Memory Lane: Rav Ephraim Zalman Halpern, zt”l

Memory Lane: Rav Ephraim Zalman Halpern, zt”l

In a recent column, we profiled Rav Avigdor Regenbogen, the leader of the Chortkiver chassidim in America. We noted that he was eulogized by “Rev. E. Halpern” as per the New York Times, who was the Rabbi of the Congregation. Today we tell the story of this legendary Rov, talmid chochom, prominent Chortkiver chossid, and legendary askan.  


The Halpern family served as Rabbonim in the town of Premishlan, and this is where Ephraim Zalman was born to his father, Rav Elchonon Dov in the year 1870. His grandfather, Rav Yaakov Shlomo Halpern, was also rov in Premishlan, and he hailed from generations of Rabbonim who served in Berezan, and other towns in Galicia. 

Although his family were not chassidim, in his youth, he was influenced by friends who persuaded him to visit the court of Rav Dovid Moshe of Chortkiv, and from that first visit, and for the rest of his life, he remained an ardent chossid of the Rebbe, and of his son Rav Yisroel who was in Vienna. 

In 1888, at the age of 18, he received semicha from his rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Chayus of Brod—having learned in Brod for a number of years. From this era, he produced an enormous trove of chiddushim which, like his grandfather, he did not publish. 

Following the passing of his father, he assumed the place of his father in Premishlan. 


However, in 1906, he was instructed by the Chortkiver Rebbe to travel to America and assume the leadership of Cong. Zera Abraham on Denver’s West Side. This was a shul that was founded by Trisker chassidim, and named for the Maggid of Trisk, which is another branch of the Ruziner dynasty (among the other Rabbonim in the shul’s 130 year history was Rav Shloime Twerski, an older brother of the recently departed Rabbi Dr. Shea Twerski). 

He served here for ten years, during which time he was active in the community—overseeing six Nusach Sfard shuls in Denver, and “was unafraid to express unpopular opinions on the lack of observance of Jewish life. His presence added Chassidic color to Jewish ceremonies”— and in sending funds through Central Relief to the beleaguered Jews of Europe in the aftermath of WWI. In 1925, he moved back to New York, and while it is unclear when precisely he assumed the leadership of “First Congregation Czortkower Klaus Chasside Tiphereth Israel Nusach Sfard of Borough Park,” this is where we find him eulogizing Rav Avigdor Regenbogen, a fellow of like mind in a spiritually barren Boro Park. 

Spreading Purity

But later that year, he took his family to Eretz Yisroel, where—despite being in his sixties— a whole new chapter in his life was opened, which would entail a thirty-year legacy of askonus. A possible hint for the reason behind his Aliyah comes from a letter from the Chortkiver Rebbe to Rav Ephraim Zalman in 1931: “I heard many times from my holy father that would half-a-million G-d-fearing Jews have settled in Eretz Yisroel, it would surely hasten the geulah. The Ba’al Davar, knowing this, preempted this by installing in a large group of secular Jews a love for the Land, and through this discouraged shomrei mitzvos from settling in the Holy Land.”

In addition to serving as the director of the chadorim Chayei Olam and Torah v’Yirah, he founded the Central Committee for Taharas Hamishpacha, at the behest of Rav Shlomke of Zvehill and the Belzer Rov, with whom he had a close relationship. He led this organization— which has built thousands of mikva’os—with mesirus nefesh, until his last days, even traveling to America at the behest of the Gerer Rebbe at a very advanced age.

At the age of eighty, he published a kuntres on the power of answering amein, explaining that unfortunately, so many were nichshal in the great aveirah of talking by davening, and he sought to bring awareness to this important area.  

Rav Ephraim Zalman was niftar in Eretz Yisroel in 1961. 

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