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Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of Kovna
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Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of Kovna

Chief rabbi of Kovno, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor (1817-1896)
Was born in Rosi in Grodno region
(from the internet)
Chapter 12 from; The Rosh Yeshiva Remembers
Chief rabbi of Kovno, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor (1817-1896)
By Rabbi Asher Bergman

Rabbi Paysach Krohn, in the first book of his classic Maggid Series, relates the story of Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Spektor, the Kovno Rav. Under Russian law, all young men were obliged to enlist in the army. Besides the obvious ubiquitous threat of violent death, maintaining any semblance of religious observance in the army was virtually impossible. The only way out was an exemption from army service. Yaakov, a student who was much beloved by his rebbi, Rav Yitzchak Elchonon, applied for an exemption. Moscow did not immediately respond to the request, and each day Yaakov's friends, together with their beloved Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Elchonon, waited to hear any news of whether Yaakov's exemption was accepted. One afternoon, Rav Yitzchak Elchonon was engrossed in a Rabbinic litigation. He sat together with Rav Elya Boruch Kamai, the Rav of Mir, and a third distinguished Rav. They were litigating a complex problem involving two wealthy businessmen. Both side was willing to compromise, and for hours the three Rabbis attempted to find an amicable yet halachically acceptable resolution. Suddenly, the door opened and a young man stuck his head into the room. As soon as he saw Rav Yitzchak Elchonon, he excitedly addressed him. "Rebbi!" he exclaimed. "We just got the news, Yaakov was granted an exemption!" Rav Yitzchak Elchonon breathed a sigh of relief and said with a radiant smile, as he showered him with blessings. "May G-d bless you for bringing this wonderful news. May you merit long years and good health. Thank you ever so much!" The boy left smiling, glad that he had made his rebbi so happy. Immediately the Rabbis resumed deliberations in an attempt to resolve the din Torah. A few minutes later, another student opened the door. Not knowing that his rebbi already knew the news, he apologized for interrupting saying he had something very important to share. Then he announced with joy, "Rebbi, we've gotten word that Yaakov is exempt!" Rav Yitzchak Elchonon replied with just as much enthusiasm as he had the first time. "How wonderful!" He showered him with blessings as well. "May G-d bless you for bringing this wonderful news. May you merit long years and good health. Thank you ever so much!" The boy closed the door and left, beaming with joy that he had made his rebbi so happy. Five minutes later, yet a third boy entered the room. "Rebbi, did you hear? Yaakov is exempt!" Once again Rav Yitzchak Elchonon smiled broadly and blessed the boy for the wonderful news.. He thanked him and blessed him in the exact manner as with the previous boys. Six times, different boys came in with the same news, each one anticipating the happiness their rebbi would feel at the news, each one not aware that others had preceded him. Rav Yitzchak Elchonon smiled at each boy, expressed his gratitude and made him feel as important as the first one. The Ponovez Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Eliezer Schach, of blessed memory, once explained in a talk to his students that the attention to the honor of a fellow Jew is one of the most important lessons we can learn. Therefore the Torah repeated and repeated each and every Nasi with the same enthusiasm to teach us the importance of respect for the individual. And now
Drasha - Naso - 5762 - Torah.org

All of Shulchan Aruch by Heart
The Rosh Yeshivah once heard an eyewitness account of the following incident, which offers us a glimpse into Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's mastery of the Talmud. The story was told to him by Rav Lechovitz, who had learned in the famed Kovna Kollel, in the same building where Rav Yitzchak Elchanan sat and learned.
Rav Yitzchak Elchanan was known throughout Europe and held in high esteem by misnagdim and chassidim alike. Once he was approached by representatives of the chassidic community in Luninetz, who asked him to recommend someone to be their new rav. Rav Yitzchak Elchanan suggested a chassidishe fellow from Tochov who learned in his beis midrash. This talmid chacham was particularly suited for a position in the rabbinate, as he had reviewed Yoreh Deah with all its attendant commentaries no less than eight times and knew it thoroughly. Yet, for some reason, the young man had never obtained semichah. To remedy that defect, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan sent him to be examined on the section of Yoreh Deah dealing with Issur V
Heter, and told him that upon receiving this semichah, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan himself would examine him on Choshen Mishpat and give him semichah as a dayan.

In those days, the granting of semichah was taken very seriously. Typically, the examining rav would have the candidate sit with him for an extended period of time. When the rav was presented with a sh'eila, he would refer it to the candidate to see how he dealt with it. Between questions, the rav would subject the candidate to a very comprehensive examination.

