Rav Yerachmiel Boyer is known as a master of chinuch and a popular lecturer. This is all true; he is an outstanding orator and one of the most well-known lecturers in Israel. He is a highly proficient maggid, and he has also delivered shiurim on Gemara, halacha, and, of course, hashkofah. What is sometimes overlooked about him is that he is one of the foremost rabbonim in the leadership of Degel HaTorah and that he was part of the movement’s founding nucleus. I met with him for what promised to be a fascinating discussion.
Rav Boyer has been delivering regular shiurim for decades in a variety of places in Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv. He speaks regularly at Kollel Yad Avrohom, which was named for his father, Rav Avrohom Boyer zt”l. Nevertheless, he is perhaps most well-known for the shiurim he delivers to employees in a specific factory in the aircraft industry. This takes place in a plant that is the flagship of the State of Israel and its defense industry, an institution so highly classified that even its workers are not permitted to venture into areas where they are not assigned to be. Rav Boyer is one of the few non-employees who passed the required security checks and received the high-level clearance necessary to move throughout the facility. Indeed, he has been exposed to some closely guarded secrets. During our conversation, Rav Boyer showed me a picture of senior officials in the industry proudly demonstrating an unmanned drone to him – a piece of equipment whose very existence is still kept under wraps. His relationship with the industry could be the subject of a separate interview. Amazingly, he began delivering his regular shiur 32 years ago.
One of his most famous appearances took place at the founding convention of Degel HaTorah, which was held 30 years ago at the Binyonei Ha’Umah convention center in Yerushalayim, on the 25th of Tishrei, 5749/1988. When Rav Shach entered the room, a wave of emotion rippled through the crowd. Thousands of voices singing “Yomim al yemei melech tosif” accompanied the rosh yeshiva as he made his way to his seat, escorted by Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman zt”l and, yibadeil l’chaim, Rav Chaim Kanievsky. At the dais sat dozens of the greatest roshei yeshivos and marbitzei Torah in Israeli society.
Rav Boyer had accompanied Rav Shach in the car that brought him to the historic convention. It was he who led the impassioned singing with which Rav Shach was greeted by the assemblage. To this day, there is an image that has been seared into the memories of everyone who was there – the image of Rav Boyer standing at a shtender with his hands raised as he thundered, “Rabbeinu rosh hayeshiva!” and then launched into the song.
I will never forget when Rav Shach declared at that convention, “We have been taken out of Agudas Yisroel, but what is Agudas Yisroel? Agudas Yisroel is a union of chareidi people. Therefore, we are Agudas Yisroel.” Since that time, Degel HaTorah has sometimes operated on its own, while at other times it has joined forces with its “big sister,” the Agudas Yisroel party. In any event, that convention was a moment w hen Rav Shach changed the course of history. He shouldered responsibility for the litvish Torah world, just as he had tended to the needs of the Sephardic Torah world several years earlier by encouraging the founding of the Shas party.
Rav Boyer had a very close connection to Rav Shach. At that time, he was a loyal follower of the great rosh yeshiva. Rav Boyer also became very close to the Steipler Gaon, Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky. I asked him about that connection.
I heard that you were a ben bayis of the Steipler!
“With these fingers, I used to feed the Steipler his breakfast during the period of his illness,” Rav Boyer replied.
How did you come to have that privilege?
“When he was ill toward the end of his life, four yungerleit who were close to him were asked to serve him on a rotating basis all day long, around the clock. Rav Chaim, his son, was afraid to assist him, so they sought the help of people from outside the family. I was one of those four. Since my shift was in the morning, I helped him eat breakfast. Once, I was on duty at night instead, and a bright light turned on, so he thought that it was the morning. He immediately sat up and recited ‘modeh ani.’ I will never forget the way he uttered the words.”
There is a famous story that has it that you took the Steipler to the Kosel immediately after it was liberated.
“Correct. When I came to the Steipler three days after the Kosel was liberated and told him that I wanted to take him there, he demurred. Before I approached him, I had spoken to Rabbi Menachem Porush about the planned trip, and he had procured a special permit from the army for us to visit the site. Then I went to the Steipler and said, ‘Rosh Yeshiva, would you like to go to the Kosel, Kever Rochel, and Meoras Hamachpeilah?’ He replied, ‘That is a very good thing to do, but I can’t come.’ I asked him why not, and he said, ‘I have only one jacket, and I would have to tear keriah.’
