Memory Lane: The Debrecener Rav, zt”l
In the previous article, we focused on the early life of this great posek in Boro Park of Yesteryear, who led and inspired all those around him with his tremendous hasmadah, and his familiarity in kol haTorah kulah. We now turn to the immense impact of his presence on Boro Park and its inhabitants.
As we have noted, the Debrecener Rav led his people during the terrible times, and ruled on the most hair-raising dilemmas imaginable. Following the war, he remained for a while in a D.P. camp in Germany, and was ultimately reunited with his wife and child in Budapest. The family returned to Debrecen, and he began to galvanize the community, attempting to rebuild from what remained. Betwern the years of 1945-49, he toiled greatly on behalf of the communities throughout the region—answering the most difficult questions, from agunos to complex sheilos in mikva’os.
In 1949, there was great upheaval in Hungary, and with great difficulty, the Rav was able to come to America.
Upon coming to New York, he founded Khal Yesodei HaTorah with the express mission of adhering to minhagei Chasam Sofer—something that endures to this day, though true Ashkenazishe Yidden are not as common in Boro Park as they used to be. But during those early postwar years, the neighborhood teemed with refugees from these venerated kehillos, and in the Debrecener Rav and his kehillah they found a home.
This would be the site of derashos that drew hundreds, and the base for his psakim and his battles for the sake of Torah and Yiddishkeit for the next half century.
As we have noted, the Debrecener Rav’s mastery of kol haTorah kulah was legendary, and his ability to issue concise psokim to a never-ending line of petitioners made him a primary address for psak.
Recalls one resident of Boro Park who remembered the Rov in his prime: “It was a normal occurrence to walk into the Rov’s room—a sparsely furnished space, lined with thousands of seforim, papers, and innumerable open seforim¬¬—answering she’eilos to people, while holding a telephone in each hand addressing queries by phone. His door was open 24/7 to anyone in need, and it was those open arms that made every person feel that they can approach him at any time.”
The story is told that the Rav would go up to the mountains in the summers, in later years. There was one time that he was asked whether he could answer a shailah remotely—as there were no local Rabbanim. Immediately as he heard this, he returned to Boro Park and never left again—seeing it as his responsibility that the neighborhood should not remain without a Rav.
It is a small anecdote—one of thousands—that reveals the level of achrayus and commitment by this giant in their midst to the spiritual needs of the Jews of Boro Park of yesteryear.