On Tuesday, 24 Tammuz/July 18, hundreds of Yidden flocked to the tziyun of Harav Yaakov Joseph, zt”l, New York City’s Chief Rabbi, who was niftar 115 years ago on 24 Tammuz 5662/1902.
The kever is located at Union Field Cemetery in the Ridgewood section of Queens.
Rav Joseph was a talmid of the Netziv at Yeshivas Volozhin, zt”l, and of Harav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l. He served as Dayan in Vilna and as Rav in several communities in Russia. In Tammuz 5648/1888, he was invited by the kehillos in New York City to become the city’s first Chief Rabbi. He strove to strengthen Torah life here in areas such as kashrus, shechitah and chinuch, instituting systems to upgrade existing standards. He monitored the progress of yeshivah students and immigrant scholars, whom he tested for semichah and helped find positions.
However, anti-religious elements took umbrage and began to combat his valiant efforts, especially in kashrus. Opposition sprang from another front, as well. The New York Jewish community consisted of immigrants from Galicia, Poland, Hungary and other countries, and some were unhappy that a Lithuanian Rav was selected Chief Rabbi rather than one of their own. This led some groups to appoint their own Chief Rabbi, making a mockery of the position.
Rav Joseph attempted to rectify the situation in a dignified manner, forbidding vilification of his antagonists, and even refusing to label the hashgachah of the oppositionist rabbis as treife; the situation deteriorated nevertheless. Eventually, the Rav was left without income and his health deteriorated from his dire circumstances. Public tefillos for the Rav’s recovery were organized and some of his detractors regretted their actions. However, Rav Joseph was niftar at the relatively young age of 62. Tens of thousands attended his levayah.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Jews from all sectors of the community came to the tziyun throughout the day to be mispallel, including Roshei Yeshivah and Rabbanim and groups representing various kehillos in the New York area, including one from Khal Bnei Yitzchok in Flatbush, headed by Harav Dovid Goldwasser, who recited divrei hazkarah at the kever.
Rabbi Yonah Landau, founder and menahel of Vaad Henesia Lekivrei Tzaddikim B’Artzos Habris, has been the major force behind the visits Yidden have been making to the kever in recent years. The yahrtzeit brings a particularly large gathering, but individuals and groups visit Rav Joseph’s kever throughout the year.