Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Tammuz 5763 - July 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Torah for the Taking, Torah for the Giving: HaRav Zushe Waltner Zt'l: 1st Sivan 5763, Five Months Since His Petiroh

By Moshe Musman

Part Three

Introduction: A Gallery of Heroes

The establishment of major Torah centers throughout the world that perpetuate the great yeshivos of Eastern Europe is one of the greatest contemporary miracles. This began over sixty years ago. It was wrought by a handful of great builders. Because of their tremendous self-sacrifice, the foundations they laid have proven enduring and today support a larger- than-ever edifice. They breathed life into a nation's dry bones and infused soul into its spiritually wasted frame.

HaRav Zushe Waltner zt'l earned a place on this list by any reckoning. While his work as a Torah disseminator began early in life and continued into advanced age, he is principally associated with the great achievement of his middle years, the creation of a Torah center in Tangiers. Most Tangiers alumni are grandparents today. Many of them fill important communal positions around the world. Virtually all are sincere, genuine bnei Torah.

The first part discussed HaRav Waltner's youth in Hungary and his travels to Cracow and Switzerland until he eventually was admitted to England in 1937. There, Rav Waltner developed a very close relationship with Rav Eliahu Dessler. After the war, Rav Waltner founded the yeshiva in Sunderland to accommodate war refugees. Traveling to Tangiers to recruit talmidim for Sunderland, he met R' Shmuel Toledano who soon built a yeshiva building and then invited Rav Waltner to come and found a yeshiva. He sent Rav Waltner a telegram: "It's all ready. Come." At the advice of Rav Dessler who consulted with the Chazon Ish on the matter, Rav Waltner accepted the challenge.

The second part described the revolution effected by Rav Waltner in Morocco. Although there was an indigenous tradition of Torah learning, Rav Waltner introduced the depth and sophistication of Europe that found eager interest in this area that had never known them. Also the concept of being a talmid chochom as a lifestyle became something that was accepted by thousands of simple Jews who had never before aspired so high.

An Eye for Potential

Rav Waltner would always stress that Rav Dessler had drilled into him that a single quality talmid, or teacher, could eventually yield a hundred talmidei chachomim whereas with a hundred mediocre individuals, one would never get anywhere. He fully implemented this advice in his work in Tangiers. The breadth and depth of his own personality gave Rav Waltner a very penetrating eye, which he was able to use in sizing up others.

He looked deeply into the personalities of both maggidei shiur and talmidim and was able to judge their suitability and potential. He thus built up a teaching staff that would ensure that the learning in the yeshiva would be on the highest level. He wanted only the best abilities in the field of education -- men who would impart a sense of Torah's breadth and depth to their talmidim and inspire them -- and he knew how to get them.

At different times, he was assisted by HaRav Leizer Lopian zt'l, Rav Chaskel Silver zt'l, his friend Dayan A.L. Grosnass zt'l and ylct'a Rav Yissochor Meir, Rav Yonah Braverman, Rav Yitzchok Tannenhaus, Rav Lipa Rabinowitz, Rav Moshe Schloss, Rav Machlouf Pahima, Rabbi Aryeh Carmel and others.

As noted by Rav Meir, Rav Waltner saw that all the teaching staff were just as dedicated as he to building Torah and were willing to do whatever job, or teach whatever level, was necessary in order to further this end. Nobody was concerned with personal advancement or with feeling that his abilities were being fully appreciated.

Talmidim in whom Rav Waltner divined the possibility of future greatness merited special effort and attention. Rav Farrache recalled, "He told me a number of times that this had been Rav Dessler's approach -- to take individuals whom he saw he could develop."

One of the ways in which this manifested itself was with regard to discipline. While he would rebuke those guilty of wrongdoing in no uncertain terms, he would be more forgoing towards a boy whom he felt had a promising future. Understandably, the students were not always mature enough to realize that this kind of discrimination was not simple favoritism. With the average student, he had to ensure that there would be no repetition of conduct that could lead to grave problems if left unchecked, while with boys with whom he felt he could work, he judged that with time, youthful caprice would pass and things would right themselves so that excessive firmness was not necessary on his part.

