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Reb Shraga Frank and his wife, Rivka

Reb Shraga Frank and his wife, Rivka
by Chaim Shapiro
Fron an article which originally appeared in the Jewish Observer and
is also available in book form in the ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications
Judaiscope Series

Reb Shraga Frank was one of the wealthiest men in Kovno, Lithuania. He
owned a leather factory, a leather goods store, and a great deal of
real estate. He was also a talmid chacham and a tzaddik (a learned and
righteous man), who was under the influence of the founder of the
Mussar Movement, Reb Yisrael Salanter. In the attic of Reb Shraga's
house, Reb Yisrael would meet with his disciples Reb Nosson Tzvi
Finkel (known later as the "Alter of Slobodka"), Reb Yitzchak Blazer
(known as Reb Itzele Peterburger, for he later became Rav of
Petersburg, capital of Czarist Russia), and other Mussar giants. In
that attic, Reb Yisroel and his disciples would spend the entire month
of Elul; there he would say shmuessen (lectures) and elaborate on his
new philosophy of Mussar; there, one might say, the nucleus of the
Mussar Movement took shape.

Reb Shraga had extended a huge sum of money as a personal loan to a
local merchant. His business began to prosper, but he did not repay
the loan. The debtor again lost his fortune, and approached the Franks
for another loan. Golda refused because she did not consider the man
trustworthy. Reb Shraga intervened - it was Elul at the time: "Every
year at this time we approach the Ribbono Shel Olam, full of promises
and verbal assurances, begging Him to grant us a new year. He does,
but we renege on our promises. Nonetheless, next Elul, we again plead
and promise, and again He grants us our request, and again ... we
repeat the routine. Still, he always takes our word. - Shouldn't we do
the same?"

His wife Golda was from a German family, and to her, punctuality was
second nature. She simply could not fathom how tenants would fail to
pay the rent on time. So Reb Shraga would secretly hand out rent money
to his tenants to enable them to make their payment when due. No
wonder, when he died at 42 (1887), Reb Yitzchak Elchhonon Spektor, the
Kovno Rav, personally participated in his taharah (ritual preparation
of the body for burial). Reb Shraga had specified that no eulogies be
said at his funeral. "Normally I would ignore such a request," the
Kovno Rav said, "but I am afraid to violate Reb Shraga's word." Before
his passing, Reb Shraga told his wife that since Heaven did not grant
him time to guide his four daughters into marriage, the obligation
rested on her, Golda. And he told her that the four men for his four
girls must be not only talmidei chachamim, but men of shivti (Shivti
is a Mussar term for those who dedicate their life to Torah study and
its propagation, based on the passage from Tehillim: "Shivti b'veis
HaShem ... May I dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life"
(27:4.) Also, that she should spend their every cent on maintaining
their children - the shivti sons-in-law, and their subsequent

The Choices

FIRST: Reb Moshe Mordechai Epstein: Slobodka, Chevron, Jerusalem

The first son-in-law to be chosen was Reb Moishe Mordechai Epstein
from the small town of Baksht. To appreciate the significance of this
choice, some background is needed:

At that time, there was a yeshivah in Slobodka, a suburb of Kovno,
called Knesses Beis Yitzchak after the Rav, Reb Yitzchak Elchonon.
Many of the b'nei Torah, as well as some scholarly ba'alei battim,
opposed the Mashgiach, Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel (the disciple of Reb
Yisrael Salanter) for attempting to enforce the study of Mussar in the
yeshivah. Mussar was frowned upon by many as an unauthorized and
unwarranted innovation in yeshivah life, and to some it seemed to
offer an easy means for avoiding total involvement in Torah study.

When Reb Nosson Tzvi found himself bucking this opposition, he left
Knesses Beis Yitzchak for the "New Beis Midrash" of Slobodka to open
the Yeshivah Knesses Yisrael, named after Reb Yisrael Salanter, his
Mussar Rebbe. In need of a Rosh Yeshivah, he asked Reb Shraga Franks
son-in-law, Reb Moshe Mordechai Epstein, to say the shiur. Under those
two Torah giants, the yeshivah grew to become the "mother" of Gedolim,
who became leading Roshei Yeshivah.

