Rabbi Maslaton was a one-man kiruv machine who turned his fellow Sephardim into a proud and respected Torah community. He personally plucked young people off the streets of New York and nurtured them until they became genuine bnei Torah. For fifty or sixty years, he fought valiantly against anyone and anything representing anti-Torah values. He did so fearlessly and relentlessly throughout his life, day and night. As a result, with his passing, he has left behind an army of bereaved talmidim who mourn not only a rebbi, but a father figure whom they will never forget.
Rabbi Maslaton was born on the eighth day of Iyar in 1939, in Brooklynn NY. As a child, he attended Yeshiva Toras Emes in Brooklyn, after which he spent a short time in Cleveland. He then went to yeshiva in Vineland. He learned at Yeshivat Porat Yosef in Eretz Yisroel under Rav Ezra Attia, with whom he developed a close personal relationship. When he turned seventeen, he decided to dedicate his life to Torah. He followed up on that decision the way he did everything in his life: with tremendous passion and conviction.
His power of persuasion was irresistible. When he was nineteen years old and learning in Vineland, he set about trying to convince a fellow student to remain in yeshiva and give up his plan to attend college. His rosh yeshiva, Rav Moshe Eisemann, told him that it would be impossible, as the other bochur was too set in his ways. Still, he spent three weeks tirelessly working to change his chaver’s mind. Today, that bochur is a talmid chochom and mechaber seforim living in Bnei Brak.
In December of 1963, Rabbi Maslaton married his Egyptian-born wife, Susie Cohen. He learned in Yeshivas Ner Yisroel after his marriage and then returned to Brooklyn. While he may have dreamed of learning in Eretz Yisroel, he knew that his community needed him and he spent the rest of his life building the community with superhuman kochos.
BUILDING A COMMUNITY FROM SCRATCH
It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to find anyone in today’s Syrian community who does not owe allegiance to Rabbi Maslaton.
“He built this community from scratch,” says his son-in-law, Shlomo Sasson. “There was no such thing as a Sephardi boy learning in a serious Torahdike yeshiva until he came along. There was certainly no such thing as a Sephardi young man learning in kollel. He fought tooth and nail against the forces of secularism and wouldn’t take no for an answer. And he succeeded because he was a powerhouse who had a tremendous effect on people.”
In the days when the Sephardic Torah community was beginning to develop here, he waged a lonely uphill battle.
“If he felt that someone was misguiding others,” says Rabbi Nissim Shalom, “he would go to total war to stop them.”
It was a dangerous and thankless mission. Once, when he vehemently opposed certain negative elements of the community, a brick was thrown through his window, shattering the glass and narrowly missing his rebbetzin.
The stories of Rabbi Maslaton’s courage and determination are endless. Nothing could stand in the way of his fortitude and sense of purpose, especially when he decided that a youngster would be better off in yeshiva than public school. One young boy’s parents were adamantly against sending him to yeshiva, but Rabbi Maslaton was undeterred. He stood near the school they had chosen for their son and waited for the youngster to walk by. He then drove the boy to yeshiva in Baltimore, where he enrolled him. Once the bochur was settled, he called the parents to tell them where their son was. If that seems drastic, consider the fact that this young man is now the esteemed rabbinic leader of a Torah community. “None of that would have happened,” says a talmid, “if he would have not built this community single-handedly with his bare hands.”
A WARRIOR AND A SURGEON
“To some,” Reb Shlomo reflects, “my father-in-law was a warrior who strengthened and raised the level of the community. To others, he was a delicate surgeon who stitched together shattered lives.” But the underlying unifying theme that defined everything he did was his desire to do the ratzon Hashem. “If it was Hashem’s will,” says Reb Shlomo, “nothing could stand in his way.”