When he saw potential in talmidim, he kept his eye on them even after they had left Sunderland or Tangiers and gone out into the world. He would do everything in his power to bring them back to the beis hamedrash and many owed their later growth to greatness to Rav Waltner's devotion in pursuing them.

He was once asked by a talmid why he had seen fit to spend several days searching for a bochur who had left and bringing him back to the yeshiva?

"Klal Yisroel mustn't lose such a genius," was the reply.

Expansion of the Mosdos

Two years after opening the yeshiva, Rav Waltner opened a kollel. Later, a Teachers' Seminary and a Talmud Torah were established. The kollel was founded with avreichim who had learned in Rav Moshe Schneider's yeshiva gedolah in London and others who had learned in Gateshead and who had returned to Morocco to learn or teach. Some of them later became maggidei shiur in the Teachers' Seminary, principals of the Talmud Torah, or teachers in the yeshiva high school.

The kollel had a profound effect on many Moroccan Jews. Rav Waltner's deliberate choice of such a composition for the kollel is further evidence of the great wisdom and foresight with which he built Torah in Morocco.

Rav Machlouf Pahima, who taught with Rav Waltner in Tangiers, recalled, "He made a kollel and brought educated people [who now devoted themselves to learning . . .. This was instructive] for the parents of the talmidim too [who used to ask the question mentioned in the posuk,] `and if you say, what shall we eat?' (Vayikra 25:20). [If years were to be devoted to learning, what] livelihood [would there be?] There was poverty in Morocco. [Here though,] they saw people . . . who had set Olom hazeh aside entirely. [They saw] a vivid image [of spiritual living and] they turned around from one extreme to the other. Their happiness was great indeed. They saw that this is the purpose of life. They learned, married and entered the kollel . . . Seminary girls [valued] such people [and sought] to marry a ben Torah. The young women married talmidei chachomim.

"He was strongly negative towards people who wanted [to hinder his work] . . . the Tangiers Vaad (the official community representatives). The site of the yeshiva was owned by the Vaad. They wanted to take control and he fought them. By bringing educated people to the kollel he effectively neutralized the official opposition, [conveying to them the message,] `You don't come up to these peoples' ankles.' They knew that [these avreichim] were head and shoulders above [them] both in secular education and in Torah."

Rav Azran: "He . . . provided a living example of [people who took] pride in Torah. The parents of girls in the Seminary were happy -- what happiness! They had never seen a Jewish home like this [imbued with] holiness and purity!"

Another lesson of Rav Dessler's that Rav Waltner heeded when establishing the kollel was that for a group that seeks to advance together in Torah, achdus is imperative. The capabilities of the individual members are of course important, but it is vital that there be unity and harmony among them on a personal level. This was something that Rav Dessler himself had been aware of in the running of Gateshead Kollel.

It would have given him great pleasure to see the success with which his talmid was applying this and other ideas of his in disseminating Torah. Rav Waltner in fact invited Rav Dessler to come from Bnei Brak to visit Tangiers but for whatever reason, such a visit never materialized and Rav Dessler was niftar in 1953.

A Community Takes Shape

In time, a flourishing Torah community grew up around the yeshiva, the kollel and the other institutions of Tangiers, a city that had been a spiritual desert with a Jewish community that had been particularly badly affected by irreligious currents. This kehilloh is described by those who knew it as having been on a par with the finest Torah neighborhoods in Eretz Yisroel. There was no tension or competition. Bnei Torah lived together in tranquility and harmony, in commonalty of purpose.

The impression that the mosdos and the kehilloh made even on casual visitors was tremendous. One native of Tangiers who was visiting home recalled how he came to Yiddishkeit without even having learned there: "I had an advanced degree in mathematics and wished to continue studying but I wanted advice about how to avoid problems with Shabbos. I was told to come on the morrow to the kollel. It was the first mokom Torah I'd seen. R' Zushe, R' Shaloush, R' Silver . . .the ma'ariv. It was a turning point. It grabbed me. Rav Yissochor Meir was one of the first talmidei chachomim that I saw in my life, at his shtender in the succah, learning Torah . . . "

It might seem straightforward that things should have developed in this way but in fact it is nothing of the kind. Everything had to be built up from scratch and it was Rav Waltner, an outsider, who did it. He was not working with people of similar backgrounds and mentalities to his own who, by virtue of their ancestry felt at least some independent personal connection to the world of Torah scholarship that he represented. Yet the Moroccan Jews neither felt that he was trying to force them into a foreign mold, nor that he wanted to take control of their communal life.