“I wasn’t expecting that answer. I asked his wife, Rebbetzin Miriam a”h, if she had an idea of what to do. She replied, ‘Chaim [i.e., Rav Chaim Kanievsky] has his father’s old kapote. Ask him to give it to you. That is what I did, and he agreed to come.”
The Steipler’s wife, Rebbetzin Miriam Kanievsky, was the sister of the Chazon Ish, who served as the couple’s shadchan.
Who drove the car?
You had a car? Wasn’t it a very rare commodity at the time?
“I borrowed Rav Nechemiah Citron’s car.” Rav Nechemiah Citron was one of the more affluent residents of Bnei Brak at the time, and a close associate of the Steipler.
Who else traveled with you?
“Rav Chaim, his two sons, and my brother, Reb Yehuda.”
Did all of you tear keriah?
“We did that at Har Hatzofim. It was very interesting. The Steipler tore keriah, and then, when we reached the Kosel, he didn’t walk slowly as the Briskers do. Rather, he broke into a run even though we were still at a distance. When we arrived at Kever Rochel, he didn’t want to go inside, since there was a mixed group of men and women there. Nevertheless, he didn’t tell us that we were forbidden to enter the site. When we arrived at Meoras Hamachpeilah, he said to all of us – to Rav Chaim, my brother, and me – that we should go upstairs to daven, but he didn’t want to come. I decided that I couldn’t leave him alone, especially since the site had been under Israeli control for only three days already. I was afraid for his safety. After the others had left, the Steipler emerged from the car and walked to the southeast corner of the building; of course, I followed him. When we arrived, he said to me, ‘We are standing closer than they are.’ To this day, I still daven in that spot.
“The Steipler once came to the dormitory of the Yeshiva of Ponovezh to look for me,” Rav Boyer added. “He had given me a psak halacha earlier that day, and then he became concerned that he might have paskened incorrectly. Therefore, he came to the yeshiva in order to find me and to tell me he had changed his mind.”
Did you have to shout when you spoke to him? It is said that he was hard of hearing.
“I didn’t have to shout. It’s true that he didn’t hear well, and people had to communicate with him by writing notes, but I simply spoke into his ear and raised my voice slightly, and he was able to hear me.”
Sitting with Rav Yerachmiel Boyer, I felt that I could practically sense the presence of the gedolei Yisroel of earlier generations. He practically overflowed with stories and anecdotes drawn from his years of experience with them. Hearing these stories directly from him infuses them with even greater meaning, for two reasons: First of all, Rav Boyer is a master storyteller. Second, and even more importantly, these are incidents that he witnessed personally, and he even played a major role in many of them. For instance, according to a well-known story, the Brisker Rov asked a group of talmidei chachomim to daven for him in Meron, at the kever of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, in the final days of his life. Rav Yerachmiel Boyer was a member of that group, perhaps even the youngest of them.
“The Brisker Rov passed away on Yom Kippur of the year 5720/1959,” he recalled. “Before Rosh Hashanah, he expressed a desire for us to daven for his recovery at the kever in Meron. Rav Shteinman was part of that expedition, along with Rav Gedaliah Nadel and Rav Yosef Liss.” The latter was a talmid of Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, and Rav Aharon Kotler, and later became one of the premier marbitzei Torah in America. At the end of his life, he settled in Eretz Yisroel. “I, too, joined them on that trip,” Rav Boyer continued. “We recited the Slichos of erev Rosh Hashanah and then davened vasikin. Someone then claimed that the Brisker Rov had once said that he and his family had ‘privileges’ with the Rambam, and that we should also travel to the Rambam’s burial place in Teveria. We did as he suggested, and we invoked the merits of the Soloveichik family at the Rambam’s kever.”
Rav Boyer related that he made a point of joining the Brisker Rov’s chaburah for matzoh baking every year.
Did you ever see the Chazon Ish? Did you speak with him?
