Jerusalem – Torah Chigri Sak! Hagaon Harav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Zt”l


    Jerusalem – The world has lost an exceptional individual – a Rosh Yeshiva who combined the rare ability to plummet the inner most depths of Talmudic reasoning with the ability to plumb the inner depths of the Jewish soul with the insights of Mussar. He combined all this with yet another quality – he possessed an unparalleled Ahavas Yisroel that was palpable to all who knew him.

    On the Yartzeit of Rochel Imeinu, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim has passed on.

    Rav Finkel was the scion of a Rabbinic family – the great grandson of the famed Alter of Slabodka –for whom he was named. He was born in Chicago, in 1943 and was raised in a typical American Jewish manner.

    The Talmud (Yuma 35b) tells us, “Hillel – obligates the poor in Torah study, Rabbi Elazar Ben Charsum obligates the wealthy in Torah study.” One can say the same thing about Rav Finkel zt”l, but in two dimensions – both equally dramatic.

    Rav Finkel obligated those born in typical Jewish America in intense and in depth Torah study. This famed Rosh yeshiva grew up in Chicago Illinois, wearing a baseball cap and known as Natty Finkel. He grew up on baseball, American kosher hotdogs, apple pie and everything else that represents the American Jewish scene. He transcended all – in order to develop into a personality that develops other personalities.

    But more than this, Rav Finkel was able to overcome the greatest of medical obstacles too – he suffered from the debilitating illness known as “Parkinson’s Disease.” He had difficulty walking, talking and moving about. He suffered from tremors too. Yet notwithstanding all of this, he expended every effort to raise funds for his Yeshiva. He travelled to and from to America often when he should perhaps not have exerted himself so much. People would plead with him not to expend the energy, but he could not help it. To the Rosh Yeshiva, the greatest of zchusim was in providing for his beloved Talmidim and for his beloved Rabbeim. He loved them all, and all who came in contact would see that very palpable love.

    It is almost universally well known that the Rosh yeshiva did not take pain medication for his condition. Why not? He did not want the medication to affect his performance in the understanding of Torah – even one iota. His love for Torah and appreciating its insights to the maximum would not allow him to miss out on even one ounce of further insight and appreciation.

    He would spend time in Lakewood, not only because so many of his Talmidim had come back to that citadel of Torah to study, but because of the Bnei Torah that permeated the city. He would visit Far Rockaway too, and warmly welcomed alumnus and parents.

    Any visitor that went to his home in the Bais Yisroel section of Yerushalayim was struck by the name of the street – “Amailim.” Yes, of course. Perseverence – Amailim – those who persevere. What name of a street could better describe the person? He worked hard at everything he did, whether it was in learning, whether it was in the maintaining and forming of special bonds of love with all those who he came in touch with, or whether it was in dealing with debilitating illness.

    In his tenure as the Rosh Yeshiva of the largest yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel, the Mirrer yeshiva grew to be able to educate some six thousand current students. It grew under his direction, both in numbers as well as in quality. One shiur, in the Yeshiva, that of Rav Asher Arielli has over six hundred students in attendance. The shiur is such that one of Rav Arielli’s shiurim could be broken up into six different shiurim of major substance.

    After the devastation of Europe that was the Nazi holocaust, the Mirrer Yeshiva relocated temporarily to Shanghai China. In 1947 Reb Leizer Yudel Finkel launched the Yerushalayim branch of the Yeshiva and eventually it grew exponentially. Rav Leizer Yudel passed away during Bein HaZmanim in 1965, when his son Reb Beinish Finkel and Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz took over the Yeshiva. When Rav Chaim passed away in 1978, his son in law Rav Nachum Partzovitz took over until 1986. Rav Beinish Finkel took over until his passing in 1990. After that Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel became Rosh Yeshiva and he led the Yeshiva into a remarkable period of growth.

    Rav Finkel’s dedication to not just his talmidim, but all Talmidim studying Torah was legendary.

    In the summer months, many Yeshiva students would study in the Beis Midrash of the Mirrer Yeshiva because it both offered a Kol Torah as well as a comfortable air-conditioned Bais Midrash, a reprieve from the debilitating heat of Yerushalayim in the summer months. Rav Finkel welcomed this and expressed, in his characteristic humility, his sense of appreciation that the Yeshiva could merit such a zchus. Beyond this, the Rosh HaYeshiva took it upon himself to serve the other Ueshiva bochurim lunch meals. That’s right – unheard of tzidkus. A yeshiva giving lunch meals to talmidim not from its own Yeshiva? Such was the love that the Rosh haYeshiva had for Bnei Torah – all Bnei Torah. He continued this practice until this past summer when the yeshiva, facing an unprecedented debt load, finally had to discontinue it.