That he succeeded in planting Torah among them is because Yiddishe neshomos are receptive to Toras Hashem no matter what their background and, from his personal qualities, they saw that that was what he was bringing them. That he was able to build to such an extent attests to his understanding of life and his wisdom in dealing with people.

He fought those elements that were antagonistic to Torah and tried to prevent its growth in Morocco, e.g. secular-minded representatives of the official communities and Zionist inciters, boldly and uncompromisingly, using every method at his disposal, yet without alienating them as people. He avoided making personal enemies, which could have hindered him. On the other hand, he led and guided those who sought his leadership, without assuming any of the highhandedness or airs of a leader.

For example, he did not try to do everything by himself. He knew how to use the abilities of others and how to select the right person for a given job. While seeking individuals who would remain faithful to his educational outlook, he tried to place Moroccans at the head of Torah institutions that he established. He wanted them to control the day-to-day running and to be seen to be doing so.

He had no personal connection with the Royal House of Morocco. For audiences with members of the royal family or with officials, he would send accomplished talmidei chachomim from the kollel, rather than go himself with an interpreter.

Rav Waltner's backers trusted him completely and he had real power; institutions were opened by his word and appointments made. However, he neither behaved nor wanted to be seen as a plenipotentiary or High Commissioner. The role that he chose was that of an administrator, working on behalf of the community. Nonetheless, it was his vision that generated the spirit that supported the entire kehilloh.

A Prince of His People

Rav Waltner's work took him far beyond the walls of his own institutions. He would deliver lectures to spellbound audiences both in Tangiers and other cities. Children, teachers, students, academics, householders and prosperous merchants would sit on schoolroom benches, in batei knesset or in universities and listen to his fascinating lectures and shiurim. He had a certain magnetism and was an accomplished speaker. His clarifications of topics in Jewish thought and scholarship, in the traditions of the Chasam Sofer and the Sefas Emes and of Brisk and Volozhin and his mussar thoughts, held everyone's attention. His delivery was full of life and humor, warmth and love of his fellow Jews.

Since Rav Waltner did not speak the Moroccan Arabic dialect in which the Jewish rank and file conversed, one of the local rabbonim would act as interpreter and convey his message to the audience. A member of the Toledano family recalled his father-in-law translating the address that Rav Waltner delivered on his first visit to Meknes, into colloquial Arabic. The topic was the two ways in which Hakodosh Boruch Hu brings people to teshuvoh -- through either suffering or miracles.

In time, Rav Waltner's responsibilities grew to encompass all Torah education in Morocco. For three years, from 1958-60, he served as director of Otsar Hatorah in all Morocco, travelling all over the country in order to open new Talmudei Torah and to supervise existing ones.

Otsar Hatorah had been set up by Yitzhak Shalom and Joseph Shamah in order to combat the influence of the Alliance and tob further Torah education among Sephardi Jewry. Yitzhak Shalom was one of the two main supporters of Rav Waltner's work. The other was the American Joint Distribution Committee, whose aim was to provide social relief to persecuted or poverty stricken Jewish populations in foreign countries. HaRav Avrohom Kalmanowitz and ylct'a Rav Yehoshua Abramovitz succeeded in eliciting the Joint's support for Rav Waltner's work.

Once a year, Yitzhak Shalom would travel out from New York to Morocco. He used to spend a Shabbos in Tangiers and he would be delighted when Rav Waltner arrived at his hotel with a group of avreichim and said divrei Torah in front of him. While he was a simple Jew, he was fluent in Tanach and it was his greatest pleasure to test the pupils of Otsar Hatorah schools on what they were learning. He loved the work that Rav Waltner was doing and didn't refuse any request for further assistance. In fact, he pushed Rav Waltner to keep on extending his field of activity and open more and more Otsar Hatorah institutions.

