BARUCH DAYAN HA’EMES: The Rosh Yeshivah, Hagaon Harav Gershon Edelstein, Zt”l


By Hamodia Staff

Hagaon Harav Gershon Edelstein, zt”l. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

BNEI BRAK — The Torah world was plunged into mourning on Tuesday, with the petirah of the venerated Rosh Yeshivah, Hagaon Harav Yerachmiel Gershon Edelstein, zt”l, in Bnei Brak’s Mayanei HaYeshua Hospital at the age of 100.

Many tefillos were held across the Jewish world since the hospitalization of the Rosh Yeshivah, on Shavuos night, but alas the gezeirah was sealed and his neshamah was returned to its Maker.

The levayah of the Rosh Yeshivah was held Tuesday afternoon, from the Ponevez Yeshivah in Bnei Brak. Hundreds of thousands participated, led by Gedolei Torah, who gave the kavod acharon to the Rosh Yeshivah. The Rosh Yeshivah was buried in the Ponevez cemetery, next to his Rebbetzin, a”h.

Early Years — in the Soviet Union

Harav Gershon Edelstein was born exactly 100 years ago, in Iyar 5683/1923, in the town of Shumyatch (Shumyachi), near Smolensk, in the Soviet Union. His parents were Harav Zvi Yehuda Edelstein, zt”l, and Miriam (née Movshovitz), a”h. Rav Zvi Yehudah Edelstein was the Rav of Shumyatch; his father Harav Yerachmiel Gershon Edelstein, zt”l — after whom the Rosh Yeshivah was named — was the author of Ben Aryeh on Shas. His maternal grandfather, Harav Mordechai Shlomo Movshovitz, was Rav of Malstovka (Krasnopillia), and Rav Gershon’s mother was a sister to Harav Daniel, Hy”d, the last rosh yeshiva in Kelm. Rav Gershon’s younger brother was Harav Yaakov, zt”l, later Rav of Ramat HaSharon.

Their mother obtained fake birth certificates with the wrong date of birth for her sons so that they would be registered as three years younger than their real age and would not attend a school under the supervision of the Yevsektzia, the extremely anti-religious Jewish branch of the Communist Party. He learned Torah from Harav Zalman Leib Estolin, in exchange for his father Harav Zvi Yehuda teaching Torah. Following his mother’s illness with typhus, he was sent with his younger brother Rav Yaakov to his aunt, Rebbetzin Rivka Tzvia Paz, in the city of Klimovich (Klimavichy), where they studied Torah secretly with Harav Mordechai Eliyahu Shneur, one of their grandfather’s students. There they also received the news of their mother’s death.

In Nisan 5694/1934, their father succeeded in obtaining a permit to leave for Palestine, and asked his sons to return to their home in Shumyatch. At that time, his grandmother Rebbetzin Reizel ran the household and raised the brothers, so that their father could devote himself to Torah study. In Iyar, Harav Zvi Yehuda and his family traveled on the liner Novorossiysk from Odessa to then-Palestine, arriving on Lag BaOmer. The family traveled to Yerushalayim, where they visited the Gedolim of the time.

In Elul 5794/1934, after several months of wandering between relatives, their father settled in Ramat HaSharon. The brothers Yaakov and Gershon slept on the floor. Since there was no yeshivah in Ramat HaSharon, the father learned with his sons at home, sitting and learning on crates due to a lack of furniture. They studied Gemara with the leading meforshim. On Shabbosos, they learned the topics of the Gemara they were learning in the Rambam.

In 5795/1935, their father was appointed to serve as Rav of Ramat HaSharon.

Yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael

Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, head of the Ponevez Yeshiva lights neiros Chanukah on the last night of Chanukah, 5777. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

In Elul 5795/1935, the sons were sent to the Lomza Yeshivah, following the pleas of Reb Gershon, who wanted to learn in a full-fledged yeshivah. They arrived at the yeshivah on the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, having traveled on foot from their home to Petach Tikva (where the yeshivah was located), and did not know that the zman had started the day before. The Mashgiach, Harav Avraham Abba Grossbard, zt”l, said he no longer had room for them. The secretary of the yeshivah, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Mozes, z”l (late the secretary of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah), chanced upon them and invited them to sleep in his house until beds were found for them in the yeshivah at the beginning of the Cheshvan zman. At the behest of their father, they joined Harav Shmuel Rozovsky’s shiur.