    The Rosh Yeshiva passed away of a heart attack in his home at approximately 6:00 AM. Hatzolah volunteers arrived at his home but were unable to save him. Nafla Ateres Rosheinu.

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      • Chas V’shalom! This is said after every great man is niftar. R’ Nosson Tzvi Zatzal was an American born masmid. He was not a figure from yesteryear, he was today’s rosh yeshiva. He showed us how TODAY’S bochurim and yungerleit can shteig and become great. And they will.

        • And if he was born in Europe would that automatically make him a greater gadol? I don’t think place of birth does that to a person. How can you be much greater than him for our time?

          • Just the opposite, look what he accomplished, and he grew up in the boondocks of torah at the time, the united states. He was a hotdogs, american pie, baseball cap american, and he became the rosh hayeshiva of klal yisroel!

            • and he grew up in the boondocks of torah

              No – just the opposite. He learned Torah in it’s purest form. Before others took Torah and corrupted and skewed and turned it into chumras and craziness. He learned Torah the way it was meant to be learned and he LIVED Torah the way it was meant to be lived.

            • No, not the opposite! I am not sure what you think you know about american jewish history, and what you think you know about Rav Nosson Tzvi, but he grew up in a jewish community outside of NY, which in the 1950s and early 60’s had few yeshivos, he learned in what today is known as Skokie, but as someone here said, actually went to a CO-ED school for limudei chol, which he always found very important. He was truly one of the first AMERICAN gedolim! Unlike many other American Gedolim from the previous generation that went to europe to learn (Rav Mordechai Gifter, Rav Avigdor Miller, Etc.), he was really our generations American Gadol haDor. At only 68, he wasnt that old. he went through the same system many on this site either themselves or their own children went and are going through. and look what he became!
              as a side note, i just found a picture of Rav Nosson Tzvi online from his HIgh School Yearbook, and his “qoute” was “Kind hearts are more that coronets” which is so befitting. just google this qoute to see what it means in its context. Not sure if the Yearbook editor understood he actually was a scion of Torah royalty or not, but hey, sometimes things happen without one know.

            • I was the one who wrote about his education in Hebrew Theological College and Coed Ida Crown. So I stand by what I said. Maybe the following sentence of yours is very telling of how New Yorkers look at anything outside of New York.

              but he grew up in a jewish community outside of NY, which in the 1950s and early 60’s had few yeshivos,

              Is that why you call it “boondocks”? It is Chicago. It is the third largest Jewish populated city in the USA and as I said, in Chicago Torah was taught in its purest form. We don’t have as much narishkeit in Chicago as exists in New York. Chicago produced some of the greatest Rabbeim – all around the 1950’s and 60’s.

              Besides for Skokie Yeshiva. Telshe Chicago was founded in 1960. In addition to our other fabulous schools, these schools and our Midwestern environment keep most of us grounded and down to earth. But there “aint” nothing Boondocks about us.

          • I think what #6 was trying to say is that in Europe there was a different culture a different atmosphere with much less distractions that could potentially assist a serious student to achieve. The American dream presents so many distractions that it takes an exceptional soul to ignore them. R NZ z”l grew up with all those distractions and yet ignored them. He is an inspiration for those who might claim that the distractions are impossible to ignore. He proved that one can ignore them if one chooses.

            • We have a way of romanticizing pre-war European Orthodox Judaism. In truth, today’s Orthodox world (especially in USA, UK, Israel, Canada, and Australia) is, I think, more of a golden age than at any time in pre-war Europe. One measure of this is the numbers of people, at various levels, who can learn today thanks to the tremendous works of Torah now out in translation. Another measure is the huge size of the Mirrer Yeshiva’s footprint in the Jewish world.

    1. Thank you, Rabbi Hoffman, for sharing the life of this great tzaddik. I was zocheh to see him just last week at a chasuna where he was m’sadeh kedushim. He took the time, away from the microphones, to speak personally to the chosson and kallah.