Again, Rav Waltner possessed the wisdom and ability to win the wholehearted support of the heads of the Joint for his work. Rav Abramovitz particularly, loved to learn and to converse with him and the two became devoted friends.

Rav Waltner knew how to speak to the financial directors, irreligious educators, doctors, nutritionists and hygienists, who were responsible for monitoring the Joint's overseas projects. While their aims were primarily humanitarian rather than religious, they saw that they had found a partner who was proving eminently capable of carrying out their agenda as well as his own, with practical and effective action.

Rav Waltner was known for his scrupulous honesty and his complete accountability for the funds that passed through his hands. In consequence, no request that he made for assistance was turned down. Rav Waltner was willing to invest large sums in securing favorable terms of employment for the top mechanchim that he wanted to bring to Tangiers and for the hundreds of others who were employed in the institutions that he supervised.

However, he was very careful with every penny that was entrusted to him. The ready availability of generous funding never led him to authorize needless expenses and he provided clear and balanced accounts. While money had no importance whatsoever to him personally, he made full use of the resources that were available to him in order to build Torah.

From time to time, delegations of US senators or congressmen would visit Tangiers. Rav Waltner and his Rebbetzin tblct'a, would receive these visitors warmly and respond to their various inquiries. Each year, Rav Waltner would travel to the United States for the Joint's annual fundraising dinner, where he was received enthusiastically by the philanthropists who had taken him and his cause into their hearts.

While Rav Waltner was highly successful in winning support for Torah chinuch in Morocco and while he achieved an incredible amount there single-handedly, he always felt that with more manpower, significantly more could have been done.

While in the United States he approached both Reb Aharon Kotler zt'l and the Satmar Rebbe zt'l, asking them to send avreichim out to join him, but they both replied that they simply didn't have people available. The response of the Ponovezher Rov zt'l to this request was similar.

Rav Waltner often used to bemoan the fact that the Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair had no problem in bringing out numerous activists to Morocco, yet the Torah community could not seem to match them.

End of an Era

Rav Waltner continued his work despite the shrinkage of Morocco's Jewish population which began following the Six Day War (in 1967), when many families started emigrating to Eretz Yisroel or France.

He finally left Morocco after the Yom Kippur War. By that time, the size of the remaining Jewish community no longer justified the great sacrifice that the work entailed. Rav Aharon Monsonego, who had joined him at the helm of Otsar Hatorah and had been assisting him, continued his work after his departure. He is still in Morocco, serving as Chief Rabbi of a community that today numbers just five thousand souls.

Settling in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Waltner served for a time as a supervisor in Chinuch Atzmai schools. However, after having enjoyed complete independence with regard to implementing his educational approach for such a long time and with such success, it is not hard to see that the adjustment to becoming part of an old and established system must have been a difficult one. He really needed the means to be able to work independently, for by this time, it was too hard for him to be working in both education and fundraising.

Eventually, he left Chinuch Atzmai and around fifteen years ago, opened a kollel with the help of the brothers Mr. Moshe and Mr. Albert Reichmann, with whose family he had been friendly in Tangiers. With his son, Rav Meir Waltner ylct'a, leading the kollel, Rav Waltner would deliver shiurim and shmuessen to the avreichim. Many young men were thus still able to benefit from his Torah and from the accumulated experience of his long years in chinuch.

The Sun About to Set

Shortly before Rav Waltner's petiroh, an acquaintance who was visiting the hospital entered his room and saw a shining light on Rav Waltner's face. Approximately forty minutes later he was niftar at the age of eighty-four, on erev Shabbos Chanukah 5763, just eighty minutes before candlelighting.

Half an hour later, the Chevra Kadisha were called. When they heard who he was, they arrived at the hospital within minutes. Later they told members of the family that although they hadn't known him personally, they were able to tell that he was a great man. All their preparations were completed in record time. The levaya left shortly afterwards, at three-thirty, and was finished by the time of candlelighting.

