Memory Lane: Rav Shmuel Tzvi Wein, zt”l, The Vyzoner Rov
Rabbi Ben Zion Eisenstadt, the famed biographer and historian of Rabbonim of the last two centuries writes regarding Rav Wein: “Of the Rabbonim of New York and its Gedolim, known as the ‘Vyzoner Rov’ this Ga’on is known as a charif and a mefulpal. His chidushei Torah are printed in Hame’asef which is printed in Yerushalayim… and he is now preparing to publish a sefer on halachos gedolos.”
For the last decade of his life, Rav Shmuel Tzvi was a Rov in Boro Park of yore.
We must contemplate—and properly appreciate— the idea that about 100 years ago, Boro Park was home to a rov who was already highly regarded back home in Lita, the son of a great Lithuanian rov… who was born in the year 1835… a highly unique phenomenon indeed.
His father Rav Moshe Aryeh was a famous rov in a number of prominent communities in Lithunia. One of them was Yonova, which is about 35 km. from Kovno, as well as Eishishok and Panevėžys. In 1872, he is one of only five maskimim on the sefer Chofetz Chaim (which was published in anonymity at the time), in which he writes: “In my time as rov of Zemzer there came to me my dear friend… I know this rov who did not write this to boost his own name, rather his entire purpose was to increase kevod Shamayim).
In 1835, Rav Shmuel Tzvi was born in Kletzk to Rav Moshe Aryeh and his Rebbetzin Rochel Wein, and as a youth, he learned in the yeshivos of Lita. In 1860, he married Chana Frankel. In 1875, at the age of 40, he was appointed the rov of Vyžuonos (Vyzon), a shtetl in Lithuania—about 90 kilometers east of Panevėžys. During his tenure in Vyžon he corresponded with the greatest Gedolim in Lita, and authored numerous teshuvos, primarily in the area in gittin—all written with tremendous amkus and charifus. Some of those responsa has been acquired by collectors in recent years. As his matzeiva suggests, an entire manuscript has been lost somewhere in Warsaw.
For the ensuing half century of his rabbinic tenure—despite being in a faraway place, very different from the hamlet in the Lita—Rav Shmuel Tzvi was always referred to as “the Wizoner Rov”, as we will see.
In 1884, he was asked by Rav Chaim Volozyner to travel to America to raise funds for the yeshiva—where he would remain for the next 35 years, and be seen as one of the most prominent rabbonim in America. While here, he also became involved in supporting the yishuv in Eretz Yisroel.
Around the turn of the century he became a masmich at Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon—ordaining many rabbonim who went on to serve in pulpits all over America. He worked with the Gedolim of America of that time on many important issues of the day, and oversaw the kashrus of the meat and matzos in New York.
He came over to Boro Park in 1908, seemingly to remarry. The precise name of his shul is a matter of some mystery. While we read on the sign “Shomrei Hadas, and indeed, Rav Wein is interred in the Shomrei Hadas section at Bayside Cemetery, the newspapers refer to it as Shomrei Shabbos. Given that Boro Park has Shul by that name which was founded around that time, we cannot tell whether they are the same. He was the honorary president of Machzikei Talmud Torah of Boro Park in 1912.
We do not know much about his children and where they went, but his Torah legacy is wide-ranging, and endures to this day
One of the many rabbonim to whom he granted semicha (1909) in Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon was none other than Rav Mordechai Aaron Kaplan, who would follow him as a rov in Boro Park, assuming leadership of Cong. Bnei Yehuda on 16th Avenue around 1929. In his semicha he notes his powerful oratory—and he was only one of the many musmachim of Rav Shmuel Tzvi Wein, the Wyzoner Rov, who graced Boro Park in the earliest years of its Jewish settlement.