After several days, the yungerman under consideration returned to Kovna with semichah in hand and approached Rav Yitzchak Elchanan to be examined in Choshen Mishpat. In Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's beis midrash, there was a daily Gemara shiur given between Minchah and Maariv, at which time the young men learned individually rather than with chavrusos so as not to disturb the shiur.. Taking advantage of this break, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan stepped out into the courtyard of the beis midrash with the young man and tested him as they strolled around. The examination methodically covered the entire Choshen Mishpat, with Rav Yitzchak Elchanan testing the yungerman on disagreements between the authorities throughout the entirety of the book. It was obvious from Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's familiarity with the various topics, and from the fact that he was able to cover the entire huge gamut of subjects of the book in such a short period of time, that the entire Choshen Mishpat was at his fingertips, in crisp, pure clarity.The Wise Leader of the Jews

A tense situation once arose in a particular community between the rav of the town and some of the local talmidei chachamim. As often happens in such cases, the 'opposition' began to cast a highly critical eye on all of the rav's halachic rulings. They seized upon a previous ruling of the rav which they considered to be mistaken and attempted to use it to testify to his alleged incompetence. The rav continued to insist that he was in the right and the conflict intensified.

The rav's adversaries sent a telegram to the leading halachic authority of the time, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of Kovna.. Both sides eagerly awaited his reply. Almost immediately, a return telegram was received, in which Rav Yitzchak Elchanan agreed with the rav's opponents. The dissidents had already begun to celebrate their victory with unbounded joy when a second telegram arrived in which Rav Yitzchak Elchanan reversed his previous position and admitted that his first ruling was mistaken. The rejoicing of the rav's opponents came to a quick halt, and they were forced to acknowledge the rav's halachic expertise.

The Rosh Yeshivah observes that the story is hard to understand. Surely Rav Yitzchak Elchanan, the leading authority of the time, had seen immediately which position was the correct one. Why, then, did he first send a telegram siding with the rav's opponents? It appears that Rav Yitzchak Elchanan recognized that the seemingly innocent query was really a trap to prove the rav's incompetence. And he realized that it would not be enough to show that his opponents were wrong in this one instance, as a single setback would not be sufficient to discourage further attempts on their part to undermine the rav's position. In order to bring a quick halt to a dispute that could only diminish the honor of the Torah in the eyes of the masses, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan devised a strategy to silence the rav's adversaries once and for all. By pretending to err with respect to the question sent to him, he showed the rav's opponents that the question was one about which even the gadol hador could make a mistake. That the rav had ruled correctly on such a difficult question was then testimony to his status as a great scholar. Moreover, by pretending to err, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan indicated that even if the rav were someday to rule incorrectly that would be no justification for embarrassing him before his congregation.
Rav Yitzchak Elchanan was prepared to forgo his own honor as gadol hador in order to preserve the kavod haTorah of another rav. The nobility of this action can only inspire awe and amazement!Words That Come From the Heart

One time the wicked czarist regime issued an edict that threatened dire consequences for the entire Jewish community. In an effort to have this decree rescinded, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan organized a delegation of the most distinguished Jews of Kovna to plead for mercy from the Czar's minister. Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's command of Russian was not adequate to make the plea himself, so it was agreed that Rav Yitzchak Elchanan would speak in Yiddish and his son would translate into Russian.
After the minister heard the Russian translation, he said to Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's son, I want you to know that your father's speech in Yiddish, a language of which I am totally ignorant, convinced me much more than your rendition of it into Russian. Even though I could not understand a single word your father said, I sensed that each and every word emerged from a powerful inner truth that burns inside him. Words that come from the heart penetrate into the heart, without any need for a common language.

Among the well-known rabbis in those days in Lithuania was the Rabbi of Kovna, the Gaon Rabbi Yitzhak Elhanan Spektor (1817-1896), one of the greatest rabbis of his generation. Nahlat Yitzhak in Tel Aviv is named after him. Torah Judaism under the leadership of Rabbi Yitzhak Elhanan occupied an important place in the Lithuanian community.
A young man approached Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of Kovno and said, "Rabbi, I am an atheist." Rabbi Spektor answered, "Really, my son? How long did you study in yeshiva? Have you studied the Talmud?" The young man replied, "I did not attend a yeshivah. I never studied the Talmud." To this Rabbi Spektor replied with a smile, "My son, you are not an atheist, you are merely an ignoramus."
Ask the Rabbi - 239

21 Adar; Yahrzeit of R. Isaac Elchanan Spektor, talmudic scholar, communal leader, author of responsa Be'er Yizhak, 1896. Rabbi Spektor, Adolf Cremieux, and Sir Moses Montefiore were the three outstanding Jewish communal leaders of the 19th century ...
Rosh Kollel, R. Zvi Hirsh Rabinowitz (son of R. Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor)

ArtScroll Series Mesorah Publications Ltd.