Among those who studied there was Reb Reuvain Grozovsky (who later
became the son-in-law of Reb Baruch Ber) then known as Reuvain
Minsker. Once, when Reb Reuvain was visiting his hometown, he heard of
a young fellow in nearby Sislowitz as being an ilui - an exceptionally
gifted boy. He brought him to Slobodka. The little fifteen-year-old,
Arke Sislowitzer, would stand up on the bench to challenge the Rosh
Yeshivah, Reb Moshe Mordechai Epstein, in the middle of the shiur with
his questions. "Arke" was later to be known as Reb Aharon Kotler ...
It was while in the yeshivah that Reb Moshe Mordechai began work on
his monumental nine-volume L'vush Mordechai.

When Jews began to return to Eretz Yisrael in great numbers, Reb Moshe
Mordechai and the Alter Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel decided that the Torah,
too, must return together with Klal Yisrael, so they moved to Chevron
where they established a yeshivah. After the infamous Arab pogrom in
1929, in which some thirty yeshivah students were killed, they moved
the yeshivah to Jerusalem. After his death, the yeshivah was directed
by his two sons-in-law, Reb Yecheskel Sarna, and Yebadel L'chaim, Reb
Moshe Chevroni, Shlita. Today, the institution is known as the
Yeshivah of Chevron, and it prospers to this very day.

SECOND: Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer: Slutsk, Kletzk, Jerusalem, Lakewood

Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer was Golda's choice for her second daughter,
upon the recommendation of her first son-in-law, Reb Moshe Mordechai.
There was one thing wrong, however. The young man began suffering from
a lung ailment. In those days, the disease was a deadly killer with no
known cure or medicinal relief. In addition, Reb Isser Zalman also had
severe stomach problems. Golda went to the Chofetz Chaim for advice.
The Chofetz Chaim replied: "Some people have health: others have
arichas yamim" (long life). The wedding took place and arichas yamim
was apparently his, for in spite of his illness, Reb Isser Zalman
lived to eighty-three - thanks to his wife's protective care.

After a time dedicated fully to Torah-study, living solely on Golda's
support, he became Rosh Yeshivah in Slutsk, a large city in Belarus,
using one-fifth of his dowry as an investment in the yeshivah. His
wife stayed in Kovno, managing their business and sending him food -
for he refused to even take meals from the yeshivah.

Once, during one of her visits to Slutsk for Yom Tov, she found out
that their entire stock was stolen, leaving them deeply in debt. She
never breathed a word of this to him until the day he was offered the
rabbanus of Slutsk. Then she felt he should know, so as to take their
financial plight into consideration when deciding.

At that time, the Rav in Slutsk was Reb Yaakov Dovid Vilovski, known
as the Ridbaz. The Ridbaz left Slutsk to raise funds in America for
the publication of his famous commentary on the Talmud Yerushalmi, and
became Chief Rabbi of Chicago.1 Slutsk did not have to search far for
a replacement, and in 1902 crowned their Rosh Yeshivah Reb Isser
Zalman Meltzer as their Rav.

The combined burden was too much for the frail man - Rav of a large
city, Rosh Yeshivah, plus the writing of his eight-volume commentary
Even Ha'ozel - so he planned to resign from the rabbinate. Reb Isser
Zalman went to Brisk to ask his Rebbe, Reb Chaim Soloveitchik, for
advice. Reb Chaim told him: "Perhaps you're right, and all your
considerations are valid. Still, it would not be the right p'sak
(halachic decision) to leave." So Reb Isser Zalman stayed on.

He later explained Reb Chaim's p'sak in the following manner:

We learn the Torah attitude toward the conditions of leadership from
Moshe's appointment of Yehoshua as his successor (Bamidbar 27:19).
"And he set him before Elazar the Kohen, and before a11 the
congregation; and he charged him in their presence. "Rashi explains:
"And he charged him in regard to governing Israel: Know that they are
troublesome, that they are rebellious; [you must accept your office]
on the condition that you accept these burdens upon yourself." This,
the Ramban adds, was Yehoshua's induction into leadership.

So appointment to royalty among Jews obtains even under the worst
circumstances - in other words, it is beyond conditions. And, as a
result, one may not even take leave because of extenuating
circumstances... The Rambam says that the rules of perpetuation and
tenure associated with royalty (such as inheritance to children) apply
to all positions of leadership (Hilchos Melachim, I , 7). In other
words, Reb Chaim meant that one cannot divest oneself from office of
leadership because "if is too difficult" - only if it is to advance to
a higher office. ("Ma'alin Bekodesh - one moves higher in sacred
categories, but not lower.")2

Reb Isser Zalman remained the Rav and Rosh Yeshivah of Slutsk until
the Bolshevik Revolution, when he and his son-in-law, Reb Aharon
Kotler, crossed the border to Poland. Not far from the Russian border,
Reb Aharon established his famous yeshivah in Kletzk. Reb Isser Zalman
moved on to Jerusalem where he became the Rosh Yeshivah of the
Yeshivah Eitz Chaim.

