed menahel of the yeshiva.
There are many lessons to be learned.
First and foremost; the rewriting of history by booksellers must forever be depicted for what they are, booksellers for a profit. Sensationalism, the turning of humans into gods sells; agenda-driven rewriting the lives of rabbinic historical figures, must be exposed for the naked profiteering that has dominated the Orthodox Jewish world for at least the last twenty years. Much of the information will shock many because of the brutal honesty, but there will be no compromise of the facts for any one's benefit, nor am I concerned about creating additional enemies. I don't care now, nor did I really ever care.
This post is not about me, but as I present the facts, please do bear in mind, that ever since I could speak, I voiced my opinion on just about everything; and my life was shaped by the vast array of cumulative unique experiences, not the least being blessed to be born into my family.
Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (RSFM) ztvk"l passed away in 1948, and entrusted Yeshivah Torah Vodaath to four people. Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky (RYK), Rav Reuvain Grozofsky (RRG) as roshei hayeshiva, Rav Alexander Linchner (RAL - the financial rosh yeshiva and secular studies principal - a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim), and Rav Gedalya Schorr (RGS) as menahel of the yeshiva, (Rav Nesannel Quinn was to be the day to day principal of the high school or mesifta.)
Their duties were clear; RYK and RRG were in charge of the Yeshiva and it's policies, whether it pertained to chinuch, curriculum, admittance, and all policies that affected the yeshiva, including Bais Medrash Elyon -- the post-graduate division and kollel in an (obscure) town called Monsey, N.Y., directly or indirectly. RAL and RGS were to take instruction from the two roshei hayeshiva. RRG was to be the rosh yeshiva heading Torah Umesorah and Bais Medrash Elyon. Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky was charged with leading Torah Vodaath, and assisting him was to be Rabbis Linchner and Schorr. All in all, there was no doubt as to whom the leadership of the yeshiva was left to, the two senior Rosh Yeshivas. That was the will Of Rav Mendlowitz.
RSFM's passing left a void in the yeshiva; one person in the hanhala told me it was like coming home to a house after the levaya, trying to avoid the left-over belongings of the deceased. The pain was deep, but the yeshiva had to function in the shadows left by perhaps the greatest visionary of Orthodox Jewry in the United States ever, particularly in the Yeshiva world.(I'm not factoring in the large number of chassidim and the greatness of too few of their Rebbes that immigrated after the War.)
RSFM's greatness of machshava is apparent now more than ever for the "blueprints" that he left, how an American yeshiva bochur should be educated.
The two roshei yeshiva, RYK and RRG were from the same school of Litvish thought and background, RAL was born in America, went to Europe to learn under the Chofetz Chaim, RGS was born in Poland to Gerrer Chassidim, came to America as a youngster and was a student of Torah Vodaath, but traveled to Europe to learn by Rav Aaron Kotler for a brief period in the 1930s and came back to America before the decade was up.
It did not take long for the personalities of three of the roshei yeshiva to begin showing signs of discontent with Gedalya Schorr, the designated menahel.
The first public flashpoint came in a meeting held circa 1956, regarding the deepening financial crisis facing the yeshiva. Rav Reuvain Grozovsky, zechuso yagen aleinu, had a stroke and was immobilized and unable to speak, but attended the meeting.
Benjamin Feldman had recently taken the helm of the board of directors; he was a financially successful rag merchant in lower Manhattan. But nobody ever accused him of being smart.
At that meeting, Feldman proposed selling the house that Rebbetzin Mendlowitz a"h lived in at the time, after he would be sub-dividing it from Bais Medrash Elyon in Monsey. All in the room were shocked at this proposal except Gedalya Schorr, who was aware in advance of Feldman's proposition, and assured Feldman that he would support him.
The room broke out into a war zone. Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky stormed out, Rabbi Reuvain Grozofsky could not speak but tears flowed out of his eyes while his body trembled. Rabbi Alexander Linchner and Mr.Binyomin Wilhelm confronted Feldman, and Wilhelm to his everlasting credit, smashed Feldman over the head with a chair. Feldman was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
To be continued....