By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com
Rav Moshe Sherer was a remarkable individual whose skills and abilities helped shape the Torah World in America, as we know it today. He was a master shtadlan – with an uncanny perception of the political scene and a deep understanding of the psychology of people. This man had dealt with presidents and prime ministers, senators, mayors, business leaders. He was also trained under the greatest of our Gedolim: he worked with Rav Elchonon Wasserman, Rav Reuvain Grozofsky, Rav Aharon Kotler and Rav Moshe Feinstein – and received their advice in shtadlanus.
His selfless devotion to Klal Yisroel and to Agudas Yisroel of America – fashioned this organization into the champion of Torah values that it is.
In Europe, many of the Yeshivos were recognized by the Russian government as legal institutions of higher learning, Slabodka and Telze – to name just two. This was due to the efforst of Rav Reuvain Grozovsky, who was asked to do so by the Alter of Slabodka, In America, however, the Yeshivos would not be approved by any of the existing accreditation agencies registered by the U.S. Dept. of Education. Rav Moshe Sherer saw to it to help create AARTS and was instrumental in ensuring that it got off to a good start. Imagine what the finances of the yeshivos would be without the grants that AARTS helps to provide students.
Some of his pet projects were Camp Agudah and Camp Bnos. He loved what the camp was able to do in terms of inspiring boys and girls with a true bren and love for Torah and Yiddishkeit. He loved bringing gedolim to camp, thus exposing Klal Yisroel to their Gedolim. Under his direction and the able leadership of Meir Frischman, the camp was always completely filled up – months before any other camp was. He also ensured that there were ample scholarships available for those who needed it. He especially took a filial role in ensuring that Russian Jewish children receive their long-forgotten birthright – the birthright of Sinai. There are thousands of families that are Torah-observant and live the ideal of Ki haim chayeinu on account of this man.
Rav Moshe Sherer was at the forefront of saving Iranian Jewry and ensuring that many of them receive a true Torah education. The logistics of such a project were truly amazing and he spearheaded the effort. Our Persian Jewish brothers and sisters are such a strong Torah community largely because his efforts bore remarkable peiros.
The same is true of Rabbi Sherer’s efforts in meeting the challenge of Soviet Jewry. Rav Sherer saw what his task was and this was the challenge of our dor – he would say. What did we do to ensure the Torah continuity of Russian Jewry who were nearly wiped out on account of Communisim? He took the bull by the horns and areanged for new Yeshivos to open, new scholarship funds, camps, shidduchim – all of these and much more.
His assistance to the Klal was both on a grand scale as well as for individuals.
I recall him relating to me, many years ago, when the AIDS epidemic first came out. Someone who had suffered from hemophilia had, unfortunately, received the dreaded illness from a blood transfusion. That young man was a chosson about to marry his kallah and he refused to inform his kallah about his illness. The doctor who was treating him was a Reform Jew. The doctor could not legally warn her, and Rav Moshe Sherer was asked by the doctor’s clergyman if he could assist. Painstakingly, Rav Moshe Sherer received psakim from every Admor across the spectrum that one who does such a thing is considered a halachic rodef. The doctor showed the kol korehs to the patient – who informed his kallah of the situation. Rav Sherer zt”l saved her life – and created a remarkable Kiddush Hashem in the process.
And Kiddush Hashem was his raison d’être. He intensely disliked the word “Ultra-Orthodox.” He would often lambast the secular press for using this term to describe the Torah-observant community. Ultra means extreme, beyond the pale, too much. “How dare they paint an entire group of people with such a pejorative term? Would they do so to any other group? This was one rare area, in which he did not succeed. The term is still used widely.
During the Reagan administration, AIPAC had hired a new executive director, Thomas Dine. Dine had bowled over Washington with his sophistication and aggressiveness. Dine was a veteran of Capitol Hill and had worked on the staffs of Ted Kennedy and Senator Frank Church. Dine was very capable, but had a serious flaw. He had a visceral dislike for religious Jews. In mid June of 1993, he described Orthodox Jews as “Smelly” and “low class” and how he disdained sitting in proximity to them on airplanes. Rabbi Sherer was horrified. How could a man who had such feelings be the head of AIPAC? He went to work, writing, cajoling, and within a week, Thomas Dine resigned his position. He later took a consulting position for Alhurrah, an Arab American Satellite Television Organization that has been described in the WSJ as a platform for terrorists.
There was a time when Klal Yisroel’s leadership was virtually torn apart on account of a messy divorce situation. The Satan had somehow managed to cause a rift within Klal Yisroel. This pained him to no end, and he likened the situation to someone whose parents were going through a divorce. He handed it in such a remarkable and exemplary manner that both sides were impressed with the anivus and gadlus of the man. One even remarked, “Both of the two sides could learn a lot from him.”
Rav Sherer’s respect and awe of Gedolei haTorah was a mussar shmuess in and of itself. This author would even venture to say that Rabbi Moshe Sherer was to a large extent the founder of contemporary Kavod HaTorah in the world of Baalei Batim. How so? Now the lay leaders of Agudah have the utmost respect and reverence for the Gedolei HaRosh Yeshiva and Gedolei Torah on Moetzes. In my research, I have been privy to letters written to and about Gedolei HaAgudah prior to Rav Moshe Sherer’s time. Suffice it to say that they were vastly different than now. The primacy of following gedolei Torah that exists in our world today is due in large part to the efforts of Rav Moshe Sherer.
Rabbi Sherer would often say that he and his wife had actually four children: their daughter, Rochy, (Langer), their daughter Elky (Goldschmidt) , their son, Rav Shimshon Sherer, and their fourth child, Agudath Israel of America.
Always the gentleman, Rav Moshe Sherer recognized the fact that her unwavering support for his avodas haKodesh was what enabled him to achieve his remarkable accomplishments.
One wonders what he would have said and done in the current situation. After just having lost the Novaminsker Rebbe zt”l, and 22 years after the passing of Rav Sherer we are truly bereft of leadership.
Today, the 21st of Iyar is his 22nd yartzeit. His legacy to us is three-fold: One, the remarkable Torah community that he helped build. Two, the organization that is Agudah and all that it does for Klal Yisroel. And three, a shining example of what one person can accomplish in a lifetime. Yehe zichro boruch!
The author can be reached at [email protected]