Harav Moshe Yehuda Schlesinger in Los Angeles

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by Rabbi Arye D. Gordon

Harav Moshe Yehuda Schlesinger shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Kol Torah, and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, spent Shabbos Parshas Shelach in Los Angeles. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, the Rosh Hayeshiva stopped by the Ryzman Thursday night shiur. His Shabbos program included davening and speaking Shabbos morning at Shaarei Torah, delivering a shiur at the Kollel Los Angeles in the afternoon and speaking at shalos seudos at the Young Israel of Hancock Park.

Harav Moshe Yehuda Schlesinger (1)

Rav Ephraim Wachsman Rosh Yeshiva Meor Yitzchok of Monsey greets the Rosh Yeshiva at the Kollel in Los Angeles. Phot credit: Arye D. Gordon

The Yeshiva which he heads, Kol Torah, was founded in 1939 by the Rosh Hayeshiva’s father, HaRav Yechiel Michel Schlesinger zt”l, who was a dayan in Frankfurt, Germany and with Rav Boruch Kunstadt zt”l, who was a Dayan in Fulda, Germany.

In speaking of the Yeshiva, Harav Schlesinger commented that, “the student body of the yeshiva today is close to 1,000 talmidim. There are over 500 talmidim in the Yeshiva Gedolah and over 400 talmidim in the Yeshiva Ketana. When my father started the yeshiva before World War II began, the situation in Eretz Yisroel was a difficult one. Concern for the continuation and survival of torah learning was in jeopardy. The yeshiva started with 24 students, who were sustained by families that would feed them in the well-known European manner of essen teg.” (Essen Teg was the system in which students would eat their meals at different families every day in the community. Most Yeshivos at that time did not provide food for their students and this was the only way to insure that they were able to eat.)

Harav Yisroel Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv had been a talmid in the yeshiva and spoke of his experience there. “When I came to Kol Torah, it was a short time after the Shoah. It was like a “bayit patuach,” an open home offering love and hope for me and the many orphans who found themselves at the yeshiva. We were children that had no home, no father, no mother, children who had nothing. The yeshiva became our home and our family. Today, baruch hashem, I have grandchildren in the yeshiva. In fact, my sons learnt in the yeshiva as well.”

The Kol Torah Yeshiva is known throughout the torah world for its high standards in limud hatorah. The Yeshiva is located in Yerushalayim’s Bayit Vegan neighborhood. It was the first of the major yeshivos to teach in Hebrew instead of Yiddish. The European Yeshivas in those days only taught in Yiddish. In the ’30’s, ’40’s and even ’50’s, the teachers spoke only Yiddish, however they were comfortable in the Hebrew language so they could make the change.

It was after the petira of Rav Yechiel Michel Schlesinger in 1949, that Kol Torah was headed by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach who lead the yeshiva until his passing in 1995. Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l was a Gadol and prominent Posek. The term means, “decider”—a legal scholar who decides the Halakha in cases of law where previous authorities are inconclusive or in those situations where no halakhic precedent exists for the question at hand. The role of a Posek is to engage in a careful analysis of the relevant underlying legal principles, as well as a careful study of the application of these principles. A Posek must therefore be thoroughly versed in rabbinic literature, especially the Babylonian Talmud.

Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was such a talmudic scholar. He was referred to as the “Israeli Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l”. Rav Moshe Feinstein was the preeminent
posek of our generation in America. His humility was all encompassing. In a video of the announcement that he was to be the next Rosh Hayeshiva of Kol Torah, you could see and sense his embarrassment at the honorific titles that were showered on him by the announcer and how, blushing, you could see him waving his hand up and down, as if to say, “no, no, I am not all that”.

For almost half a century, Rav Shlomo Zalman was the Rosh Hayeshiva of Kol Torah. The yeshiva and its talmidim were of such great importance to him, that in his tzava’ah (will), he directed that his matzeva should only say that he, “spread Torah to all Jews, and had many students in Yeshivas Kol Torah.” Currently, Rav Moshe Yehuda Schlesinger, eldest son of the founder, is serving as Rosh Yeshiva. Under his guidance, the Yeshiva continues to produce talmidei chachomim, future leaders and teachers in klal yisroel.

May the work and accomplishments of the Rosh Hayeshiva continue, for 120 years.