Memory Lane: Rav Moshe Dovber Rivkin, Pioneering Boro Park, Educating Generations
In the early 1930’s Rav Moshe Dovber Rivkin arrived in Boro Park from Yerushalayim with his Rebbetzin. While Rav Rivkin would serve as a Rosh Yeshiva in Torah Vodaath for close to half a century, inspiring the love and the reverence from thousands of talmidim, Rebbetzin Nacha immeasurably impacted the daughters of Boro Park in her capacity as a mechaneches at Shulamith School for Girls.
A Fitting Vessel for Torah
Rav Moshe Dovber was born in the year 1893 to his father, Rav Benzion Rivkin, a great talmid chochom and oveid Hashem—known for his breadth of knowledge in Bavli, Yerushalmi, Poskim, as well as sifrei kabboloh— who served as the rov of the town of Sintzi, Ukraine.
His father, Rav Benzion, was an ardent chossid of the Rashab of Lubavitch, and sent his son to learn in Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim in the town of Lubavitch. Here his reputation only grew as a uniquely gifted masmid, shakdon, and yarei Shomayim.
When he was about 20 years of age, WWI broke out, and the yeshiva, along with the Rashab—like a number of the large yeshivos in the region—had to uproot. They found their home in the town of Rostov-on-Don, in the south of Russia. It is telling that the Rashab, who was the leader of the yeshiva elevated the twenty-two-year-old bachur to serve as the menahel of the yeshiva. Also in Rostov was the family of Rav Yaakov Tuvia Heber, an Aleksander Chossid from Kalisch, Poland who had escaped there.
In the holy land he developed close relationships with such luminaries as Horav Avraham Yitzchak Kook zt”l and Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l. His parents joined him at some point, and his was niftar there in the year 1935, and interred on Har Hazeisim.
Rav Rivkin was invited to join the faculty of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in 1928, and with this the young family moved at first to Brownsville and then to Boro Park—and the thousands of talmidim who became mekushar to him with bonds of love and reverence would be the beneficiaries of this move.
Over the years, he granted semicha to hundreds of talmidim, and he was a role model to so many—within the beis medrash and outside of it. Such was their love for him that when he was hospitalized toward the end of his life, his talmidim organized shifts of bachurim who remained with him round-the-clock. He would address them as his own children… “tayere kinder...”
He possessed a phenomenal sense of humor and wit, and would always throw around sharp vertlach—never at the expense of others, of course. His humility was exceptional, and he would be seen on the streets shopping for Shabbos, for which he had a special warmth, and he treated everyone with the same respect.
Inspiring Boro Park’s Daughters
His life’s partner, as noted, was Rebbetzin Nacha Rivkin, a longtime educator at Shulamith School, who brought a unique approach and unbridled dedication. While the family was in Brownsville, she saw there was no chinuch infrastructure for girls, so she started teaching at home. She had pursued her teaching license while still in Eretz Yisroel, and was innovative in the way she taught; rather that teach by rote, she used songs, pictures, stories and games to get impart knowledge and inspiration to her students.
When Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Volk (featured here in the past) founded Shulamith, he recruited Rebbetzin Rivkin, and the family relocated to Boro Park. The mimeographed sheets, which she wrote and illustrated to help teach her pupils, eventually became the primer Reishis Chochma, which was published by Torah Umesorah in 1954. It was followed by a companion workbook in 1955 and the second volume, Reishis Chochma Bet, in 1967. The books are in their nineteenth printing and are used as the official primer for 550 Torah Umesorah day schools—leaving an impact on America’s chinuch landscape far beyond her teaching years.,