    2. He had a very cute story which I personally heard from his “Peh tohoir v’ekodosh ” about walking passed a childrens shoe store ,mothers were shopping shoes for their little ones -stopped and cried … Can anyone write us the detail ?? Pls

    3. Burch dyen hemes we all need to take apon ower seolvs to do tshuvah this day was a black day by klal yisriel we haerd to meny tragdys let’s all make sholom with our animys. And mishiach should come how faster

      • “we all need to take apon ower seolvs to do tshuvah this day was a black day by klal yisriel we haerd to meny tragdys let’s all make sholom with our animys”
        Rav Finkel, Z’tl, was a pragmatist who always insisted his talmidim have sufficient education to earn a parnassah. Perhaps, in memory of the niftar, you will learn to write an English sentence with proper spelling. The need to do tashuvah to facilitiate zman moishiach is evident; the willingness of yidden to take responsibility for their lives in olam hazeh and make some contribution to society is open to question.

      • not really

        it is just now we know and hear and very sad news is made (rightfully so ) because of the Internet

        everything is exposed to good, the bad, the sad, the ugly and it stays on line forever, not like newspapers where is here today gone tomorrow
        he was a great rosh yeshiva and part of his greatness was doing what he did best being a rosh yishvha and not getting involved in other issues like politics and other stuff

        that take a certain amount of discipline it seems in todays world to do that

      • There are no records broken in the petirah of roshei yeshivot or gadolim…its a statistical reality that a large number of rabbonim who took over mosdos in post-war EY and American are in the twilight years and we will see the loss of an accelerating number in the next few years until they are all gone by about 2020. We can take solace in the fact that they have left a new generation of younger leaders who will move on and lead klal yisroel to greater heights in the decades ahead. These new leaders, the gadolim of tomorrow, stand on the shoulders of Rav Finkel and the last generation, not in their shoes.

    4. Wow- I sat & read the article & cried my eyes out! What a special soul! It is so sad that he has departed from this world! G-d knows we NEED decent, righteous individuals amongst us to help us to grow & to learn! So when one departs….it leaves a vacuum that is hard to refill or replace!

      My heartfelt condolences to his family, to his community… and to the whole Jewish world, at the loss of such a Tzedik! May HaShem bless you all & help to comfort you during this time of tragedy & loss.

      SherryTheNoahide & Family

    5. I wish all of us would take on a little ahavat chinum in response to all the tragic and natural losses we have had in the last few days and weeks. Remember that Jews are your brothers and sisters. Yes there are squabbles among siblings, but always underneath there is love. Please love all Jews even if they don’t look or act like you. There is an opinion that each of the 12 shevatim had their own derech in avodat Hashem. We do not believe in “my way or the highway”. 70 panim laTorah. Even our secular brethren are our brothers and sisters. Do not push them away. Make a kiddush Hashem in everything you do.

    6. I learned there when the israeli govt cut funds to the yeshiva. The R”Y ZT”L decided that badatz is too expensive and that he can get the same level of kashrut by going with shearit, Plus his own mashgichim (purchasing soo much, made sense to have own mashgichim). Now everybody knows there are chasidim who only eat badatz. When the r”y zy”a, heard that some bochrum were having this issue, he told them. 1) you can eat that hechsher on my achrayus. 2) We have our own mashgichim which you can trust. Then our tayere rosh yeshiva called in some chasidim bochrum, and told them that he secured funds (worked on it!) and everybody with this issue could eat in a place called “heimishe essen” for free.

      What a tzaddik! He never pushed anybody out of yeshiva, anybody interested in learning, even if he didn’t look like a typical yeshiva guy, was accepted. This r”y had a heart which had room for each and every yid. This was one of the differences bet him and every other rosh yeshiva!

      returnies to U.S. didn’t have a yeshiva, he found funds to build a complex. Only to be undermined by other yeshiva.

      A broken heart.
      Hamakom yenachem OSANU, for we are all in mourning.

      • He learned in Hebrew Theological College (also now known as Skokie Yeshiva) which at the time did not have its own secular department so he took all secular studies in Ida Crown Jewish Academy which is actually co-ed. With all the stuff going on lately with segregation of genders amongst Charedim and denigration of women one should know there are so many stories that focus on Rav Finkel where he bdavka went out of his way to help women and put them first in situations and treat them with utter respect and dignity. He talks directly to women and certainly would not relegate them to the other side of the street or the back of a bus. If there is anything to be learned from him, maybe that lesson can be at the forefront.

          • No…the shame is really on you for being so upset that Rav Finkel, just like Rav Moishe, Z’tl, and many other gadolim treated women with dignity and did not seek to subordinate them as so many of todays chareidi rabbonim are doing. This was clearly one of the Rav’s greatest midos. I’m so sorry this attribute upsets you so. May he be a malitz yosher for all of klal yisroel, but ESPECIALLY for all the frum women he treated with such dignity and respect and taught his talmidim to do so as well.

