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8 Tishrei 5772 - October 6, 2011 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Gavad of Ungvar HaRav Menasheh Klein zt"l

By Yechiel Sever

The Gavad of Ungvar HaRav Menasheh Klein, a prodigious posek who wrote Mishneh Halachos, passed away last Wednesday, erev Rosh Hashana, in the US.

He was born in Ungvar to his father Eliezer Zeev, who was known as one of the leading talmidei chachomim in the region and never engaged in idle conversation.

As a child Menasheh Klein was tutored by HaRav Y. Friedman, the dayan of Davrani. Before he reached bar mitzvah age he learned to sleep on a sack of straw and to learn Torah in a state of constant deprivation. Later he learned under HaRav Yisroel Menachem Alter Chaim Hoffman, the av beis din of Nadikovitz. His daily schedule began before daybreak with a dip in a mikveh that was often partially covered with ice.

He then studied at Yeshivas Ungvar, under HaRav Yosef Elimelech Kahane Hy"d, a talmid of HaRav Chaim Tzvi Manheimer, author of Ein Habedolach and a talmid muvhok of the Chasam Sofer. The Gavad zt"l recalled that Yeshivas Ungvar had 300 students and was widely known. They learned six blat of gemora per week: one-and-a-half in depth, two with Rashi and Tosafos and two with just Rashi. They also had shiurim on the Shulchan Oruch and were tested on all the material every week.

Soon after his arrival at the yeshiva he became known as an illui and older students often came to him to clarify tough sugyos. The shortage of food did not prevent him from growing in Torah and avodas Hashem. Together with his rov he suffered in the ghettos and concentration camps, experiencing all the horrors of the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of almost all of his family.

As a young man, tormented and starved and bereft of family and friends, emerging with no worldly possessions, he remained strong in his emunoh and Torah study, carrying aloft the torch of Torah and emunoh. The topic of the Holocaust and recalling the acts perpetrated by Amolek never left his thoughts. In his books he dedicated a chapter to World War II, noting, "We are not among those who say that during the Holocaust and all that we went through was hester ponim. To the contrary, we said all of the events that transpired were a sign of Hashem's compassion, since they rectified and refined the Jewish people."

In a special booklet he prepared called Pirsumei Nissa, he writes, "When I was at the Buna Concentration Camp, one day I was found committing the sin of gathering potato peels. Two kappos laid me down on a bench and proceeded to hit me with a heavy bar. I suffered nearly 100 blows until my whole body was swollen and I was near death. With the last of my strength I hobbled into the camp and went to the office for help, but they sent me outside.

"I stood outside in my wretched state, completely tormented and broken, and prayed to Hashem in heartfelt weeping. Then suddenly I saw an S.S. officer alongside me, asking what had happened to me. Of course I was very alarmed. These beasts were capable of anything and the life of a Jew was a trifling matter to them. Still, I told him there was an evil kappo who abused me for no reason and here nobody waned to help me. To my great surprise the Nazi emerged after a few minutes, telling me not to worry, tomorrow everything would be taken care of.

"Of course I didn't believe a word he said, but nevertheless I walked away feeling a bit better. The next day we found out that the evil kappo had been replaced by one who was a bit more humane, which brought some relief.

"Those who know what took place in the camps can understand how utterly amazing a story like this is. Since when does a Nazi ask a Jew why he was crying? How was he able to understand my Yiddish? Why did he decide to help, especially since the Nazis never interfered with the work arrangements and the supervisors they appointed? And moreover, nobody knew this Nazi! He was sent from Above to save me, and Hashem brought it about."

Despite the horrific conditions, HaRav Klein went to great lengths to keep mitzvas. "The mesirus nefesh for mitzvas was extraordinary. Before Rosh Hashana we were very upset that we lacked a shofar, but an open miracle took place: while walking from the camp to our work site we found a shofar cast off by the side of the road that was just barely the minimum size.

"On Yom Kippur I didn't want to eat, even though it was permitted. To toss out the food was not feasible, because not eating was akin to falling short in your work, so when nobody was looking I put my portion on someone else's plate. When the wicked kappo asked where the food was, I answered that I had been hungry and had finished eating quickly. He continued to suspect me and decided to punish me. In the middle of the fast and the oppressive heat, he instructed me to carry a large box filled with sand and rocks, and to carry it up to the roof of a three-story building. A weakened person in the middle of a fast asked to carry such heavy items would have had no chance. But HaKadosh Boruch Hu gave me exceptional strength that lasted until the end of the day."

The Gavad's spirit remained intact. Immediately after the war, while still in a refugee camp on European soil, he started looking for ways to help his fellow survivors.

In 5706 (1946) he emigrated to the United States, where he renewed his bond with the Klausenberg Rebbe.

His initial period in the US was no bed of roses. Upon arriving at the shul that had employed him he was flabbergasted to see there was no kosher mechitzoh. Of course he demanded a proper mechitzoh, and subsequently a temporary mechitza was installed. On Yom Kippur, when the congregants arrived, a dispute broke out over the "stringencies" the young rabbi had introduced. Eventually the debate was quelled when one of the participants stepped up to the bimah, announcing that this was the Jewish law and it could not be challenged. Later the Gavad learned that the man had served as a High Court justice, therefore his remarks were heeded.

That was a sign of the times in the US during that period, when most rabbonim were subject to the synagogue president, not vice versa. He would not accept this and resigned after Yom Kippur, which entailed mesirus nefesh since he only had two dollars to his name at the time and losing his post could mean he would go hungry.

In 5718 he started to publish his series of seforim Meshaneh Halochos, a commentary on the Halochos Gedolos. The Brisker Rav praised the seforim. The end of the volume included the first of thousands of teshuvos that he eventually published. He had a strong relationship with the Steipler Gaon zt"l and they exchanged dozens of letters.

He later founded his yeshiva Beis Shearim that settled in Boro Park. In 5743 he laid the cornerstone of Kiryat Ungvar in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem that included a full range of communal institutions. His son HaRav Dovid Shlomoh Klein shlita stands at the head of that community. In recent years he spent most of his time in Jerusalem.

The levaya was on erev Rosh Hashana, leaving from Ramot. Tehillim were aid by HaRav Shlomo Neiman the rov of Ramot. The Admor of Lelov-Boro Park, his son-in-law, spoke via satellite. His oldest son, HaRav Dovid Sholom, spoke, as well as his other sons, HaRav Amram and HaRav Moshe, and the Av Beis Din HaRav Avrohom Moshe Halpern who announced that his three sons would serve in the stead of the departed.

As per his request, he was buried in Tzfas, near his ancestor, HaRav Amram Chasida zt"l, author of the Beis Shearim, whose grave he renovated in 5720.


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