“He tested me on my learning on two occasions. I was a talmid in Talmud Torah Yesodei HaTorah in Tel Aviv. My mechaniech was Rav Zelig Privalski [who later became the director of the chareidi educational system in Sao Paulo]. One day, he announced to us, ‘Next week, we are going to be tested by the Chazon Ish.’ He asked us to prepare for the test. We were children from Tel Aviv, and we didn’t know very much; we weren’t familiar with the Chazon Ish. I thought that ‘Chazon Ish’ was his name – that ‘Chazon’ was his first name and ‘Ish’ was his family name. But even though I didn’t know exactly whom the rebbi was referring to, I understood that we needed to learn very well before we went to his home.
“I remember the visit very clearly. I looked into his room, and I stared in disbelief. Let me describe his seforim shrank: There were two stacks of bricks on the floor holding up a wooden board; that was the bottom shelf. On top of that shelf were more bricks, and then another board serving as the second shelf, and so forth. The seforim sat on these wooden boards; when I saw this, I felt that I was just beginning to understand what he was. The Chazon Ish proceeded to test all of us on what we had learned in cheider.
“The Chazon Ish also attended my older brother’s tenaim; he was the one who wrote the tenaim. On my father’s side, the simcha was attended by the chief rabbi of Israel, Rav Isser Unterman, an elderly man who was very imposing with his cylindrical hat. I remember when the Chazon Ish came to the bar mitzvah of Rav Tzvi Abramowitz [who served for many years as the rov of the city Chatzor Haglilit; his father, Rav Yehuda Meir Abramowitz, was a member of a distinguished Gerrer family and served in the Knesset on behalf of Agudas Yisroel for many years]. The Chazon Ish said to the bar mitzvah bochur, ‘Make sure you eat well and sleep well, because the yetzer hara will tell you not to eat or sleep.’ I heard that with my own ears.”
The wide range of public positions that Rav Yerachmiel Boyer has held, and continues to hold, is nothing short of astounding. He served as the mayor of Bnei Brak for almost a complete term (from 1991 through 1993), during one of the city’s most difficult periods, when the municipality’s revenues were virtually nil and there were many expenses to cover. It was also a time of strained relations within the ranks of the chareidi community. But Rav Boyer, with his noble personality and gentle demeanor, was a person who was incapable of having enemies.
Rav Boyer previously served as the principal of the Ohr Hachaim girls’ seminary; today, he is the educational director of the Be’er Yaakov Seminary for girls. His is also the rosh kollel of Yad Avrohom, the kollel that he founded, and he delivers shiurim in Yeshivas Be’er HaTalmud in Elad, which was opened several years ago by his son, Reb Aryeh, together with Rav Chaim Mann, and which has become a highly successful institution. “It is a yeshiva that focuses on building up every bochur,” Rav Boyer asserted. He has also served in the past as the chairman of the chevra kaddisha of Tel Aviv; the chairman of Mei Brak, the water company of Bnei Brak; and the director of the administration of the Meuhedet health fund. The latter position is a highly prestigious position, which illustrates the esteem in which he is held even by the government authorities.
His father, Rav Avrohom Boyer, who hailed from a family of Ruzhiner chassidim, was a famous leader of the Mafdal at a time when the party still included Torahdik individuals. He also served for almost thirty years as the deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, a position that he first assumed under Mayor Rokach, who took office in 1949, and that he continued to hold through the tenure of Mayor Shlomo Lahat, who took office in the year 1974. Rav Avrohom Boyer passed away in 1979. He was the most senior religious politician in Tel Aviv and was accepted by the city’s dati and chareidi populations alike. He also faithfully served all of the admorim who lived in the city, who trusted him to carry out a wide range of missions. He can be credited for the preservation of the status quo in Tel Aviv throughout his tenure in the municipal government; he was also responsible for the construction of shuls and mikvaos in the city. A street in the city was even named after him. Rav Avrohom had three sons, all of whom learned in Ponovezh. Rav Yehuda (“Reb Yidel”), the oldest, was considered one of the foremost talmidim of the Chazon Ish and is now one of the most prominent rabbonim in Bnei Brak. The youngest brother, Rav Nochum, lives in Tel Aviv and has carried on his father’s legacy of activism on behalf of the public. Rav Yerachmiel is the middle sibling.
Rav Yerachmiel Boyer is one of the senior members of the leadership of Degel HaTorah and is revered largely due to his connections to the gedolei Yisroel both of the previous generation and of the current day. He participated in all of the most momentous events of Degel HaTorah’s history and was involved in masterminding its strategies, although he refused to become personally involved in the quagmire of politics – with the exception of the one time when he acceded to Rav Shach’s requests for him to serve as the mayor of Bnei Brak. Had he been interested, he certainly could have become a member of the Knesset, and then his powerful oratory would have echoed in the headquarters of Israel’s parliament.
