Memory Lane: Rav Mordechai Harlig, Nephew and Confidante of Rav Meir Shapiro
Rav Mordechai Harlig—one of the closest people to his uncle, the Lubliner Rov, who was mentioned here last week. A true old time Galicianer Rav, he was raised by a maternal uncle; the great Rav of Lublin, since his family was in Vienna. He drank in this influence, later immigrating to America, where he shared the light of Lublin with the future generations which he guided.
Raised in His Home
Rav Harlig was born in Vienna on Chol Hamoe’d Sukkos of the year 1906. Vienna was where so many Eastern European Jews had fled during WWI—including the Chortkover Rebbe, of whom his father Reb Sholom Harlig was an ardent follower.
He was raised in the Galician town of Sanok, in the home of his uncle Rav Meir Shapiro, who did not merit children, and was at that time the rov in that Polish town. He was raised like a son, and was meshamesh his uncle in his Rabbanus. When his uncle moved to Lublin, Mordechai Harlig went along with him, and he was among the first students in the legendary Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin.
He would accompany the Lubliner Rov on many of his visits to Gedolei Yisroel, and once, during a stay at the court of the Imrei Emes of Gur, the Rebbe invited the young Mordechai to participate in a 3:00 a.m. shiur which was meant exclusively for the Gerer Rebbe’s grandchildren.
In an accompanying photograph, we see Rav Mordechai strolling in Marienbad— the famed resort town where dozens of Admorim and Rabbonim from across Europe could be seen in conversation— along with his uncle, and with the Minchas Elozor of Muncacz. During one of those visits, in the summer of 1929, the Lubliner Rov sent a postcard—signed by his nephew Mordechai Harlig—to his brother Rav Avrohom in Vienna. Following that, Rav Mordechai returned to Vienna, and served as the confidante of the Czortkower Rebbe for five years, in which capacity he once again merited to meet with many of the gedolei Yisroel of that era.
A Lifelong Rabbinic Tenure
Following the passing of the Czorktower Rebbe, he began serving a rov in a number of different communities in Poland.
In the early 1940’s he came to America. He took a position at Boro Park’s Linas Hatzedek, also known as “the Clara Street Shul.” The directory of Agudas Harabanim—of which he was a member—has him living at 3818 15th Avenue, around two blocks from the Shul.
He was a Ga’on, and he was a fascinating individual. During the heyday of Crows Heights Jewry, it teemed with Polish and Galicianer Yidden, and Rav Harlig—who was exceptionally learned and exceptionally well spoken—presided over a very large shul in Crown Heights. But in later years, as the community moved out of Crown Heights, it closed up.
In later years, on Crown Street in Crown Heights, this was the sight that would greet visitors to Rav Harlig’s home: A humble abode, with the elderly Rov surrounded by his seforim, in which he was immersed to his last days, in 1988. He was buried alongside the ohel of his uncle and rebbi, Rav Meir Shapiro, on Har Hamenuchos.