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1 Adar II 5763 - March 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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HaRav Yisroel Yaakov Fisher, ztvk'l
by Betzalel Kahn

Chareidi Jewry in Eretz Yisroel and throughout the world was plunged into deep mourning upon hearing of the petiroh of HaRav Yisroel Yaakov Fisher, zt'l, av beis din of the Eida HaChareidis and rov of the Zichron Moshe beis hamedrash and the surrounding neighborhood in Yerushalayim. HaRav Fisher, who was one of the world's leading poskim, was niftar on Thursday, 25th Adar I, at the age of seventy-eight. A huge crowd, numbering tens of thousands of mourners, led by HaRav Eliashiv, roshei yeshivos, dayonim and Admorim, participated in the levayoh that made its way from the Zichron Moshe beis hamedrash to Har Hamenuchos.

Promise and Fulfillment

HaRav Fisher was born on the 21st of Tammuz 5688 (1928), in Yerushalayim. His father, HaRav Aharon Fisher zt'l, was one of the city's leading talmidei chachomim and foremost members of the Perushim community. Rav Aharon received a special blessing from the gedolim of Yerushalayim that his sons grow up to become talmidei chachomim and marbitzei Torah. This followed his deliverance of the old yishuv from Arab rioters.

As a Hungarian national, who had a permit to possess ammunition, Rav Aharon successfully repulsed an attempt by an Arab mob to murder members of the old yishuv. He named his son Yisroel Yaakov after the martyred Reb Yisroel Yaakov DeHaan Hy'd, who had been murdered by Leftists associated with Mapai (now Labor) in Yerushalayim four years earlier.

Rav Aharon, who was renowned for his righteous conduct, passed away at an early age, leaving his young widow, her young sons Yisroel Yaakov, Shlomo, Meir Tzvi and Moshe, and two daughters (who later became Rebbetzin Kopshitz a'h and tblt'a, Rebbetzin Zlotnik). The Av Beis Din of the Eida HaChareidis at the time, HaRav Zelig Reuven Bengis zt'l (author of Liflagos Reuven), appointed HaRav Mattis Davis zt'l (author of Matas Melech on the Rambam), one of the gedolim of Yerushalayim, as guardian of the orphaned family.

Seeing young Yisroel Yaakov's extraordinary application to Torah study, Reb Mattis took the boy to Rav Bengis. Thus began a relationship that led the young orphan to meet and become acquainted with many of the great Torah personalities of old Yerushalayim.

During the riots of 5700 (1939), while Yisroel Yaakov was only eleven, he stayed in a bomb shelter and learned through all of maseches Eruvin, until he knew it by heart. When curfews were imposed by the British authorities, he would remain in the beis haknesses all night.

He learned in Yeshivas Eitz Chaim and became one of HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer's beloved talmidim. Reb Isser Zalman greatly befriended him and they learned together regularly. HaRav Fisher's friend ylct'a, HaRav Yisroel Grossman, related that while he was learning in the Beis Yisroel neighborhood, Reb Yisroel Yaakov would spend entire nights learning in the local shtieblach. He was outstanding even among his foremost peers. His knowledge was phenomenally broad. It was impossible to catch him, even in the most intricate topics in the sedorim of Kodshim and Taharos. At that time, Reb Yisroel Yaakov received semichoh from HaRav Bengis and from the Tepliker Rov zt'l.

He would learn for long stretches of time and sleep very little. He himself testified that he never went to sleep during the day, not even on Shabbos or Yom Tov. He maintained this regimen, although he never rose later than dawn in order to pray shacharis kevosikin. Even when he was older and became ill, needing extra oxygen, he maintained his practice of not sleeping during the day.

When he was young, Reb Yisroel Yaakov's mother knew that he learned such long hours and with such intensity that he suffered from headaches. Fearing for his health, she hastened to his teachers, Reb Isser Zalman and Rav Bengis, and asked them to persuade her son to sleep a little more. After this effort on his mother's part, Reb Yisroel Yaakov agreed to sleep for four hours a night.

Moreh Horo'oh, Dayan and Av Beis Din

Upon reaching marriageable age, Rav Zelig Wallis zt'l took Reb Yisroel Yaakov as a son-in-law. Reb Yisroel Yaakov's Rebbetzin supported him throughout her life. When she passed away, he gave instructions that her headstone should bear the inscription that she had a great part in his public service through the assistance she gave him throughout the years in responding to halachic queries.