          • I’m sure that we can all learn a great deal from this great man. One of these is the concept that it is possible for a man to talk to a woman and not be oiver on anything.

          • That would be a response to someone who specifically asked about his background. Are you asking how the alter of slobadka was significant or are you asking what was significant about sharing his ancestry?

            • Nosson Zvi (Nota Hirsh) Finkel known as the Alter of Slabodka (1849 in Raseiniai, Lithuania – 1927 in the British Mandate of Palestine) was an influential leader of Orthodox Judaism in Eastern Europe and founder of the Slabodka Yeshiva, in the town of Slabodka (a suburb of Kaunas). He is better known by the Yiddish appellation der Alter (“the Elder”). Many of his pupils were to become major leaders of Orthodox Judaism in the USA and Israel.
              The Alter of Slabodka

            • Also, while The Alter did not author any books or essays personally, some of his ethical discourses were published under the name Ohr HaTzafun – “The Hidden Light”, (also meaning “The Light of the Hidden (One)”). The word Ha-Tz[a]-F[u]-N also being the four initials of his name, but not in order (“Hirsh-Tzvi-Finkel-Nota”). The title alludes to the hidden and mysterious nature of its subject, as he used to sign his name as Hatzafun.

            • Thank you again for this fascinating information on the Slabodker Rebbe. He sounds like a “progressive” and intellecutal giant of his time which is what one expect for the grandfather of Rav Finkel.

            • It so crazy the way frum Jews look up to those that are intellectually superior to them..when are people going to realize that being a grosse Talmid Chocham doesnt make you into a grosse tzadik. And on a side point, unfortunately AND UNFAIRLY it is a lot easier to survive in the yeshiva world if you are smarter then those around you, being that the entire Torah of the yeshiva world is built on intellectual superiority.

            • Fact: Sitting and learning Torah breeds intellectualism. I’ve seen this first hand numerous times. Someone who sits down, spends time trying to get through a “sugya” is smarter than they were before they did so… and it keeps adding up. Some people are naturally “smarter” than others, but on the other hand there are people who didn’t start off with an I.Q. of 160+ and sat and worked on becoming smarter.

              The opposite is true also – if someone doesn’t “use their head” their mind can rot away.

              So your statement ““ It so crazy the way frum Jews look up to those that are intellectually superior to them..” is indicative of someone who hasn’t worked hard trying to figure out a Gemarah or P’shat in a Rambam.

              So should most from Jews look up people who are “intellectually superior to them”? Absolutely! Because those people worked hard to get where they are (and yes thinking is called working hard)

      • Rabbi Finkel was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1943 to his father Rabbi Eliyohu Meir Finkel. was a direct great-grandson of the Alter of Slabodka, whose name he bears. His brother is Rabbi Gedaliah Finkel, another lecturer in the yeshiva.

        He married his second cousin. His father-in-law was Rabbi Beinish Finkel, a predecessor Rosh Hayeshiva himself, was the son of Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Finkel (last Rosh HaYeshiva of Mir Poland and estabishing Rosh HaYeshiva of Mir Yerushlayim) and Sara Greineman.

    7. Where to start????

      A genuine and absolute “moser nefesh” for torah avodah and every detail of yiddiskeit in every sense of the term… he was in physical pain – extreme pain at times – never able to sit or stand straight for even a moment. And all the while he ran the yeshiva from A-Z. He gave shiurim in yeshiva and in his house, all the while his body threw itself – violently at times. He greeted and farherred the boys at the beginning of the zman.

      And of course he took the financial burden upon himself with all its extreme hardships. Hardships, which puts a tremendous strain – pysically and emotionally – on any healthy person let alone a person suffering round the clock like he did. Any one who saw him at any of his overseas fundraisers or dinners saw what it meant for a person to literaly torture himself for the yeshiva. But he of course didn’t look at it that way. He always tried to put a smile on his face as hard as it was for him physically.

      Of course his ahavas yisroel was exemplary. His love for each and every yid – no matter of type -radiated thru his pure eyes and neshama.

      May he be a meilitz yosher for all his heartbroken talmidim and the rest of klal yisroel.

      • Yes actually. He had Parkinsons and did not take medication for it because he did not want to take chances suffering side effects that might have included memory loss.


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