Memory Lane: Rav Yehuda Altusky, zt”l
It is rare—even among the great Rabbanim that we profile here—to meet a Rav who came to America at the turn of the century, and lived to raise and leave behind a family of Bnei Torah who continue to spread Torah and Yiddishkeit on such a scale throughout the world.
He was born in Warsaw to his father, Reb Chaim Dov who was an architect, but a yarei shamayim and a lamdan.
In his youth he learned in a number of Polish yeshivos—including the Yeshiva in Sochatchow, which was led by the Shem MiShmuel. Then he entered the Radiner yeshivah, where Rav Naftali Tropp was so amazed upon farhering him... he regarded him as one of the ten most gifted talmidim in the Yeshiva. He later rose in the ranks to enter the famed Kollel kodashim of Radin.
After four years in Radin, he returned home in 1915, where he waited out through the end of WWI. He then attended the Lomza Yeshivah, where he received his heter hora’ah from the Rosh Yeshivah, rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon.
When Rav Yechiel Mordechai was preparing to leave to America to fundraise for the yeshivah, he needed to travel to Warsaw to arrange travel documents. He took along his prized talmid for the two week journey, and during this time arranged a shidduch between Rav Yehuda and Ruchama, the daughter of Rav Avraham Moshe Gorelick, the Rav of Rutke.
After his marriage, Rav Yehuda settled in brisk where he toiled intensely in Torah—but when the Polish army sought to draft him, he escaped with his young bride to America, in 1925. With this began a new chapter in their lives, in which he would go on to impact the world of Rabbanus in America immeasurably.
Upon arriving in America, he served as the rav of the Anshei Vilkovisk Shul in New York City. After two years he took a position leading the Mishkenos Yisroel Shul in the Bronx, and eight years later he assumed leadership of Linas Hatzedek in the Bronx, until it closed around the year 1980.
In the introduction to his Sefer Hegyonei Yehuda, a compilation of his derashos published in 1935, he laments the excruciating nature of Rabbanus at that time…the youth in this country is divided in two categories; those who have learned in yeshivos—who are in most cases Rabbanim themselves—and those who sadly have no interest. This leaves all of the excruciating work of preparing a Shabbos drashah with very little reward. But if compiling these speeches so they may be of help to other Rabbanim in preparing their sermons, it will have been worth the effort.”
Rav Yehuda used his pulpit to influence his fellow Jews for the better, and to take an active role to improve Torah observance. He was at the forefront of efforts for shechitah and mikvah. An extraordinary orator, he would inspire the crowds at Agudas Harabanim events, and was a revered presence on the stage at Agudas Yisroel conventions.
The Altusky’s raised their three sons within this American climate as true bnei Torah, each going on to disseminate Torah on a large scale... and their offspring continue this legacy of harbotzas Torah all over the world.
As noted, upon retiring from his pulpit in the Bronx—as the neighborhood greatly deteriorated—he came to Boro Park, where he resided on 52nd Street until his petirah¬¬. For these brief periods in time, the light, the greatness, and the brilliance graced the neighborhood of Boro Park of Yesteryear.