Memory Lane : Rav Shepsel Friedman
The Southeast section of Boro Park—the area that sits between Bensonhurst and the center of Boro Park—is known as Mapleton, or Mapleton Park. While it was for years considered the outskirts of Boro Park, today we can comfortably refer to the location of “Neve Shalom of Mapleton Park”, which stood on 62nd Street and 20th Avenue as Boro Park proper.
Rav Shepsel Friedman, zt”l, a Ga’on and mechadeish, who had yet served as a Rav back home in Poland, served as the Rav of Neve Shalom for 24 years—from his arrival in America in 1927 until his emigration to Eretz Yisroel. In this time, he not only led the community with distinction, he authored six volumes on various areas of Torah
He was born in 1877 in the town of Stavisk, Poland (in the Lomza region, today part of Belarus) to his father Rav Avraham Eliyahu, later described by his son as a “muflag in Torah and yiras Shamayim.”
Young Shepsel excelled in learning, and was known for his brilliance already in his youth. As a bachur, he learned in the Radin Yeshiva where he became close to the Chofetz Chaim, serving as his personal secretary, and then returned home to marry Reizel Perlowitz, from a prominent family in Stavisk. His young wife assumed the yoke of parnassah, enabling her husband to dedicate himself to Torah learning.
He would travel to a special Kollel in Eishishok, where he learned through most of Shulchan Aruch, and acquired semichah from the Gedolim of Volozhin.
In 1927, he brought his family to America, and with this was opened a new chapter in his life. He became known as an authority on halacha, especially on gittin. He joined Agudas Harabanim, and was active in Ezras Torah, led by his friend Rav Yisroel Rosenberg from Lomza. In America as well, he did not allow his communal commitments to detract from his many hours of limud haTorah.
In addition to his position at Neve Shalom, he was the Rav of the Chevra Shas at Mapleton Park Hebrew Institute for twelve years. In 1951, he made his way to Eretz Yisroel, settling near his daughter. This is when he was able to devote himself exclusively to learning, and preparing his seforim for print.
Rav Shepsel was a great mechadesh and a great baki in Torah—as his seforim illustrate.
In 1951, he published his Sefer Yekev Ze’ev which he had authored years earlier, while still in Poland. As he was about to depart for America, he managed to secure haskamos for the sefer from a number of Gedolim in Europe—including Rav Yaakov Shapira, Av Beis Din of Volzhin, who was the son of the great Rav Refoel Volozhiner, who writes:
“I am writing regarding the great Gaon, famed for his Torah and yirah, Rav Shabsi Friedman, the Rav of Stavisk, who is traveling to America…he is a great Rav, sharp and versed in Shas and Poskim, Rishonim and Acharonim, a metzuyan in his power of chidush, descending to the depths of the yam hatalmud... bringing up diamonds—chidushei Torah that are straight and sensible, sweet and pleasant. At the time of the printing, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, added an equally laudatory haskamah in which he refers to Rav Shepsel as “Harav HaGaon Hagadol.”
In this way, Rav Shepsel lived out his remaining years, culminating a lifetime of Torah, and Torah leadership, until his passing, in Adar of 1955.
In 1956, his brother brought his final offering to print, one year after the passing of Rav Shepsel—a fitting tribute to a Gaon and mechadesh in Torah from Boro Park of Yesteryear.