New York – Ungvarer Rebbe – Rabbi Menashe Klein Zt’l The Contemporary Leading Posek

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    New York – Right before Rosh hashana of 5772, Rav Menashe Klein was niftar. He was a remarkably prolific writer, having penned two entire series of Teshuvos, numbering into the thousands. He carried on correspondences with the Steipler Gaon zatzal, who had enormous regard for him. Rav Elyashiv too, gave him tremendous respect whenever Rav Menashe went to visit.

    He was born in 1924 in Europe. Originally hailing from the town of Ungvar in what was then Czechoslovakia and what is now the Ukraine, Rav Menashe survived the Nazis, Yimach Shmam. In the DP camps as a young man he strengthened people and he taught Torah. He strengthened shattered men and women, and encouraged them – fortifying them with the means to continue. To the older boys he taught Chumash and Rashi. To the younger boys, orphans, he taught Aleph Bais. One of them later grew up to become the chief Rabbi of Israel – Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau Shlita. Recently, I asked Rav Lau about Rabbi Klein. He remembered him vividly and fondly, asking me to send regards.

    Rav Menashe’s love for his fellow Jews was profound, one could tell it in his eyes. Once a couple experiencing enormous distress on account of their son went to see him. Rav Menahseh spent hours with them comforting them, strengthening them and inspiring them. They left his presence recharged, and since them, I have never seen them down.

    He would cry with parents whose children were on the verge of an intermarriage. He would daven fervently for anyone who was sick or ill, and of late, whenever Bnei Torah would come to visit him, he would ask them to have him in their Tefilos – giving them his name and that of his mother.

    He studied under the Ungvar Rov Rabbi Yossef Elimelech Khan and then after the war he came to the United States. He considered the Klausenberger Rebbe zatzal his Rebbe Muvhak. He received his mehalech in learning and in Psak from him. He learned in the Klausenberg Yeshiva when it was in the Bronx, after the war. It was called Yeshiva Sheris HaPleita.

    His hasmadah was legendary. He would write responsa well into the wee hours of the morning. He knew Shas and reviewed it constantly. He had an explanation of virtually every Tosfos on the tip of his tongue. One can see from his responsa his grasp of the Talmud. His Seforim are filled with innovative, insightful, and brilliant chiddushim.

    He wrote Seforim on Chanukah, Yevamos, and numerous other topics as well.

    His responsa dealt with almost every issue one can think about. Often Rav Menashe is the only Posaik that will discuss an esoteric halachic subject. He carried on a halachic discourse with numerous Poskim and luminaries. The Lubavitcher Rebbe carried on halachic conversations with him, as did numerous others.

    He also had a warm and genuine laugh, a twinkle in his eye, and a good sense of humor. Once I had asked him about whether there was any stringency in changing a baby with the same hand that one wraps the Tefillin straps. He responded, “By unzer, it is the froi who change babies, so it is nisht ken Shailah. He laughed and then answered the question based upon the various textual variations in the text of the Gemorah.

    He loved Kollel Yungeleit and Bnei Torah. Once he saw a Ben Torah who could not afford Seforim but showd interest in what he wrote. Rav Menashe piled him with Seforim before the young man left.

    He carried on conversations and discussions with others as well, many holocaust survivors. Indeed, he even carried on a chevrusashcaft with Elie Weisel for a number of years.

    Rav Menashe would type his responsa on a computer well into his 80’s. He inspired many others to learn computers as well, at an advanced age. I had once convinced Rav Dovid Kviat zatzal to learn how to write his Chiddushim on the computer. When he heard that Rav Menashe had done so, he did as well.

    Rav Klein zatzal was an Anav as well. Once I argued with him about the position of the Mishna Brurah in a halacha in Krias HaTorah. When I got home, I was shocked to hear a message on my answering machine, “Reb Yair, I looked at the lashon of the Mishna Brurah – you are right, Ich gemacht a tooas. Yasher Koach.”

    He allowed his responsa to be published in Bar Illan’s Responsa project and was very generous with allowing the reproduction of his Divrei Torah.

    Many of his positions of course were remarkably conservative in halacha too. He did not hold of translations of Shas. He disagreed with rendering rulings over the telephone – especially if the Rav did not have a phone number to call back. What will the Rav do if he realizes that he made a mistake?

    His halachic positions were certainly innovative too, if not also controversial. He never recited a bracha on tovelling dishes for fear that the manufacturers were really Jews. Even if there is a majority, how do we really know?

    Some of his other positions were even more controversial. He held that giving blood may be a violation of Chovel B’Atzmo. He was the first to argue with Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal about an Eiruv in Brooklyn. Many a Yeshiva bochur disagreed with his position about street lights acting as a legal type of fence, but all admitted that it was innovative. He also held that Mitzvos cease after one’s death and one does not have the right to give away organs – even if it is Pikuach Nefesh.

    Rav Menashe would spend many months out of the year in Eretz Yisroel in Kiryat Ungvar in Ramot. In America, his Yeshiva and Shul was at 16th Avenue and 52nd Street in Borough Park. He was a warm, loving Posaik, who inspired tens of thousands with his hasmada, his dedication to Torah and his steadfastness in halacha.

    Within the past year and a half he handed over his Yeshiva and Shul to his son, Reb Amram, a tremendous Talmid Chochom and Baal Middos too. May he be a Mailitz Yosher for all of Klal Yisroel.

    The author can be reached at [email protected]

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