Part 5B-Yeshiva Torah Vodaath at 100: Talmidim of the Mesivta Speak

Torah Vodaath

Rebbi, Menahel, speaker, author and editor. Rabbi Nosson Scherman has been known by all these titles. Beginning as a Rebbi and Sgan Menahel in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath of Flatbush and then as Menahel of Yeshiva Karlin-Stolin, Rabbi Scherman helped educate hundreds of young talmidim. This alone would be considered a tremendous accomplishment as a marbitz Torah.

Yet when Rabbi Scherman embarked on a career as one of the general editors of Artscroll, he was rightly described by one of the leaders of our generation as “one of the greatest marbitzei Torah” of all time.

Why did you go to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath?

My family lived in Newark, New Jersey, and the community did not have a yeshivah or day school for its youth. Although a day school was later established in Newark, it began with the lower grades, and there was no class for me. So, until I was 10 years old, I went to the local public school, attending a Lubavitcher Talmud Torah in the afternoons.

My parents wanted more for me, so they sent me to Torah Vodaath in New York, where I was in a supervised dormitory during the week and returned home for Shabbos.

I was not the youngest boy in the dorm. There was a meshulach who collected money in South America from some of the she’eiris hapeleitah, and the community said that if you are taking our donations, then you should take our children and teach them Torah as well. Those boys were in the dormitory with me, and one of them was only 7 or 8 years old when he arrived.

Which Rebbi, Menahel or Rosh Yeshivah did you associate with while in the yeshivah? After leaving the yeshivah?

I idolized Harav Gedalia Schorr, zt”l, while I was in yeshivah. We were attracted by his personality, his charisma. He was so warm and accessible, and he spoke English as well. And of course he was a gaon adir.

After I got married, I would spend an occasional Shabbos in Monsey at the house of the Klugmans, my wife’s sister. My brother-in-law was close to Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, and I was able to become close to him at that time. I knew him from Torah Vodaath, of course, but baruch Hashem, I became much closer over the years.

When Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, z”l, and I began working on the Artscroll series, Rav Yaakov was our guide and mentor. He surprised us by asking, “When will you begin working on translating Shas?” When he saw our incredulous reaction, he said, “Ihr ken dos tuhn, ihr muz dos tuhn, uhn ihr vet dos tuhn — you can do this, you must do this, and you will do this.”

He then continued and told us that if Hashem will “shenk mir di yahren, vell ich gebben a brif — grant me years, I will give [you] a letter [of approbation].” We were not zocheh to receive his letter, but today his dream is baruch Hashem a reality.

Who was your role model?

Graduation picture of Rabbi Nosson Scherman.

After attending the highest shiur of Harav Elya Chazan, zt”l, many of the bachurim who were committed to learning would transfer to Bais Medrash Elyon, the yeshivah’s senior division located in Monsey.

I transferred there when I was 18 years old, and I was together with an amazing group of bachurim and yungeleit. Harav Don Ungarisher, zt”l, said the shiur for the first year bachurim, and Harav Simchah Schustal, zt”l, was the Rosh Kollel. I was greatly inspired by these giants.

I was a roommate of Harav Shmuel (Shmelke) Taubenfeld, z”l, a rare iluy who was a tremendous talmid chacham. One Shabbos afternoon, he learned through the entire She’eilos U’teshuvos Rav Akiva Eiger. Inevitably, we were all in awe of Rav Shmelke.

You mentioned the years you learned in the yeshivah’s branch in Bais Medrash Elyon. Can you share with us your impressions of some of the other personalities you encountered there?

Before I left Torah Vodaath for Bais Medrash Elyon, Harav Reuven Grozovsky, zt”l, had a major stroke, and I was part of that rotation of bachurim who took turns staying with him in New York Presbyterian. When I arrived in Bais Medrash Elyon, Rav Reuven stayed in a kollel bungalow adjoining Harav Ungarischer’s home, and someone was always there to stay with him overnight. I also spent some Shabbosos with Rav Reuven when he was in the hospital in Suffern.

Harav Yisroel Chaim Kaplan zt”l, was Rosh Yeshivah and Mashgiach, and I had a close relationship with this special tzaddik.

Even the cooks in the yeshivah, Mr. and Mrs. Leib and Serel Apfeldorfer, z”l, were tremendous people! A friend of mine was unsure whether to attend Bais Medrash Elyon and approached Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky for advice.

“It’s worth attending Bais Medrash Elyon just to get to know the Apfeldorfers. They are a living mussar sefer in middos tovos,” was Rav Yaakov’s reply.

I was a classmate of Harav Chaim Leib Epstein, zt”l, and after he went to Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, after two years in Bais Medrash Elyon, we corresponded (people actually wrote to one another in those ancient times).

He wrote that the quality of his chaveirim in Bais Medrash Elyon was exceptional, but learning under Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, made the move worthwhile.

What special character trait did you gain from Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, which you feel is unique to the Yeshiva Torah Vodaath talmid?

Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, designed the yeshivah to have Litvishe Roshei Yeshivah with a chassidishe varmkeit. This amalgamation did not exist anywhere else, and in yeshivah, especially in Beis Medrash Elyon, we had all types sitting and learning together on one bench. There were Chassidim and misnagdim but they were friends. There was absolutely no antagonism.

Rav Shraga Feivel also ingrained in the talmidim a sense of achrayus for the tzibbur. He demonstrated that by sending some of his best talmidim to help start other yeshivos, like Lakewood, Telshe and other places. The Roshei Yeshivah were upset, but he insisted that the yeshivah was not his private project. He had to do what was best for the klal.

What is your fondest memory of your Yeshiva Torah Vodaath experience?

The years I spent in Bais Medrash Elyon were the golden era of my life, and most of us felt that way. The yeshivah was not big; there were about 60 bachurim and maybe 20 in the kollel. The small size of the yeshivah, coupled with the special people and ruach that were part of it, made it an exceptional place.

What would you like to see in the future for Yeshiva Torah Vodaath?

The yeshivah should carry on its glorious mesorah for the next century.