Let’s turn the clock back 30 years, to the historic day when the Degel HaTorah party was launched. You accompanied Rav Shach in the car that took him from Bnei Brak to the Binyanei Ha’Umah convention center. Everyone has heard the story of how you led the singing of “Yamim al Yemei Meleh Tosif.”
“Yes. We were also accompanied by Rav Shmuel Epstein, who was one of the closest people to Rav Shach. It was an extremely tense trip, and it was highly emotionally charged. Rav Shach appeared very withdrawn as he sat in the car; he spent the entire drive contemplating what he would say and how he would speak. We arrived at the event with a police escort; a police car joined us on the way to Yerushalayim, as we passed Telz Stone.”
In his conversation with me, Rav Boyer spoke tersely about his experience. A more detailed description, though, appeared in an internal publication of the party, in which Rav Boyer related, “Rav Shach was withdrawn throughout the trip. The weight of his responsibility and the magnitude of the event, along with the concerns that came along with the process, were visible on his face throughout the trip to Yerushalayim. The organizers of the convention also feared that someone would try to prevent Rav Shach from coming to Yerushalayim; therefore, we were joined at Telz Stone by a police car, which accompanied us to the convention. I remember watching Rav Shach enter the room that had been prepared for him behind the scenes, where he saw that Rav Elyashiv, Rav Shteinman, and, yibadeil l’chaim, Rav Chaim Kanievsky were waiting for him. He was visibly enveloped in tension. When he saw that he had succeeded in uniting the entire litvish Torah world, it seemed as if a heavy stone had been lifted off his heart.”
It is important to keep in mind, Rav Boyer pointed out, that this was part of a major event in the country’s history. Rav Shach had feared that the litvish Torah world had lost some of its stature and that respect for lomdei Torah was ebbing; as a result, he felt that someone needed to make a change. And history recognizes that Rav Shach was the man who bore the weight of the nation’s concerns on his own shoulders.
Why did you need a police escort?
“There was a concern that someone would try to interfere with us. When we entered the packed hall, the excitement rose to its peak. When I walked to the front of the room to announce that Rav Shach was arising, I found myself spontaneously breaking into the song ‘Yamim al Yemei Melech Tosif.’ All the tension and emotion of the day poured into that single moment. You can attest to this; you were there. Anyone who was present for that event will never forget the singing that echoed through the hall. The tears and the chills that ran through everyone present are utterly unforgettable.”
You were the one who welcomed Rav Shach to the convention and who presided over the event, but it was Ravitz and Gafni who were appointed to the Knesset instead.
“My name came up several times as a potential candidate, but I always begged them to allow me to remain in the fields of chinuch, kiruv, and harbotzas Torah.”
The third member of Degel’s list today is Rabbi Yaakov Asher, who began his career as your aide wen you were still the mayor of Bnei Brak.
“That is correct. He calls me ‘mori v’rabbi.’”
Are you pleased with the three representatives of Degel HaTorah?
“I don’t want to discuss politics.”
We once had a brilliant orator named Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz. Today, we don’t have anyone like him. But you certainly could have played that role.
“I have no regrets over the fact that I am not in the Knesset. Let me tell you something: When Rav Shach instructed me to become the mayor of Bnei Brak, it seemed that I would have to leave my job as the principal of the Ohr Hachaim seminary, which had 1,200 students. My wife and sons, along with your brother Rav Aharon [who is Rav Boyer’s son-in-law, which explains why he couldn’t turn down my request for an interview] went to Rav Shach and practically staged a protest in his home. They asked him to let me remain in Ohr Hachaim, and Rav Shach smiled and said to my wife, ‘Every person has a different nisayon in life, and every period of life gives him a new nisayon. Let your husband have this nisayon; he will pass it successfully, and he will return to chinuch.’”
Did his prediction come true?
“Yes, it was exactly as he said. Let me tell you something that happened one Friday, when I was visiting Rav Shach. Everyone who was close to Rav Shach knew that the best time to see him was on Friday afternoon. At that time of week, he looked like a malach; there was something utterly magnificent about his face. People would line up outside his door and vie to be able to see him. I had a regular time slot with him on Fridays. Once, at the end of my conversation with him, he opened a closet, withdrew a package of chocolates, and handed it to me. ‘I think your wife is still angry with me,’ he said. ‘Please give her this chocolate to appease her.’”
