Memory Lane: Rebbe Menachem Benzion Rottenberg-Halberstam
The Biala-Bilitzer Rebbe
In the early 1950’s, the Rav of Maimonides Hospital—or, Israel Zion, as it was originally known—was Rav Dovid Benzion Kanfei Yonah (in Yiddish, Taubenfligel). When he fell ill, he sent his children for a bracha to ‘the Sanzer einikel who lived at the entrance to Bensonhust; for he is a baki in the farthermost corners of Shas.’
He was alluding to the Biala Bilitzer Rebbe, who lived on 21st Avenue.
The Rebbe was born in the year 1881 in the town of Wolbrum, in Galicia—but his birth was marred in the pain of the passing of his mother in childbirth. He was thus named Menachem, with the hope of consolation for this loss.
His father, Rav Aaron Halberstam, the Biala-Bilitzer Rebbe, zt”l, Hy”d, was a son of Rebbe Yosef Zev, a son of Rav Dovid’l of Kshanov, who was a son of the Divrei Chaim of Sanz. Rav Aaron was a Gaon in Torah. By the time he was 32 years old, he had authored 32 seforim. He served as the Rav of Biala-Bilitz for fifty years.
The child was raised by his maternal grandfather, Rav Alter Meir Dovid Rottenberg of Volbrom and his Rebbetzin who was a granddaughter of the Yehudi Hakadosh of Peshischa—and this is how he came to have the added surname Rottenberg.
The child—a scion of the greatest lights of chassidus—showed early signs of kedushah and ahavas Yisroel.
In 1899, Rav Menachem Benzion married the granddaughter of the Parisover Rebbe (a brother of the Chidushei Harim of Ger)—who was famed throughout Poland—and merited to drink from his Torah and his glow for a few years. But this spiritual utopia came to a sad close when his Rebbetzin of two years passed away, and he returned to Wolbrum.
He then married the daughter of the Voidislover Rebbe, the sifsei Avrhaham. In Voidislov he threw himself into Torah and avodah, and ultimately received semichah from his father in law.
Perpetuating a Torah Legacy
The Rebbe dedicated himself wholeheartedly to the Torah legacy of his father, Hy”d, who was murdered by the Nazis in the spring of 1942—expending enormous effort in bringing his seforim to print, after the war had interrupted their availability. These spanned the gamut of Shas, Poskim, Shulchan Aruch, and derush. He had a special affinity for the Pri Megadim, and authored two seforim in order to elucidate the long text, and make it more accessible to more people. A great patron of these printings was Rav Shabsi Frankel, who had been close to the Rebbe’s father back in Poland.
In the foreword he expressed his joy at the zechus of salvaging the Torah of his father, and at the same time he lamented scores of more manuscripts that were consumed in the flames of the Holocaust.
Bringing the influence Westward
In 1922, he arrived in America, and served as a fusion of the influence of various Chassidic courts.
Especially for the Yidden of Galicia, the name of the Divrei Chaim is kodesh kadashim. And although he was born six years hence the petirah, his father had been raised in the home of his grandfather the Divrei Chaim, his father in law had spent years in that court, and all of the tzaddikim he would journey to were disciples of the Sanzer Rav—thus, Rav Menachem Benzion exhibited many of the qualities of simcha, Torah, and chessed that defined Sanz. Whenever he would say over Torah from the Divrei Chaim, his face would take on a special glow, and he would become animated.
He was revered among the chassidishe Rebbes—both those who were here prior to the war, as well as those who were spared the inferno, and sought to transplant their lives in America. He was one of the oldest Rebbes to reside in America, and he was a respected presence at many Rabbinic events, as evidenced by some of the pictures we see here.
In his shtiebel on 64th Street, everyone was welcome, and so many people kept their connection through this holy Yid, with the tremendous tzurah—until his passing on 23 Nissan, 1957.