Reb Isser Zalman was instrumental in introducing the Lithuanian
yeshivah system and its analytical approach in Talmudic study to the
yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael. He became chairman of the Moetzes Gedolei
HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages) of Agudath Israel in Israel. His wife
continued to protect his health and general composure... She hand
copied the manuscripts of seven volumes of his Even Ha'ozel for
printing, and personally checked the galleys.3

During the Second World War, the Rabbi of Lakewood, New Jersey, was a
former student of Mirrer Yeshivah, Rabbi Nisson Waxman. He persuaded a
wealthy Jew to donate his mansion for a yeshivah, and then set out
searching for a Rosh Yeshivah and a student body. First he invited his
former Rebbe the Rosh Yeshivah of Mir, Reb Eliezer Yehudah Finkel (son
of the Alter of Slobodka), to come to Lakewood. Reb Leizer Yudel
replied that his heart and mind were set on remaining in Yerushalayim
- where indeed he established the Mirrer Yeshivah in Jerusalem. The
Lomza Rosh Yeshivah, Reb Yechiel Mordechai Gordon, also refused. Rabbi
Waxman then approached Reb Aharon Kotler with the same offer. After
several visits to Lakewood, and some deliberations, Reb Aharon
accepted the offer. As the fruits of their negotiations, we now have
the flourishing Torah Center of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, which
Reb Aharon headed for exactly nineteen years, seven months and one
day, until his passing on 2 Kislev 5722 (1962). Reb Aharon's son and
successor, the late Reb Shneur, also served as Rosh Yeshivah in Beth
Medrash Govoha for exactly nineteen years, seven months and one day,
until he was taken from us on 3 Tammuz 5742 (1982).


Reb Baruch Hurwitz: Alexot Reb Sheftel Kramer: Slutsk, New Haven, Baltimore

The third daughter married Reb Baruch Hurwitz, Rav in Alexot,
Lithuania, and Rosh Yeshivah in Slobodka. Reb Baruch was also Chairman
of the Agudath Israel in Lithuania; and later succeeded his
brother-in-law, Reb Moshe Mordechai, to the presidency of the Agudas
HaRabbonim of Lithuania.

The fourth married Reb Sheftel Kramer, Rosh Yeshivah in Slutsk. Reb
Sheftel left Slutsk, and joined Reb Yehuda Heschel Levenberg in his
yeshivah in New Haven, Connecticut, (the first yeshivah in the United
States outside of New York City) as Mashgiach. Reb Sheftel's oldest
son-in-law, Reb Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, also joined the yeshivah in
the early thirties, then moved on to Baltimore, Maryland, where he
established the Yeshivah Ner Israel, which he still heads as Rosh
Yeshivah. Reb Sheftel's youngest son-in-law, Reb Naftali Neuberger, is
menahel of Ner Israel.

Stars in Daniel's Firmament

Can one imagine Klal Yisrael without the Yeshivah of Chevron? -
without Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood? - without Ner Israel in
Baltimore? - without Reb Isser Zalman's imprint on the yeshivas of

It is of people like Shraga and Golda Frank that Daniel spoke: "And
they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and
the matzdikei horabbim - they that turn the many to righteousness - as
the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:3). "Matzdikei horabbim - this
refers to the teachers of the young" (Babba Basra 8b).

1. After three years in Chicago, he moved to Tzfas. [return to text]

2. This was recorded in an article in Hapardes by Rabbi Nisson Waxman.
[return to text]

3. People in Yerushalayim would say "Reb lsser Zalman's Rebbetzin
wrote his sefarim," and some would take this literally, for - like her
sisters - she knew Tanach by heart. She would quote passages
extensively, explaining them according to the Malbim ... At 86, when
lying ill in bed, she recited chapters from Iyov without a text, with

 To Chaim Shapiro:
You did a very nice article on Reb Shraga Frank. Could you not have
the names of his daughters as well as his sons-in-law?

As an aside my husband David
Temkin is the grandson of Ephraim Esptein, brother of Moshe Mordechai.
He is
named after his uncle (Moshe Mordechai's nephew Aaron David) who
perished as a
martyr at age 19 in Chevron, 1929.

Thank you
Lois Temkin