Was it difficult to manage the city of Bnei Brak during your tenure as mayor?
“Not at all. The discord between the litvish and chassidish communities was at its height at the time, and my partners in the municipality were not easy to deal with, but since I had the ability to visit Rav Shach whenever I had the need and to consult with him about every issue that arose, I was fortunate enough to make no errors.”
I was referring to difficulty from a financial standpoint. You were presiding over a city with virtually no revenues and with enormous expenses!
“In that sense, you are absolutely correct. That was the most difficult challenge facing the municipality. This was before the construction of the skyscrapers that were, and still are, a major source of revenue for the city. The city had no funds because most of the residents were yungerleit, and we couldn’t collect property taxes from them because they had no money with which to pay.” According to the laws of the State of Israel, a full-time kollel student whose wife is unemployed is required to pay only 20 percent of the total property tax on his residence. This is true even in Yerushalayim. A poor person, on the other hand, receives a discount of about 50 percent.
That was precisely my point.
“And you were right. The city benefited from the support of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. Whenever a locality has trouble covering its expenses, the Interior Ministry is supposed to allocate additional funds to help it balance its budget. The ministry has very clear criteria for the allocation of that funding. I will say simply that the Minister of the Interior did not create bureaucratic hurdles for the city of Bnei Brak. Rav Shach would call him, and I would meet with him in his office along with Mottele Karelitz [a prominent askan in Bnei Brak and confidant of the gedolei Yisroel, who later served as the mayor of Bnei Brak], and he would provide us with the funding we needed.”
During your tenure, did the city develop further, or did it remain stagnant?
“The city’s development increased under every mayor, including myself. The problem was that regardless of how much we built and developed, we never managed to keep up with the city’s needs. The people who had planned the city never dreamed that it would grow at such a rapid pace, and all the infrastructure, the roads, the sidewalks, and the electric grid could not keep up with the pace of its growth. When I served as the head of Bnei Brak’s water company, I had to invest huge amounts of money in order to replace the existing pipes.”
The list is even longer than that: There is also a shortage of shuls and schools.
“Correct. I once said that a preschool should be built for every residential building in the city, followed by an elementary school, since the average building in Bnei Brak is home to dozens of children. During my term in office, I acquired caravans in order to make up for the lack of space.”
Is there anyone who is to blame for the shortsightedness of the initial development of the city?
For the first time, Rav Boyer fell silent before answering my question. “I think,” he finally said, “that it was impossible to foresee the magnitude of the city’s growth.” In other words, there is no one to blame!
As I said, Rav Yerachmiel Boyer is a man of many accomplishments, in many areas. My impression, though, is that he feels most at home when he stands at a shtender, delivering a drosha to an audience.
It seems to me that you are a man who feels that his place is in kiruv, delivering shiurim, rather than dealing with pipes and municipal infrastructure.
“You are correct. When I was the mayor of Bnei Brak, I refused to give up even one of the shiurim that I delivered. I used to tell people that mayors come and go, but I would continue delivering shiurim as long as I had the strength.”
Does that include your shiur to the workers in the aircraft factory?
“Absolutely. The Torah is the purpose of our existence; being a mayor was only a temporary task. Politics is a life of falsehood. When I served as mayor, I received over one hundred mishlochei manos every Purim. After I left office, those people forgot my address…. People honor politicians only while they feel that they can derive benefit from them. On the other hand, I continue to receive mishlochei manos from my talmidim, from the people who attend my shiurim and from the families that I influenced to become religious.”
What is the source of your talent for captivating your audiences when you speak?
“It is a gift from Hashem. It isn’t something that can be acquired. It is pure Divine chessed. I will let you in on a secret: Before every drosha, I daven to Hashem to grant me chein in my listeners’ eyes. It seems that the tefillah has been effective.”
For a long time, I used to attend a shiur that your brother delivered on Mishnah Berurah. He is an outstanding talmid chacham, but he doesn’t seem to be an orator.
“He is far from being a master orator, but he is a world-class Torah genius.”
How did you become involved with the aircraft plant?
