Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

22 Av 5759 - August 4, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Rebbetzin Esther Ortzel o"h

Roshei yeshiva, rabbonim, community leaders and a large throng of former Swiss residents accompanied Esther Ortzel o"h, on her last earthly journey. Rebbetzin Ortzel was niftar in Switzerland, and she was buried in the Tamir plot of Har Hamenuchos.

The widow of Rav Aharon Ortzel zt"l, and the daughter of Rav Yisroel Boleg, Rebbetzin Ortzel was born in Switzerland in 5670. Her father was descended of an old Swiss Jewish family, and was known as a genuine oveid Hashem. It is told that when he brought his sons to study in the Satmer Yeshiva, the Admor of Satmer remarked to his closest chassidim: "He is a Jew with tzelem Elokim." It was in this home, replete with Torah and yiras Shomayim, that Rebbetzein Ortzel grew to adulthood.

When she came of age, the young Esther Boleg married Reb Aharon Ortzel, a young talmid chochom known for scholarship and for integrity. The couple soon moved to Telz; Reb Aharon wished to study under HaRav Meir Bloch. The Ortzels eventually developed a very warm relationship with Rav Bloch.

In Telz, two of their children passed away at a very young age. The Ortzels remained in Telz, taking comfort, nachas and spiritual delight from the sound of Torah learning emerging incessantly from the Beis Midrash. Rebbtzin Ortzel would later say that the years in Telz had been the most beautiful years of her life. So highly did Telz Yeshiva esteem Reb Aharon that when they founded their Cleveland branch, they named a room in his memory. His family knew nothing of it at the time.

Just before the outbreak of World War II, the Ortzels returned to Switzerland. A few years passed, and Reb Aharon, still a young man, was niftar, leaving his young orphans fatherless. For forty- one years, Rebbetzin Ortzel remained a widow, devoting her energy to her children. Her devotion was rewarded with children and sons-in- law who are outstanding talmidei chachomim and ovdei Hashem.

Some years ago Rebbetzin Ortzel became ill and was hospitalized in Basel. Her habits of exemplary behavior remained unchanged; even in the hospital, she caused kiddush Hashem.

HaRav Boruch Shimon Solomon, Chief Rabbi of Petach Tikvah and rosh yeshiva of Nachlas Dovid, delivered a stirring hesped at her levaya. She was the model of a great woman, he said. She had conducted an exemplary Jewish home, such as befitted the daughter of a tzaddik and the wife of a tzaddik. HaRav Chaim Sarna, rosh yeshiva of Chevron Geula, had known the illustrious family well. He called Rebbetzin Ortzel, "eishes chayil atteres baala." Although the great burden of raising children and securing parnosso for her family had rested on her shoulders, she nonetheless found time for tzedoko and for chessed, dispensing these freely, with warmth and with grace.

Rebbetzin Ortzel's mechutan is Rav Avrohom Zloshinski, an outstanding talmid chochom of Yerushalayim and of Basel. Rav Avrohom described the arduous experiences that passed over the Ortzels during World War II. Rebbetzin Ortzel and her husband risked their lives for the sake of Jewish refugees, offering aid and encouragement at every step of their immigration and of their adjustment to new and unfamiliar circumstances.

Rebbetzin Ortzel's grandson, HaRav Aharon Chananya Ortzel mourned her loss in a sobbing voice. He recalled her deep concern for the spiritual and material needs of her family. It was this concern that had enabled her children to attain such heights of Torah and yirah. Rav Aharon Chananya related an anecdote that was characteristic of Rebbetzin Ortzel. On a train trip with her husband to Zurich for medical treatment, a fellow passenger accused Reb Aharon of causing a chilul Hashem by engaging in gemora study throughout the entire journey. Rebbetzin Ortzel tersely replied: "Your behavior and your remarks are a chilul Hashem."

When the war ended, it was the Ortzels' privilege to host HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman in their home. Rav Aharon Leib marveled over Reb Ortzel's hasmodo. He marveled as well at the Ortzel's lifestyle; a lifestyle of dedication and refinement.

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