Memory Lane: Rav Chaim Labovitz

Memory Lane: Rav Chaim Labovitz

Agudas Harabonim/Union of Orthodox Rabbis—the preeminent unifying organization of American orthodox Rabbonim in the last century, and major force in strengthening yiddishkeit in America as it struggled to take hold—was founded in 1903, following the petirah of Rav Yaakov Joseph, the Chief Rabbi of New York, a terrible chapter in Jewish American history.

In the 25th anniversary sefer hayovel—in 1928—the early history, and many of the accomplishments of organization, are featured. It also holds a directory of the rabbonim who were associated with the organization—where we find the following entry; Rabbi Chaim Labovitz, 5117 11th Avenue.

After some investigating, we find that Rav Labovitz was a Ga’on and prominent rov in Boro Park during the 1920’s.

Telshe and Slabodka

Chaim was born in 1875 in Šiauliai (Shavel) a legendary shtetl located about 50km east of Telshe, Not much is known about his childhood, but as we read later, he was a metzuyan in Telse and Slabodka, and stood out for his lamdanus. There was known as Chaim from Kuršėnai, (pronounced Kurshan), as people would often be associated in the town from which they hailed. In later years in America he would head the Telsher alumni association, which was tasked with strengthening the yeshiva, through the many alumni who found themselves in America by that time.

He married Devorah Bloch of Plungyan. She was the sister of Rav Chaim Yitzchok Bloch, later one of the great Rabbanim in America and president of Agudas Harabanim. The family arrived in America in 1925, and disembarked in Boston, where his eldest daughter had landed. This is where they applied for citizenship. He soon settled in Boro Park, where find him in 1928.

Rav Labovitz passed away after an extended illness on Thursday evening, 2 Tammuz, 1938. At that time he had moved out of Boro Park and was serving as the Rav of Congregation Tiferes Chaim, on Troy Avenue in Crown Heights (photo featured here).

On the following Sunday, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran the following obituary: Rabbi Labovitz, 63, Temple Head. Services are conducted in two synagogues for the Tefereth Chaim leader.

“Funeral services were held Friday for Rabbi Chaim Labovitz, 63, of 315 Troy Avenue, Rabbi of Congregation Tefereth Chaim, who died Thursday night at the Hotel Ocean Crest in Arverne (this was in Far Rockaway, where many New York Jews spent the summer on the water) where he was spending the summer. Services were conducted both at his own synagogue on Troy Avenue, and that of the Congregation Chovevei Torah on Eastern Parkway.

“Rabbi Labovitz was the brother in law of Rabbi C.H. Bloch, honorary president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada. He was a member of that organization and of the Rabbinical Board of Greater New York, and treasurer of the alumni association of the Yeshiva College of Telz. He as the author of books and articles for periodicals here and in Palestine.

Hamesilah—the publication of Agudas Haraboni— wrote in tribute: “The niftar stood out with his ge’onus and his talents, and during his time learning in the Slabodka Yeshiva he became known as an exceptional lamdan, and was known as ‘Chaim of Kurshan.’”

“About fourteen years ago, he came to America and served as a Rav in various communities. He dedicated himself with all of his warm heart, and with enormous passion, toward great work in all areas of yiddishkeit. He was the mechutan of the great Ga’on, pe’er hador, Maran Rav Avraham Duber Kahana-Shapiro—Rav of Kovno, Lita—and the brother in law of Rav Chaim Yitzchok Bloch, Rav in Jersey City.

“The Vaad Harabanim expresses its great sorrow upon the passing of one of its distinguished members who left this world in the prime of his life, at only 63 years old.”

Rav Labovitz was interred in the Chovevei Torah section of Beth David Cemetery-following a lifetime of Torah scholarship, a decade of them in Boro Park of yesteryear.

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