Like HaRav Shach zt'l, Rav Waltner zt'l merited burial on "Freitag noch mittog (Friday afternoon)," when the seforim tell us, the niftar's soul is spared the pain of chibut hakever. His talmid Rav Azran pointed out that Rav Waltner had already endured comparable suffering in Morocco, with the long, grueling hours he had spent on the road, week after week, travelling from one city to another to supervise and further Torah education. "Did he need chibut hakever after having a whole life of it?" he asked in his hesped.

A proper evaluation of Rav Waltner's huge legacy is a subject of its own. He sacrificed himself for harbotzas Torah and shunned publicity throughout his life, and he merited reaping a rich and bountiful harvest that few others can equal.

Most of his talmidim are today in Eretz Yisroel. Among them are many rabbonim of cities, roshei yeshiva of yeshivos gedolos and ketanos, dayonim, maggidei shiur and accomplished talmidei chachomim. Avreichim from Tangiers arriving in Eretz Yisroel were accepted into top kollelim. They were already men of stature and were received like avreichim who had been learning in Eretz Yisroel for many years. Other talmidim serve in communities in France, in South America and elsewhere. One can only guess at the number of fine Torah families, several generations of which have already enriched Klal Yisroel.

As this account has shown, many aspects of Rav Waltner's life and work mirrored the life and work of his great teacher, Rav Dessler zt'l. Their achievements can be strongly compared in one particular respect. It can certainly be claimed that alongside his rebbe, Rav Waltner ranks among the handful of great men who were the architects of the contemporary Torah world.

Acknowledgements: The writer thanks the members of the Waltner family and the following talmidim and colleagues, upon whose recollections these articles are based: Rav Yissochor Meir, Rav Moshe Schloss, Rav Machlouf Pahima, Rav Zecharya Gelley, Rav Yosef Azran, Rav Shlomo Farrache, Rabbi Asher Wachnish and Rabbi Eli Rothschild, whose written appreciation provided much valuable perspective.

In our recent series of articles dealing with HaRav Avrohom Kalmanowitz' involvement with Torah chinuch in Morocco, several excerpts from the memoirs of Rabbi David Turgeman were quoted. These were taken with permission from Rabbi Turgeman's autobiography, From Marrakesh to Yerushalayim, published by the author in 5761.

Letter from Rav Dessler to Rav Waltner: A Letter of Thanks

B"H, Yom Rishon, En Route to Manchester. [5703]

Friends, my soul's precious ones,

You heartened me, dear Reb Zushe, with your great good- heartedness, on seeing that you had prepared tea for me when I returned from beis haknesses. Not only that, your wife, the worthy rebbetzin tichyeh, got up for me and pressed me to taste some of this and some of that, a great number of different things. Unfortunately, I was unable to do as she wished because I was utterly unable to eat. B"H, I feel better now and have eaten my fill of the baked items that she made me for Shabbos and I enjoyed their great sweetness. I cannot express my great gratitude to the two of you, for all your goodness and kindness that you are alike in doing, each trying to go further and outdo the other. Since I still think of you as chosson and kallah, I shall tell you something [relevant to marriage].

Yesterday in the kollel, we spoke about that which Rav Simcha Zissel z'l writes -- that a person is not happy with something borrowed, only with something that belongs to him. Whatever worldly possessions one acquires however, are merely on loan from Hashem yisborach and for an indefinite period, too; they are due back every single day. If a person nonetheless finds happiness in such possessions, he should certainly do so in the joy of a mitzva, which is an acquisition for eternity.

Now, the joy of union in marriage is the greatest of life's joys, though it too, is only a joy of this world. How much greater then, should be the joy of those whose marriage is for the purpose of elevation, whose attachment is spiritual too. In all eternity, their joy will never be rent asunder. These are my heart's thoughts about you, precious friends . . . and there is more yet, as you know Reb Zushe . . . beloved of my heart but for lack of space I must be brief. Please tell your honored partner -- who has built her home with wisdom and has chosen what is both good and pleasant -- tell her the second kal vochomer . . .


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.