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2 Elul 5773 - August 8, 2013 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Shmuel Salant, zt"l — Rov of Yerushalayim

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 29 Av (5667)

A gem that is unique in its multifaceted beauty is not left long at the jewelers. The first buyer with a keen eye recognizes its worth and is ready to pay dearly for it. Rabbi Shmuel Salant was taken as a chosson already at the age of ten, for his exceptional talents were already well-known.

His humility perhaps outweighed his greatness. In accordance with Rav Shmuel's wishes, the only praise written on his headstone on Har Hazeisim is that he was given a written semichoh by R' Abele, the famous dayan of Vilna, though it is not noted there that this was when he was just bar mitzva!

As a seven-year-old, he was once ill and in bed. The doctor who checked him saw that his mouth was full of blisters. Turning to the boy's parents, the doctor explained that if the tongue isn't clean, it's a sure sign of a malfunctioning stomach.

"Is there anyone who can truly say his mouth is clean?" retorted the sick child. "Chazal tell us in the gemora Bava Basra that most people are guilty of theft and everyone of loshon hora!"


Throughout the seventy years of his rabbonus in Yerushalayim, Rav Shmuel was to the public as a loving father and even more, a faithful servant. The Rov was always available and reception hours were an unknown. In fact, he placed his table close to the door so that whoever would need him, at any hour, would just come to the door and find the Rov ready to hear a shailoh or listen to a Jew's troubles.

When he was asked why he didn't set aside specific times for receiving the public, the Rov replied, "A person must emulate the ways of HaKodosh Boruch Hu. We say every day in Bircas Hamozone that Hashem feeds us and provides all our needs, `tomid bechol yom uvechol eis uvechol sho'oh.' Am I more important than Hakodosh Boruch Hu?"


The first and perhaps longest-lasting innovation of Rav Shmuel Salant in Yerushalayim was the establishment of the talmud Torah system for boys that we know today worldwide.

Rav Shmuel had noticed that not all the Jewish boys received a formal education. Those parents who could afford it would hire a melamed to teach a few boys together. Often they would learn in the melamed's house in a small room, under cramped conditions, with not enough seforim. Meanwhile, those children whose parents had no means with which to pay a private melamed would wander aimlessly in the streets.

Grasping the situation and perceiving the dangers therein to the boys' spiritual growth, Rav Shmuel gathered together all the parents of the city and presented a novel idea:

The Rov would appoint a melamed who would teach all children, irrespective of their parents' financial means. He would be paid a regular wage, which would be the Rov's responsibility. Aside from this he, Rav Shmuel, would rent a suitable building so that classes could be carried out in spacious rooms.

Within a short time, all the children of Yerushalayim, rich and poor alike, were learning under the new talmud Torah system. The Rov personally saw to every detail, even checking the boys' school bags, to check that they all had food. When he saw one that was bare of even a piece of bread, he would place some nourishing food into the bag.

With the new cheder, the standard of Torah was raised dramatically in Yerushalayim. From these youngsters grew the new generation of talmidei chachomim in Yerushalayim, a generation that looks back with pride to the institution that built them. The mosad named "Eitz Chaim" still stands proudly today in the center of Yerushalayim and continues to educate the coming doros, to learn and to love Torah.


In Yerushalayim, anecdotes and accounts of Rav Shmuel Salant's sharp wisdom abound.

The Rov was once standing at the door of his house and, upon seeing a man passing by, he beckoned to him to come in. As soon as the man had entered, Rabbenu locked the door securely. Quickly, he instructed a member of his family to summon two dayanim and a sofer who lived in the vicinity. When all were present, the Rov raised his voice sternly at the bewildered man, "Tell me your name and that of your wife and instruct the sofer to write a bill of divorce for your wife."

The stranger composed himself and blatantly denied everything. "Forgive me, kvod HaRav, I think the Rov is mistaken. I am not married and have no wife to divorce. I have no idea what the Rov is talking about."

Ignoring his glib talk, the Rov began to shout, "Give your wife a valid get, according to halacha! You'll meet a bitter end if you do not heed my words!"

After a few minutes, the man's facade crumbled and he gave in. The bill of divorce was written up and the Rav sent the man free on his way.

Shocked by the pace and bizarre turn of events, the dayanim wondered, "How does the Rov know this stranger? How does he know that he must divorce his wife?"

"A few months ago, there were public notices everywhere that a man had disappeared after refusing to give his wife a get, leaving her an agunah. The notice displayed a picture of the man and requested anyone who sees him to report him immediately. When this man passed by my house, I recognized him and decided to act fast and extract the get from him al pi Torah, thereby saving his wife from her predicament."


Rabbeinu's pikchus saved a community as far away as Poland from what would have been an ugly pogrom.

In the month of Tammuz 5665 (1905), a telegram arrived to the rav of Rishon LeTzion, HaRav Yaakov Shaul Elishar. It was a lengthy telegram of one hundred-and-thirty-three words, apparently written by the rov of Novominsk. It reported a story of two Novominsker Jews who had moved to Yerushalayim. They had given false testimony that five gentiles were involved in a murder. The five were condemned to a harsh sentence. In the event that this would be carried out, the local goyim would no doubt exact a bloodthirsty revenge on all the Jews.

"Please," the letter read, "would the Rav send a telegram stating that the two admitted they had testified falsely? Then all the Jews of the city will be saved."

HaRav Elishar reread the letter, not knowing what to make of it. Gathering the askonim of Rishon LeTzion, they could come to no decision. Was the letter authentic, or could it be just a ruse to get the people of Novominsk into trouble? No solution was found and the Rav decided they would together take the telegram to Rav Shmuel Salant and whatever he would decide, would be the final word.

Due to the danger involved, they awoke the Rov from his sleep when they arrived. Rav Shmuel, who was already almost ninety years old, listened to the shailoh and then glanced at the telegram. Immediately, he discerned the intent behind it.

"The telegram looks too long. No rav would write so many words. Such a lengthy message could only have been written by the goyim themselves and perhaps they forced the rav to sign at the end. No doubt they want us to report that Jews are false witnesses and whip up the fury of the masses against the Yidden."

The venerable Rov then gave his sage advice: "Avoid giving a direct answer and say you have no idea of any witnesses at all."

Rav Elishar obeyed the Rov and promptly sent a telegram back, saying that since he was a Turkish citizen, it was forbidden for him to mix into the laws of other countries and that he had no idea of any Jews who had come from Novominsk.

A few weeks later, the Jewish newspaper in Warsaw had a full report of the sharp wisdom of Rav Shmuel Salant, who had saved the Jews of Novominsk. Had the rabbonim fallen into the trap of the false telegram, the goyim would have been severely incited against the Jews and who knows how far their anger would have taken them, chas vesholom.


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