Harav Eliyahu Yehoshua Geldzahler, a talmid of the legendary Harav Shlomo Heiman, who was marbitz Torah for 60 years through the yeshivah he founded, the sefarim he authored and people he influenced, was niftar on Friday morning in Brooklyn after a lengthy illness. He was 89.
Rav Geldzahler, whose tremendous bekius and hasmadah led Harav Eliezer Dessler, zt”l, the Ponovezher Mashgiach made famous by his Michtav Mei’Eliyahu, to come from England to take him for a son-in-law, was the Nasi of Yeshivah Gedolah Ohr Yisroel.
“He was a gevaldige mechadesh in Torah, had a frishkeit in life,” said his son, Harav Daniel Geldzahler, the Rosh Yeshivah of Ohr Yisroel. “He had a simchah shel mitzvah.”
“He was an iluy, he was mechadesh in how to live your life, he was a mechadesh in mitzvos,” affirmed his son Harav Moshe Geldzahler. “Whatever he did, he did with a passion — in shalom bayis, bein adam lachaveiro.”
Rav Geldzahler merited an extraordinarily close relationship with his esteemed shver, who wrote letters to him twice a week. His son, Rav Daniel, noted that a powerful love the two shared can be discerned from the letters, some of which are printed in Michtav Mei’Eliyahu.
Rav Geldzahler wrote two sefarim in his lifetime — Kodshei Yehoshua and Emunas Yehoshua — as well as Moadei Yehoshua, which is in the final stages of printing and will be available soon.
Rav Geldzahler delved deeply into hashkafah issues and was known as a daas Torah when it came to interpreting current events.
This writer had the privilege of speaking to Rav Geldzahler in 2011, after terror chieftain Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid. Citing one proof after the other, he avowed that nekamah when it refers to a rasha like bin Laden was a good trait.
Reb Moshe Geldzahler recalled how shortly afterward he met Harav Yonasan David, the Rosh Yeshivah of Pachad Yitzchak in Yerushalayim.
“Your father got it right,” Rav David said.
Rav Geldzahler was born in 1926 in Antwerp to a second generation Belgian family. His parents, Reb Menachem Shalom (Mendel) and Esther Geldzahler, were Zhikover Chassidim who consulted with their Rebbe on every significant move.
In 1940, when the Germans were bombing Belgium, the 14-year-old Eliyahu Yehoshua joined his family on a trip through France and Spain to Portugal as they waited for a visa to the United States.
In the meantime, Reb Mendel wrote a letter to the United States, asking the Jewish community to help him with an affidavit that he would not be a burden on the country, a prerequisite to being granted a visa. Not knowing anyone in America, he addressed it simply to “the Zhikover kloiz.”
In a extraordinary turn of events, the official at the post office who came across the letter was a Jew of Galitzianer extraction who was familiar with Zhikov. He forwarded it to an organization which helped the Geldzahlers get a visa.
The family arrived in New York in 1941 and Yehoshua went to learn in Yeshivah Torah Vodaath. Over there, he developed a close relationship with Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, and Harav Gedalia Schorr, zt”l, according to Harav Refael Schorr, who spoke Friday at the levayah in his shul, Tiferes Gedalyahu.
But most of all, Rav Geldzahler attached himself to Harav Shlomo Heiman, zt”l, who was sent by Harav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, zt”l, the Gadol Hador, to teach in Torah Vodaath. He took copious notes of his shiurim, principally on Maseches Kesubos.
To comprehend Rav Heiman’s greatness, Harav Nosson Eliyahu Gertzulin, a future Rosh Yeshivah in Torah Vodaath, was with Rav Heiman when he passed away. Right before his petirah Rav Heiman said, “Prepare two chairs — my rebbi, Reb Chaim Ozer, and Rav Akiva Eiger have come to accompany me.”
Following Reb Shlomo’s petirah in 1946, Reb Shraga Feivel established a new yeshivah away from the bustle of Williamsburg, selecting Spring Valley for the site of Bais Medrash Elyon. Rav Geldzahler became one of the 18 founding talmidim.
It was a group which became legendary in the annals of Torah in America, under the tutelage of Harav Reuven Grozovsky, zt”l. Like most of the others who were there, Rav Geldzahler eventually made his mark on the Torah world.
