Memory Lane: Reb Meshulam Tzvi Gross Torah Brilliance and Sweetness in Early Boro Park
Between the World Wars, the Jewish community
of Boro Park was very small. But, like the rest of America, there were giants
of Torah and avodah that were
sprinkled here and there.
Which brings to Rav Meshulam Tzvi Gross, a true follower of the derech of the Chasam Sofer, and a brilliant mind in Torah—who authored two monumental works by the name of Ateres Tzvi and Nachlas Tzvi, al haTorah., and as the inside cover of the sefer indicates, he resided on 55th street in Boro Park.
Reb Meshulam Tzvi, or as he is sometimes referred to, Meshulam Feish, was born in Debrecen, Hungary, in the year 1863. His father, Reb Reuven, soon moved the family to Nirbator, where he spent his childhood.
His grandson, ybl”ch, Dr. Reuben Gross of Teaneck, still retains a pining and a love for his beloved zeidy, alongside whom he grew up in Boro Park. And to hear the way he, and so many other members of this family, relate the utter gems that are found in the Nachlas Tzvi… with such sweetness… it is a truly astounding legacy to have left over.
On the morning that we spoke, and we only invoked the name of his zeide, he immediately rattled off two pieces from the sefer on that week’s parashah.
He explains that his grandfather learned in the yeshivah in the town of Mezőcsát, Hungary, (also known, and pronounced as Tchat). This is where he learned under Harav Shraga Tzvi Tennebaum, author of the Neta Sorek, who was one in a line of great Rabbanim whose entire family served in towns sprinkled throughout Hungary (his grandson was the late Rav Gereshon Tennenbaum who served in the Linden Heights shul on 9th avenue in Boro Park, and he once showed Dr. Gross a photo of both their grandfathers sitting together in Mezőcsát).
The greatness of the Tchater Rav was first and foremost in Torah. In addition, the holy Divrei Chaim of Sanz would tell Hungarian Yidden who came to him, “why did you travel all the way here for a yeshuah—you have the Tchater Rav who is a great poel yeshuos!”
He married the daughter of the famed Serencher Rav, Harav Amram Yishai Bilitzer, in 1890. In 1893, he immigrated to America where he settled on the Lower East Side, and after World War One, he relocated to Boro Park.
It is astounding that with all of this Torah brilliance—with all the depth and the breadth—that is exhibited in the Nachlas Tzvi, Reb Meshulam was not a full-time Rav, rather he was a businessman who manufactured clothing. Neverltheless, the haskamos that he garnered from the greatest Gedolim of his time for this work, is further testament to the greatness of this wondrous man.
His creativity—which is everywhere in his sefarim—is also the fuel for his many inventions, for which he held numerous U.S. patents. These include one of the first vending machines invented.
But his one and only passion was Torah.
In fact, he had a weekly chavrusashaft in the study of kaballah with the Rebbe Rayatz of Lubavitch!—for which he would make his way to Crown Heights each Friday. And indeed, he took early retirement so he can devote himself full time to learning and writing his sefarim.
His grandchildren remember him in his Boro Park home— rising before dawn each day to learn for hours before the day even began. His zehirus b’mitzvos was also a thing of legend; how careful he was with each mitzvah, and with each word that came out of his lips.
Thus, Rav Meshulam Feish ben Harav Reuven, zt”l, blazed a trail in what it means to be a successful businessman in America, while remaining fiercely loyal to Hashem, to Torah, and to Yiddishkeit in Boro Park of yesteryear.