“There was a large group of observant Jews from all over the country who worked there, including engineers and technicians, who were thirsting for Torah. It was a very large group of employees. If you visit the plant at 4:30 in the afternoon, when the workday ends, you will find a fleet of buses waiting to transport the workers to their homes throughout the country. They decided that they wanted to have a shiur, and they put together a delegation of people who came to ask me to deliver it. That is how our shiur began.”
When you say “our shiur,” it makes it sound as if you are just another one of the workers in the plant.
Rav Boyer laughed. “I actually feel like one of them. In any event, the shiur became successful. Now, after many years have passed, I can say with certainty that those shiurim changed the lives of many families.”
Why did they choose you?
“Some of the employees had heard my drashos elsewhere, and they recommended me. There were times when over 100 men attended the shiur.”
Is it still continuing today?
“Absolutely. In fact, I came to this interview directly from the plant.”
Rav Boyer has been living on Rechov Rashbam for half a century. The Steipler used to live at the beginning of the street, and Rav Chaim’s home is at its end. Rav Boyer lives in the middle. We have already seen that he had a close relationship with the Steipler; as it turns out, he also has a powerful kesher with Rav Chaim.
I presume that you have enjoyed a close friendship with Rav Chaim Kanievsky for many years?
“Rav Chaim has always been kulo Torah. He knows nothing outside the Torah. When people first began coming to him and asking him shailos, I had the temerity to ask, ‘How can you answer people’s questions on all these subjects when you don’t have any knowledge of them?’ Rav Chaim smiled at me and said, ‘You are correct. Everything I say is placed in my mouth min hashomayim.’”
How do you remember him from his earlier years?
“I can’t define him. From the moment he wakes up in the morning until he goes to sleep at night, every one of his actions is based entirely on the Shulchan Aruch and the Gemara. It is impossible to induce him to deviate from those things. His rebbetzin [the daughter of Rav Elyashiv] once told me that her father was an even greater masmid than her husband.”
Can you share a story with us about Rav Shach? Perhaps something about his bein adam l’chaveiro?
“I will tell you a story that attests to the depth of his caring for his talmidim. I had unlimited access to Rav Shach; I was able to see him at almost any time, except on Tuesdays. Everyone in the world knew that no one was permitted to see Rav Shach on Tuesdays, the day when he delivered a shiur klali in the yeshiva. Rav Shach would spend the day totally immersed in his preparations for the shiur. There was one time, when I was the mayor of Bnei Brak, that I had an urgent question and I tried to consult with him on a Tuesday. The gabbaim told me that it would cause him distress if I went to see him before his shiur. I decided to accept that, and instead of pressing to be allowed to see him, I went to the yeshiva. I planned to consult with him immediately after the shiur, and to have the opportunity to hear the shiur itself as well, so that I could understand why the preparation was so crucial.
“I was astonished when I heard the shiur that Rav Shach delivered. It was clear to me that I had heard it in the past, and that it was even printed as a siman in his sefer, Avi Ezri. After the shiur, I requested permission to pose a strange question, and I asked Rav Shach not to be angry with me. Of course, he was much calmer now that the shiur was over, even though he was exhausted, and he smiled at me. I said, ‘The rosh yeshiva has probably delivered this shiur many times, and it is printed in the Avi Ezri. Why, then, was I asked not to disturb him before the shiur? Doesn’t the rosh yeshiva know the entire shiur by heart?’
“He replied in Yiddish, ‘You must realize that there is no such thing as a shiur without a chiddush. But let me tell you what I wrestle with before every shiur: If I begin the shiur with a strong kashya, then the weaker talmidim will lose hope of following it, and they will simply stop listening. If I begin with a weaker question that they will be able to grasp, then the stronger talmidim will think that there is nothing for them to hear today, and they will not pay attention to the shiur. I have to carefully calibrate every shiur so that every talmid will be able to understand it, and they will all follow my train of thought from beginning to end. That is what occupies my attention throughout the day.’ That was the concern that consumed Rav Shach’s attention throughout the day, until he left his home for the yeshiva to deliver his shiur.”
What was the urgent question?
“Let’s not deal with that.”