He was the champion of the downtrodden and the despondent. His kiruv activities were unconventional and unique. Says Rabbi Nissim Shalom, “He would take any Jew, especially if he was broken and needed chizuk, and he would build up that person and eventually turn him into a ben Torah. He would give enormous amounts of time, often in middle of the night, to be mechazeik others.” He seemed to have unlimited time and infinite energy for everyone. He had no schedule and didn’t sleep much, yet he was never tired. “And when you reached out to him,” says Reb Shalom, “you never felt like you were bothering him.”
CHAMPION OF ALMANOS AND YESOMIM
Rabbi Maslaton took every bochur under his enormous wings, but he was most concerned about the plight of yesomim and almanos. A son-in-law, David Benarroch, calls him the “ultimate avi yesomim.”
One talmid named Isaac relates that the rov was “definitely the most caring person I ever met in my life. At fourteen, I met him by accident. I was a yasom and I was totally not frum. He instantly recognized me as my father’s son and we sat up all night and talked. After that, he became my father. I would call him twenty times a day, sometimes at four o’clock in the morning. He put up with all my childish nonsense. He was mekarev me slowly and set me up with chavrusos to learn with. He took me shopping for clothing. He screened my shidduchim and then walked me down the aisle and served as my mesader kiddushin. I felt like I was his only child, and yet he did this for so many others as well. We each felt like a ben yochid with him.”
He was also concerned for the “yesomim” whose parents were either unavailable or unfit to care for them.
“My parents were not well,” says another talmid, “and he was there for me. At one point, I was depressed and got kicked out of school. He took me for a walk and spoke to me about life. Then he gave me lunch. After that, I would call him at two or three in the morning, and he would talk to me for as long as I needed him. That summer he set me up with a chavrusah in Lakewood and I’ve been learning ever since.”
“Nothing was beneath his dignity,” says Isaac. “He would take us to the mountains and join us for a barbecue, swim with us, and play checkers with us. He would do…whatever we needed.”
He was their father figure and beloved rebbi, yet his greatest joy was seeing these youngsters succeed.
“He didn’t need the kavod,” says Isaac. “If we moved on to other yeshivos, it was fine with him. I was a prize talmid, but he didn’t try to hold me back when I left his kollel to go to Lakewood. He wanted me where he knew I would learn better. It was never about him.”
AN OPEN HOUSE
The hachnosas orchim in the Maslaton home was legendary. It was an open house in every sense of the word. Many Sephardic rabbonim who came from Eretz Yisroel invariably stayed in the Maslaton home. Bochurim would spend tremendous amounts of time in his home, as well as in his bungalow in the mountains. Lost souls with nowhere else to go would beat a path to his door. His rebbetzin, Susie, helped create the atmosphere of comfort and hospitality.
“We would pull up in front of his house at three in the morning,” says one talmid, “and he would tell his rebbetzin to ‘make the boys some eggs.’” She prepared countless meals and sheva brachos for his boys. She was instrumental in and supportive of all his endeavors.
He cared for others yet took nothing for himself. “Not a chandelier, not a couch,” said Eddie Betesh during his hesped. He told the shul’s accountant not to give him a salary, but added, “Don’t tell Eddie.” After ten years, Eddie found out and was shocked. When he approached Rabbi Maslaton about it, he explained: “If I took money from you, how would I be able to give you mussar?”
OPENING THE YESHIVA DOORS
There were times when youngsters were ready to attend yeshivos, but the yeshivos were not ready to accept them. Rabbi Maslaton wouldn’t accept no as an answer. He was every student’s greatest advocate and would go to great lengths to ensure that the children were enrolled. Legend has it that when a certain yeshiva was unwilling to admit a student, Rabbi Maslaton threatened to “walk on his hands” until they would cave in. “And that’s exactly what he did,” the source confirms.
Often, he would bring a boy he felt had great potential to a yeshiva and would be turned down. He would tell the rosh yeshiva that he will not leave until they relented and accepted the boy into the yeshiva. Not realizing what they were up against, they humored him. He would camp out for days on end until the boy was accepted. Those boys went on to become talmidei chachomim and communal leaders.