In 5721 (1961), HaRav Pinchos Epstein zt'l the Eida's av beis din, appointed Reb Yisroel Yaakov as a moreh tzedek, a responsibility that he discharged for the following forty-two years. Following Reb Isser Zalman's petiroh, his nephew HaRav Shach zt'l replaced him as rosh yeshiva of Eitz Chaim for a time until, some time later, Reb Yisroel Yaakov took over leadership of the yeshiva which at that time was known by the name of Ittur Rabbonim.

Reb Yisroel Yaakov's talmidim loved him greatly and developed extremely close and longstanding relationships with him. He instilled in them a strong desire to learn and intense application to learning. He would tell his talmidim that they didn't have to be particularly diligent. It was enough, he said, if they learned for twelve hours a day. He constantly inspired them with greater and greater love of Torah.

During that period, he lived in Botei Horodno and he would pray kevosikin every morning together with HaRav Aryeh Levin zt'l in the beis haknesses Hachnosas Orchim (Zohorei Chamoh) in the Machaneh Yehuda neighborhood. In 5723 (1963), Reb Yisroel Yaakov was chosen to serve as rov of the Great Beis Haknesses and the surrounding neighborhood of Zichron Moshe, and he moved to the neighborhood's center.

He would often mention the miracle that he and his family experienced while living in Botei Horodno. Their accommodations were extremely run down and one day, the dome of the ceiling gave way and fell onto the family. Only by an obvious miracle did they all remain alive. That year, an apartment was purchased in Zichron Moshe and subsequently, Reb Yisroel Yaakov was appointed rov of the neighborhood and of its famous beis haknesses.

As a moreh horo'oh and as a rov, Reb Yisroel Yaakov was extremely vigilant over preserving the customs of Yerushalayim that had been practiced by earlier generations

In 5734 (1974), HaRav Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss zt'l (author of Minchas Yitzchok and av beis din of the Eida HaChareidis) appointed Reb Yisroel Yaakov as a member of the BaDaTz (the Eida's beis din), upon the advice of the Satmar Rebbe zt'l. From the time of his appointment, Reb Yisroel Yaakov never missed a session of the beis din, until his last visit there a week before his petiroh.

After Dayan Weiss' petiroh, Reb Yisroel Yaakov was appointed segan Rav Av Beis Din and, following the petiroh of the Av Beis Din HaRav Moshe Aryeh Freund zt'l, he was appointed as head of the beis din of the Eida HaChareidis in Yerushalayim.

Source of Counsel and Friendship

Over the years, Reb Yisroel Yaakov published several volumes of his shailos uteshuvos Even Yisroel, as well as other seforim, containing discourses on the weekly sedrah. He received the public every day in his home and many availed themselves of his counsel. He welcomed each visitor warmly.

People would submit shailos to his home on Rechov Chofetz Chaim from all over the world. Many people consulted him about medical problems and doctors were frequently amazed at Reb Yisroel Yaakov's profound grasp of medicine. He was renowned for his segulos for the sick and for childbearing women, and also in the area of changing names.

Reb Yisroel Yaakov maintained warm personal relations with all the neighborhood residents. He would attend every sholom zochor that was held locally. People knew that he used to come early and that he was liable to arrive before they finished their seudah, always giving his regular explanation that he "had to go to learn."

He once arrived at a sholom zochor without having been invited. The father was amazed to see him and remembered that he'd forgotten to invite the Rov. He started to apologize but Reb Yisroel Yaakov calmed him and said that he had heard that a son had been born and had decided to come to gladden him.

He had an iron control of himself that was astounding to behold. Over twenty years ago, a brokenhearted Jew visited his home and asked the rebbetzin for a drink of water. He was given what he asked for, but he took a look at the cup and found some fault with it and threw it into Reb Yisroel Yaakov's face. One of those close to the Rov was present and he became angry with this Yid and wanted to throw him out of the house. Reb Yisroel started to laugh and said that water was clean and maybe the fellow wanted to drink out of a different cup. This calmed his friend down and his anger evaporated.

He would visit his brothers-in-law every chol hamoed, commenting that even though he didn't have the time for visits, the obligation of bein odom lechavero superseded considerations of time. After he was appointed a dayan, his rebbetzin would call his brothers-in-law and wish them a gut yom tov, since the Rov was busy learning and responding to cases.