In Kollel Yad Avrohom, the kollel headed by Rav Boyer on Rechov Don Yosef Nasi, there are dozens of yungerleit who served in the army. These are baalei teshuvah who did not learn in yeshivos in their younger years, and who require a guiding hand. The kollel provides an entire array of shiurim for them. Yungerleit who lack a yeshiva background attend two shiurim every day. Rav Boyer, of course, presides over the entire enterprise.
Did you consult with Rav Shach before founding a kollel that includes many former IDF soldiers?
“I never did anything without consulting with the gedolim,” Rav Boyer replied. “Even when I served as the head of Torah U’Melachah, a yeshiva tichonit in Tel Aviv, over twenty years ago, I asked a shailah before taking the position.” The nucleus of his kollel consists of former talmidim of that yeshiva; Rav Boyer remained in touch with his former charges even after they entered the army. After they were discharged, he recommended that these young men continue their Torah learning, and he founded the kollel for their benefit. Today, some of them have gone on to become marbitzei Torah in their own right.
“I consider their achievements to be the reward for all my efforts,” Rav Boyer said.
Was there ever an occasion when you saw Rav Shach being extremely firm?
“The word ‘firm’ is out of place. I can tell you that he was often extremely strong-willed, such as when he refused to meet with Shimon Peres. I was asked by people in Peres’s orbit to arrange for a meeting between him and the rosh yeshiva, but Rav Shach refused to accept a visit from him. He was vexed by the Labor party’s conduct in the Sabra and Shatilla episode.” A little background is in order: In 1982, there was a massacre of Lebanese citizens, and the world tried to portray Israel as being responsible for the slaughter. At that time, half a million people demonstrated in Rabin Square against Prime Minister Begin and Foreign Minister Sharon, and Shimon Peres delivered one of the most venomous speeches in the history of the Knesset. Following this incident, an investigative commission disqualified Sharon from serving as the Minister of Defense. As a result, Rav Shach considered Peres and his cohorts to have the halachic status of mosrim (informants).
Due to Rav Shach’s refusal to meet with Peres, Rav Boyer informed Peres’s associates that he had been unable to arrange the meeting. Sometime later – after the unity government was formed in 1984, with Yitzchak Rabin serving as Minister of Defense – Rav Boyer was contacted by Boris Krasny, a close associate of Rabin, who asked him to arrange a meeting with Rav Shach. Rav Boyer relayed the request to Rav Shach, and the rosh yeshiva said, “Nu, we have hakaras hatov for Rabin. After all, he was the one who signed for the exemption of yeshiva bochurim from the draft.” Rav Boyer relayed the response to the government officials, and he was asked to meet with Rabin in the Ministry of Defense before the meeting, in order to prepare him to meet with Rav Shach.
Rabin didn’t exactly know very much about Yiddishkeit, did he?
“No, he didn’t have very much knowledge about Yiddishkeit. He asked many questions about the proper protocol for addressing the rosh yeshiva, and I advised him simply to act normal. He asked me to join him for the ride to Bnei Brak and to accompany him to the meeting. We traveled to Bnei Brak in my car and entered Rav Shach’s home on Rechov Raavad. I was surprised to see that Rav Shach was wearing his hat in Rabin’s honor. Once again, he commented that he had hakoras hatov to Rabin for the draft exemption for yeshiva bochurim. Rabin talked about politics, of course, but Rav Shach ignored him and said what he wanted to say.”
What was that?
“He opened the Yaavetz and read aloud, telling Rabin that during the Inquisition, the Jews who survived were the simple people, those with simple emunah. Those were the people who couldn’t be broken; they were stronger than those who held prestigious positions. The simple Jews were the ones who remained strong until the end. Rav Shach then raised his voice and said, ‘We are also simple people. We have pure faith, and we cannot be broken under any circumstance. Take that into consideration at all times. The people with pure, simple faith cannot be defeated; we will be the strongest!’”
I have heard that Rav Shach used to double-check information that was presented to him.
“Yes. Rav Shach barely ever trusted others implicitly. He wanted to be certain that any information he was given was reliable, and he would investigate it thoroughly. When he wasn’t certain about various details and he didn’t want to give an answer to someone, he would pretend to doze off, and then the person would leave. As soon as the visitor had left, he would ‘wake up’ and begin looking into the matter, and when he had resolved it completely, he would make sure the questioner received his answer.”