A year later, their father remarried. He asked them to come home, as the Rebbetzin now took care of the house, and they could learn Torah full-time. The brothers returned to their learning schedule with their father.

In the winter of 5704/1943–1944, when the Ponevez Yeshivah was established, the Ponevezer Rav, Harav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, zt”l, came to ask their father that they should join the group of the yeshivah’s founders. The bachurim Gershon and Yaakov were among the first six talmidim in the yeshivah, which was then located in the Heligman shul in Bnei Brak. The yeshivah bachurim would sleep in rooms rented for them in the city; the two young brothers lived in the house of Harav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, zt”l, who rented the only bedroom in the house to the Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Shmuel Rozovsky, zt”l.

Rav Kahaneman subsequently appointed Reb Gershon to teach Holocaust refugee students who had come to the orphanage Batei Avos, which was part of the Ponevez Yeshivah.

In 5706/1946, Reb Gershon was appointed to give shiurim in the Ponevez Yeshivah — a post he held for nearly 80 years.

In 5708/1948, he married Rebbetzin Henya Rachel, a”h, the daughter of Harav Yehoshua Zelig Diskin, Rav of Pardes Channa.

After the petirah of Rav Zvi Yehuda Edelstein in 5711/1950, he hesitated whether to take over the role of the Rav of Ramat HaSharon; however, since he already held a position in the yeshivah, the role was assigned to his brother Rav Yaakov instead.

During these years, Reb Gershon was rarely involved in public affairs, but he answered many in matters of chinuch and shalom bayis. Reb Gershon was known for his educational teaching through the way of studying in yeshivos, which he made sure to instill systematically and consistently, in his shiurim and in conversations.

As Rosh Yeshivah and Leader

In Iyar 5760/2000, following the petirah of the Rosh Yeshivah Harav Dovid Povarsky, zt”l, Reb Gershon began delivering a shiur klali in the yeshivah — thus effectively becoming the Rosh Yeshivah together with, yblcht”a, Harav Baruch Dov Povarsky, shlita.

After the petirah of his Rebbetzin, Reb Gershon founded a shiur in Seder Taharos in his home on Motzoei Shabbos, in her memory.

In 5763/2003, he became a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel HaTorah, together with Harav Yitzchak Sheiner, Harav Baruch Rosenberg, Harav Nosson Zvi Finkel, Harav Nissan Toledano, zecher tzaddikim livrachah, and, yblcht”a, Harav Meir Zvi Bergman, shlita. From then on, he began to engage in public affairs and even in his conversations he would refer to topical issues that required his attention.

After the petirah of the Rosh Yeshivah Hagaon Harav Aharon Leib Shteinman, zt”l, Rav Edelstein became the Nasi of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. Tens of thousands from all circles, from the chareidi sector and beyond, visited his house for advice and blessings.

Later Years

A special chapter in the leadership of Rav Edelstein was manifested during the coronavirus, when he led a strict line of caution against the virus, and was the first to prohibit tefillah b’tzibbur due to the danger of infection. From time to time, he would give chizuk talks that were transmitted live to hundreds of centers throughout the country.

In recent years, due to his extreme age, Rav Edelstein rarely left his home, and most of the gatherings of Gedolei Yisrael took place at his residence. His messages to the ranks of the Torah world were also delivered from his residence, when his words were broadcast live.

Rav Edelstein left behind a generation of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren, who hold honorable positions in the Torah world.

His children are: Rebbetzin Meira, who married Harav David Levi, R”M at the Ponevez Yeshivah; Harav Zvi Yehuda, a Rosh Yeshivah in Yeshivas Orchos Torah in Bnei Brak; Harav Bezalel, Rosh Yeshivas Ahavas Aharon; Harav Yisrael, R”M at Yeshivas Beis Medrash Elyon in Bnei Brak; Rebbetzin Beila, who married Harav Avraham Yeshayahu Adler, R”M at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Ozer; and Rebbetzin Shoshana, who married Harav Isamar Garboz, a Rosh Yeshivah in Yeshivas Orchos Torah.

He was predeceased by his son Harav Shimon Yosef, zt”l.

The chiddushei Torah of the Rosh Yeshivah were published over the years in a number of forms, including Mimeged Geresh Yerachim on Shas, and dozens of other sefarim and kuntresim from his teachings and shiurim.

Yehi zichro baruch.

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