Throughout his life, Rav Geldzahler was known for his incredible hasmadah. He was constantly busy — with learning, his family, his yeshivah, helping people. He would sit in his dining room every morning from about 3 a.m. learning until Shacharis.
He had a remarkable appeal to Gedolim, who loved talking with him. He once visited the Satmar Rav, Harav Yoel Teitelbaum, zt”l, at midnight one Motzoei Shavuos, and the two spoke the entire night.
Rav Geldzahler once told this writer about how he spoke for more than an hour with a certain Gadol who was known for not speaking to people for more than a few minutes. Asked how he did it, Rav Geldzahler responded, “If you don’t have what to say then he doesn’t talk, but if you have what to say…”
In 1949, Rav Geldzahler was suggested to Rav Dessler, who was then the Mashgiach of the Gateshead yeshivah, as a shidduch for his daughter Henny. Notwithstanding Rav Geldzahler’s chassidishe background, Rav Dessler came to the United States, met Rav Geldzahler and agreed to the shidduch.
When Rav Dessler returned to Britain, someone told him, “I hear you took a Chassid for your daughter.”
“With me,” Rav Dessler responded, “it is a virtue.”
The 60-year marriage between Rav Geldzahler and his Rebbetzin was one of “genuine respect and quality of connection,” according to Rebbetzin Feige Twerski, their mechuteneste.
Writing in Hamodia upon Rebbetzin Geldzahler’s passing six years ago, Rebbetzin Twerski said, “Observers of that relationship referred to them as the perennial ‘shanah rishonah’ couple, a phenomenon so beautiful and rare in any time, but certainly in our times.”
The young couple lived in Monsey until 1956, including one period of a few months when Rav Dessler moved in with them. They then moved to Williamsburg and Rav Geldzahler began looking into a way to utilize his chinuch capabilities.
At the time, Torah Vodaath had a branch in Queens which they wanted to close down. Rav Geldzahler asked if he could take it over, renaming it several years later — at the advice of Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l — Yeshivah Ohr Yisrael. This name was given for Harav Yisrael Salanter, who was Rav Dessler’s grandfather.
Rav Geldzahler taught his young charges all facets of Torah, his son said. In addition to Chumash and Gemara, this included Nach and mishnayos Zeraim and Taharos. In an innovation considered standard today, he instituted that limudei kodesh should go until 3:00, instead of the 1:30 beginning of secular studies typical of the time.
“He gave them a whole lot,” said Reb Moshe Geldzahler.
As the Jewish community in Forest Hills changed demographically, Rav Geldzahler closed his yeshivah. He moved back to Monsey about seven years ago.
Rav Geldzahler suffered a colossal loss a decade ago when his son, Harav Eliezer Geldzahler, zt”l, was killed in a bus accident while visiting talmidim in Eretz Yisrael. The younger Rav Geldzahler, his brothers say, had the same image and work ethic of their father. He started his own yeshivah, with the same name — Yeshivah Ohr Yisroel — as his father.
“From my three brothers, my brother had my father’s capabilities,” said Reb Moshe. “He was a machine” that never stopped pushing onward.
He also lost his daughter, Rebbetzin Chana Mindel Teitelbaum, the Sassover Rebbetzin of Monsey, several years ago. She was renowned for her chessed to her family and the broader kehillah.
One of the people who came to be menachem avel remarked to Rav Geldzahler that the son whom he lost represented Torah and the daughter whom he lost represented chessed.
Rav Geldzahler became unwell about a year ago with the illness that eventually took his life. A minyan from his family was at his bedside for the past few days but most had to leave on Thursday for Shabbos. At about 2:00 a.m. Friday, there was only five people when his petirah became imminent. They tried gathering a minyan, when a former talmid of Rav Geldzahler’s walked in. He said that he had been sleeping when he had a dream that they needed him there for a minyan.
Rav Geldzahler was niftar shortly afterward. He is survived by his children Reb Moshe, Reb Daniel, Mrs. Bluma Wulliger and Mrs. Chaya Blau. He is also survived by his son-in-law, Harav Henach Teitelbaum, and daughter-in-law, Mrs. Baila Geldzahler.
Kevurah was in the Vizhnitzer beis hachaim in Monsey.
Yehi zichro baruch.