I informed Rav Boyer that a story involving him recently appeared in an internal publication distributed to friends of the Mir yeshiva in honor of the yahrtzeit of Rav Yechezkel Levenstein. The story has it that Rav Boyer, as a young man, once lost his wallet, and a stranger in Tel Aviv found it and discovered a picture of the mashgiach inside it. The finder was so moved by the sight of the mashgiach’s countenance that he felt compelled to return the wallet to its owner. Rav Boyer confirmed the veracity of the story. “I even remember where he met so that he could return the wallet to me: It was on the corner of Rechov Rothschild and Rechov Shenkin. He thought that the mashgiach was my grandfather.”
Why did you have a picture of Rav Yechezkel Levenstein in your wallet?
“Because I was a chossid of the mashgiach. I still have his picture in my wallet.” Rav Boyer showed me the photograph, growing emotional as he did so. “Do you see? The mashgiach’s eyes seem to be blazing in this picture.”
I know that you learned in Ponovezh. Was that your father’s choice?
“Not exactly. He sent me to the ‘Yishuv’ [a yeshiva tichonit in Tel Aviv], and my older brother influenced me to come to Ponovezh, where he was learning.”
Was he sent there by your father?
“No. Rav Reisner [the brother-in-law of Rav Yechezkel Brettler, a close associate of the Chazon Ish, who passed away recently] brought my brother there, and my brother brought me.”
With which of the roshei yeshiva of Ponovezh did you have a close relationship?
“Rav Dovid Povarsky. He was my rebbi. He used to tell me his shiur kloli before he delivered it to the yeshiva.”
I interviewed his son, Rav Sholom, a couple of weeks ago. He told me that he and his brothers used to relate to their father as a rosh yeshiva even within their home.
“In his personal conduct, Rav Dovid followed in the footsteps of his rebbi, Rav Yerucham. In learning, he blazed his own path; his methodology was not similar to that of Rav Shmuel Rozovsky or of Rav Shach. Many talmidim in the yeshiva were heavily influenced by Rav Dovid’s style, which is also evident in his seforim [Yeshuos Dovid, which was published during his lifetime, and Shiurei Rav Dovid Povarsky, which was published posthumously]. As an example, Rav Shach used to begin his shiur with a Rambam, whereas Rav Dovid felt that understanding the peshat of the Rishonim was a fundamental basis for his chiddushim. He would focus on the peshat of the Rishonim, and then he would build the rest of the shiur on that.”
You are responsible for the finances of a large kollel and a yeshiva gedolah. I imagine that you probably travel to America from time to time.
“I visit America every year. I have no alternative to making that effort to raise funds for the kollel and the yeshiva. It is a great chessed of Hashem that I am capable of supporting those institutions.”
Have you been acquainted with any gedolim in America?
“I had a unique privilege: Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman asked me to travel along with Rav Tzvi Baumel and with two chassidim who are close to the Gerrer Rebbe, Rav Nochum Kornsever and Rav Mordechai Lev, to prepare for his joint visit with the Gerrer Rebbe to America. Rav Shteinman instructed us to visit Rav Elya Svei and to do anything he told us. We also met with the Novominsker Rebbe. The height of our visit was when Rav Elya Svei and the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America met with us. It was an incredible event. The meeting took place in the dining room of the Park House Hotel in Boro Park. Before that, we also met with Rav Elya Svei privately, with a much smaller group of people, and we accompanied him down to the hall, where the gedolim, led by Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l, were waiting. I had the privilege of speaking before them, and I had siyata d’shmaya; the speech was successful. After my speech, the rabbonim decided to do everything in their power to ensure the success of the visit of Rav Shteinman and, yibadeil l’chaim, the Gerrer Rebbe.”
The goal of their trip was to raise funds for kiruv schools?
The Torah world in America is very large and has developed very much. Why should an American philanthropist give his money to a yeshiva in Elad or a kollel in Bnei Brak for baalei teshuvah, rather than a similar institution in America?
“Let me tell you a story. I once went to visit Rav Chaim along with a group of South African philanthropists, who had a very interesting shailah. The South African rand isn’t worth very much in comparison to the Israeli shekel. They wanted to know if they should use their money in South Africa, where they could probably accomplish much more, or if they should donate it for Torah learning in Eretz Yisroel, even though their rands would probably be able to achieve much less. Rav Chaim replied, ‘The Torah of Eretz Yisroel takes precedence!’”