He took a personal interest in everyone who came to consult him. He was extremely punctilious in matters of halochoh, which was always his guide. He understood the details of every question that was put to him and he had a special gift for comprehending every visitor. Other poskim relied on him and highly respected him.

Once, an avreich with an eight-day-old son came to him. At seven o'clock that morning, the doctor had taken his son's temperature and found it to be high. Since then, the temperature had returned to normal. The father wanted to know whether he should carry out the bris that day. Reb Yisroel Yaakov told him that since the child had been declared a choleh, the bris should be delayed for seven days. The father explained that the doctor had argued that the baby's high temperature had only been due to the hotness of the room, not to sickness. Reb Yisroel Yaakov nevertheless insisted that if the child had been declared ill, the bris should be put off. However, he did permit the father to consult another rov.

The avreich went to the home of HaRav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach zt'l and conveyed Reb Yisroel Yaakov's answer. Reb Shlomo Zalman also said that he agreed with Reb Yisroel Yaakov's response and he added that he forbade the avreich to ask anyone else.

As rov of Zichron Moshe, Reb Yisroel Yaakov used to pluck arovos from a tree growing in the yard of one of his neighbors. He refused to accept them for free, arguing that in fact, since he was the rov of the neighborhood, he ought to be paying twice the normal price.

One Yom Kippur, by an oversight, the gabboim at Zichron Moshe sold an aliyoh that was purchased each year for a certain mispalel, to someone else. When one of them was called up, they both started making their way to the bimoh. The `incumbent' went over to Reb Yisroel Yaakov, who tried for many long minutes to persuade him to give in. He wished the man that the following year, he should again receive `his' aliyoh as usual and said that in fact, the beis hamedrash ought to compensate him for the aliyoh because of the embarrassment. Reb Yisroel Yaakov repeated himself three times.

Two months later, that mispalel passed away. When Reb Yisroel Yaakov came to comfort the man's family, they expressed their surprise at what he had said on Yom Kippur. Reb Yisroel Yaakov replied, "I knew this would happen! However, your father did not act in accordance with the gemora which says that someone who receives a blessing should say, `Omein, vechein lemar (Omein and the same to you).' I repeated my blessing three times but he didn't say omein."

His Last Appeal

Reb Yisroel Yaakov penned his last communication -- a warm recommendation for a pamphlet issued for Purim by the Rabbinical Committee for Tzedokoh Affairs in the Holy Land -- last week, shortly before his petiroh. He was a keen and enthusiastic supporter of the Committee's efforts on behalf of widows, orphans, the needy and the brokenhearted.

In recent years, Reb Yisroel Yaakov had been ill and had to be attached to a supplementary source of oxygen. He nonetheless maintained his usual timetable, learning throughout the day, taking part in the Beis Din's deliberations and receiving the public, just as he had done throughout his previous forty years as rov.

His levayoh left from his beis hamedrash in Zichron Moshe. After some Tehillim, the elder gabbai of the beis hamedrash and secretary of the local yeshiva ketanoh Keser Torah, Reb Efrayim Slominsky, announced that Reb Yisroel Yaakov's oldest son ylct'a, HaRav Aharon Fisher, would be appointed as neighborhood rov, filling his late father's position. Over forty years ago it was also Reb Efrayim who announced Reb Yisroel Yaakov's appointment as rov of the Beis Hamedrash Hagodol.

The newly appointed rov was then called upon to eulogize his father. The levayoh then left for the nearby Zupnik Plaza, where hespedim were delivered by his son Rav Yehuda Fisher, the dayonim of the Beis Din, HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, HaRav Yaakov Blau, HaRav Moshe Halberstam, HaRav Meir Brandsdorfer, HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Ullman, HaRav A. Weiss of Manchester and HaRav Y. Meisels.

The huge procession then set out towards Har Hamenuchos, led by HaRav Eliashiv, roshei yeshiva, dayonim, rabbonim and crowds of Yidden, trudging through the snowy streets in the pouring rain, weeping over the loss of this great man.

HaRav Fisher is survived by his sons ylct'a, HaRav Aharon, HaRav Yehuda and HaRav Moshe and by two daughters, who are married to HaRav Moshe Braverman and HaRav Y. Rotman, and by grandchildren and great- grandchildren, all of whom follow in his footsteps along the path of Torah and halochoh.

Yehi zichro boruch.


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