Another time he insisted that a girl be enrolled at a certain Brooklyn school. When the menahel explained that he was willing to accept the student but there was simply no room, Rabbi Maslaton was undeterred. He purchased a desk for the young girl that matched those of the rest of the students and brought it to class. She sat there for several weeks before the hanhalah realized what had happened. Eventually, she stayed in the school and today she is the matriarch of a beautiful Torah family. It was another triumph for the man whose mission was to save a generation, one Jew at a time.
In 1996, Rabbi Maslaton opened a shul and a kollel called Emek HaTorah. He acted as rov, though he never took a salary. His talmidim say that he was a gaon and brilliant talmid chochom, well versed in Shas and Shulchan Aruch.
“He once discussed with me the meforshim on a certain Gemara I was learning,” related Rabbi Norman Cohen. “I asked him when he learned it. He said that when he was in learning in Telshe Yeshiva many years ago, he would travel to and from yeshiva by train on his off Shabbosos. He learned that masechta during those long rides so many years ago.”
He was known to have a photographic memory and knew Yoreh Deiah cold.
Says Reb Shalom: “I don’t know if he ever forgot anything, He had a photographic memory and could repeat the shiurim of Rav Pesach Stein by heart. Those were shiurim from fifty five years ago!”
According to Eddie Betesh, he knew kol haTorah kulah, leaving everyone wondering how this was possible.
“He took care of everybody 24/7 and he fought every battle for Yiddishkeit,” said Eddie. “But the first question he asked when he saw you was, ‘Where are you holding in learning?’”
He nurtured a close relationship and a tremendous kesher with gedolei Torah. “He would spend the summer with his family at Zucker’s bungalows,” says Rabbi Harary, “just to be in the presence of the gedolim who would vacation there.”
WELCOMING THE PERSIAN IMMIGRANTS
In 1977, a planeload of Persian Jews were smuggled into America in a daring mission. It was two days before Pesach and the Maslaton house was already spotless in honor of the chag. After various agencies pondered the possibilities for housing the new immigrants, Rabbi Maslaton was called. Would he help arrange accommodations for the newcomers? “Sure,” he said. “Send me all of them!”
The huge group of immigrants arrived at his three-bedroom home, where he cared for them until he found them suitable housing.
“Every inch of his home was covered with people,” remembers a family member, “while his rebbetzin was preparing Yom Tov for their own large family. She cooked with industrial size pots that year to help feed the huge crowd.”
His care and concern did not end when the chag was over. He set about placing every one of the immigrants in communities across the country and he monitored their progress over many years.
THE LOSS OF A TORAH LEADER
On Shabbos, the seventeenth day of Iyar, the Sephardic community and the Torah world lost a beloved and fearless leader. He had a heart of gold, but that tremendous heart finally gave out. The levayah was held on Sunday in front of his shul and kollel on Ocean Parkway and Avenue R. It lasted for three hours and was attended by over a thousand mourners. People wept openly in the street, having lost a rebbi, a leader, and a father figure.
The aron was then flown to Eretz Yisroel, where hespeidim were delivered by Rav Shimon Badani, Rav Dovid Yosef, Rav Yitzchok Scheiner, Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Rav Yehuda Adas, Rav Reuven Elbaz, Rav Y. Cohen, Rav T. Simantov, Rav Avrohom Salim, Rav B. Toledano, and Rav S. Pinchasi. Kevurah took place on Har Hamenuchos.
Rabbi Maslaton is survived by his eishes chayil, Rebbetzin Susie, and their children, Reb Yosef, Reb Moshe, Reb Ezra, Reb Eli, Reb David, Reb Meir, Dina Semah, Rivka Benarroch, Sophia Simantov and Esther Sasson.
He is also survived by the many thousands of people whose lives he changed forever. His impact on the Torah world is everlasting.
Yehi zichro boruch.