Two great Torah giants, the Netziv and R' Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, were forced to travel to the Russian capital, St. Petersburg, to take care of an urgent matter affecting the Jewish population. They planned to return home for Yom Kippur, but were unable to complete their work in time.On Kol Nidrei evening, they went to the only shul in walking distance. The shul was exclusively comprised of Cantonists - men who had been seized as children by the Czar's troops to serve in the Russian army for a period ot twenty-five years. Only Jews who had served in the army were pemitted to live in the capital. Naturally, these men knew very little, having spent most of their lives in remote areas of the Russian empire.As they approached Kol Nidrei, an old Cantonist got up to address the men present, as follows: "My brothers, we all know that at this time Jews turn to Hashem and ask Him for three things: children, life, and sustenance. What should we pray for? Shall we pray for children? Of course not - we're not allowed to marry because we're in the army. Shall we pray for life? What worth is our lives anyway, when at any minute we may lose it in defending this country? Shall we pray for sustenance? We have all of our food supplied by the Czar. Thus, dear brothers, there isn't a thing we have to pray for ourselves. All that we can pray for is that Yisgadal Veyiskadash Shemeu Rabba - May Hashem's great name be exalted and sactified." At this, all broke into tears, It is said that the two gedolim counted this as the most outstanding Yom Kippur in their lives.

In larger towns the leaders of various societies signed and their stamps were affixed, giving us an insight into the communal structure and into the wealth of associations and charitable groups which existed in some communities. Thus for example, the sheet for Kovno (Kaunas) has the famous rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor as first signatory followed by various dayyanim (judges in the rabbinical court
http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla66/papers/094-174e.htm.He had four children; Son Benjamin Rabinowitz was murdred in 1906
R. Zvi Hirsh Rabinowitz died in 1909 his two other children; a son died at age 40 and a daughter Rachel who died in 1876.


Shmuel Rabinovitch kisses his older brothers, Amos and
Binyamin, farewell as they leave for Palestine from the Vilna train station.

Shmuel Elhanan was born Shmuel Rabinovitch in 1930. He was the youngest of three children born to Shulamit Rosenblum and Dr. Yitzchak Elhanan Rabinovitch. Dr. Rabinovitch (b. 1900) was named after his grandfather, the renown Talmudist and Chief Rabbi of Lithuania, Rabbi Yitzchak Elhanan Spektor. Dr. Rabinovitch left Kovno for Berlin in the 1920s to study chemistry at the University of Berlin. There, he met Shulamit Rosenblum (b. 1901) who had fled from Minsk in 1917 and was studying the Montessori educational method. They married in 1924 and had two sons, Amos (b. 1925) and Binyamin (b. 1926). The family returned to Kovno in 1927, where the father went to work in his family's hardware business. Their youngest son Shmuel was born in Kovno in 1930. The Rabinovitch' were avid Zionists and sent their boys to the Schwabe Hebrew Gymnasium. In April 1940 the two older boys immigrated to Palestine. The rest of the family stayed in Kovno and were later confined to the ghetto. While in the ghetto, Dr. Rabinovitch served as the deputy head of the German labor office under Lieutenant Gustav Hermann, who was known for his human decency. Hermann left his deputy in charge of the day to day operations of the office, which allowed Rabinovitch to use his position to help relieve the sufferings of other Jews. At times, Hermann would convey German plans about the ghetto to Rabinovitch, who would forward the information to the Jewish Council. Shmuel, who was too young to work in the regular labor force, worked as an eilbote or messenger for the Jewish Council. Yitzchak, Shulamit and Shmuel Rabinovitch survived the war and were reunited on July 8, 1945 at the Pontebana transit camp, near Tarvisio, Italy. There, they met Amos, who was a soldier in the Jewish Brigade. The family immigrated to Palestine four months later. The middle son, Binyamin, was later killed in action in Israel's War of Independence, on July 18, 1948.

Date: Circa Apr 1940