Upon His Eighteenth Yahrtzeit
A legend in the world of Torah and p’sak, a vestige of the prewar Torah world who imbibed the fire of the gedolei olam of the prewar Torah world through the Torah he drank at their feet, Rav Tuvia Goldstein zt”l bequeathed our generation the gift of his brilliance and clarity in Torah, and the image of his superhuman hasmadah in Boro Park for more than three decades, continuing to inspire his numerous talmidim and those who continue to drink from his Torah, which is still being published. 16 Iyar marks his 18th yahrtzeit, and on this occasion, we glimpse into his remarkable life and impact in Boro Park of yesteryear.
Rav Tuvia was born in 1917 in the Eastern Polish town of Włodawa, in the Lublin area, situated between Brisk and Chelme. This is important, because his maternal great-grandfather, Rav Dovid Lieberman, was the rov and dayan of Chelme, while his son-in-law, Rav Yonah Yehoshua Goldstein, grandfather of Rav Tuvia, was the rov of nearby Włodawa.
His father, Rav Chaim Meir Goldstein, was the town’s shochet. Tragically, both of his parents contracted Typhus and were niftar when he was a young child of two years old, leaving behind their young son, who would soon become a great light.
He was taken in by his paternal grandparents, who raised him as their son. Rav Yonah was a revered and beloved figure for all the Yidden in the region, a native of Włodawa who learned under the town’s rov and was renowned for his superhuman hasmadah in Torah.
In the Glow of Rav Elchonon and Rav Boruch Ber
From an early age, Rav Tuvia began exhibiting a unique ehrlichkeit, seriousness, and hasmadah. He was chosen as the leader of the local Pirchei Agudas Yisroel, and as a young bochur he entered the Włodawa branch of Yeshiva Bais Yosef-Novardok. When he was sixteen, he was sent to Baranovitch, with glowing recommendations. He became close to Rav Elchonon and was zoche to be meshameish him for years, even meriting to spend the leil haSeder at his home one year. When Rav Shmuel Berenbaum arrived in Baranovitch, it was Rav Tuvia who took him under his wing.
On his way home from yeshiva in Baranovitch, he would stop in Brisk to meet with Rav Simcha Zelig Riger, the famed dayan of Brisk, who was close to his grandfather, Rav Yonah Goldstein, and sat on dinei Torah together with him. Rav Simcha Zelig had a son in Baranovitch who was friendly with Rav Tuvia. “I knew Rav Simcha Zelig, and I conversed with him a lot,” he later related to his talmidim.
In 1937, he made his way to Kamenitz, where he became attached to the Torah of his rebbi, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, and, by extension, of his rebbi, Rav Chaim Brisker. He absorbed their derech, and this is what he would later transmit to his many talmidim on American shores. Rav Yisroel Garber, a nephew of Rav Boruch Ber, related, “Der rebbe hott em zeyer leeb gehat – The rebbe loved him very much. And he even stood up for Rav Tuvia once when he passed where he was learning.” Another talmid from Kamenitz related: “He was the shine in Rav Boruch Ber’s eyes!”
Rebirth: A New Era of Harbotzas Torah
As though to close the glorious chapter of his yeshiva years among the gedolim of yore, one of Rav Tuvia’s final encounters with greatness was a trip he took to Vilna to visit Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, moments that would remain etched in his memory for the rest of his life.
Then came the great churban that robbed him of so much – his learning, numerous family members, his rebbi, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, and the world of Torah on the European landscape. He spent those years in Siberia and only survived through great nissim.
Following the war, he married his rebbetzin, who aspired to marry a true ben Torah. She would remain by his side as he embarked on his next half century of harbotzas Torah. He landed with his rebbetzin on the Lower East Side one Erev Shabbos in 1947. Rebbetzin Shima Feinstein immediately arranged an apartment for the couple.
His subsequent kesher with her illustrious husband, Rav Moshe Feinstein, was legendary. Rav Moshe would call him on many occasions—sometimes in middle of the night—to discuss complex shailos. They were neighbors for years. Rav Tuvia taught at Yeshiva Rabbi Jacob Joseph for decades, before relocating to Boro Park, where he opened Yeshiva Emek Halachah.
The yeshiva was opened in a shul at 2032 62nd Street (readers of this column will remember that it was once the shul of Rav Shepsel Friedman of Stavisk), and later moved to 1763 63rd Street. These shuls were experiencing a decline in membership, so the members of the shul saw a mutual benefit in bringing in the yeshiva.
With this relocation, and the establishment of Emek Halacha, began a new chapter of three decades in which Rav Tuvia charted a path, serving as a demus of Gadol who exuded a bren in Torah, Ga’onus and novelty in chidush—in addition to the fiery Torah that he gave over as a direct channel from his heilige Rebbeim—and these qualities were only matched by his no’am hamiddos, his exceptional character.
Eventually, the people of the neighborhood opened a kehillah inside the Shul, which they asked the Rosh Yeshiva to lead. He did so with dedication and with exemplary middos and consideration for every individual.
It was this fusion that forged hundreds of talmidim over the years who became talmidim for life. They saw in Rav Tuvia a “sugya” that could be studied for life. The image of Rav Tuvia bent over his seforim and his writing at Camp Ma Na Vu, where he was the rov, oblivious to all the commotion around him, is one that will remain etched in the memories of thousands of campers who will remain inspired by it.
When the rosh yeshiva was hospitalized, his loving talmidim rallied to his side, rarely leaving him unattended for a moment. Upon his petirah in the spring of 2003, he left behind a family of gedolim baTorah, two yeshivos named Emek Halacha, now in Lakewood and Eretz Yisroel, the volumes of Emek Halacha which are still being published, and a legacy of a lifetime dedicated completely to Torah and its transmission in Boro Park of yesteryear.