“What is a Telzer and how is Telshe different from other places?”
That was the question that Rav Avrohom Chaim Levin, rosh yeshivah of Telshe Chicago, asked in a shmuess to talmidim of the yeshivah. In that speech, he made a list of seven things that he thought exemplified the essence of Telshe: limud haTorah with depth, emes and yashrus, seder, nikayon, logic, kiddush sheim shamayim, and achrayus.
“Some people will add other things,” Rav Levin said. “But at the very minimum, voz iz Telz (what is Telshe)?” These seven things, he said, along with the sefarim of the Telzer roshei yeshivah, were an encapsulation of the qualities taught by Telshe.
In the aftermath of Rav Levin’s passing last week, talmidim of Telshe and Jews around the world remembered Rav Levin himself as an encapsulation of those qualities that he had expressed as central to the Telzer identity.
Rav Levin was born in 1932 in Vashki, where his father, Rav Eliezer—a talmid of Radin and Kelm—was the rav. The Levins traveled to the US when Rav Levin was still a young boy and settled in Detroit. Jewish children of the era in Detroit attended public school; when Rav Levin was old enough, he was sent to Telshe in Cleveland, which had been established in 1942 by Rav Chaim Mordechai Katz and Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch. Rav Levin soon became a prize talmid of the roshei yeshivah.
Rav Levin married Esther Ginsburg, the daughter of Rav Ephraim Mordechai Ginsburg, the rosh yeshivah of the Mirrer Yeshivah in Flatbush. After their marriage, they were living in Detroit with Rav Levin’s father—after the passing of his mother—when a momentous request came from Rav Chaim Mordechai Katz, in 1960.
Rav Katz had been asked by balebatim in Chicago to establish a yeshivah in the city, and he wanted Rav Levin, still in his 20s, and Rav Chaim Schmelczer to lead it. Rav Levin was reluctant to do so, because his father was alone, but Rav Katz convinced him to go for Elul. Over that one month, Rav Katz found a shidduch for the older Rav Levin, so that he was no longer alone, and his son was able to remain in Chicago, where he was rosh yeshivah for almost 60 years. (Rav Chaim Dov Keller soon joined the yeshivah as rosh yeshivah along with Rav Levin.)
Rav Levin served both as a leader within the city of Chicago and as a national leader of Torah Jewry, including in Torah Umesorah and as one of the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisrael of America. In his Torah, he was acknowledged as one of the true talmidim of Rav Elya Meir Bloch, carrying along the special mesorah of Telshe and the famed insights of the rosh yeshivah. He was also known as a personable but strict teacher of talmidim, thousands of whom learned from him over the decades.
Hespeidim were held at a levayah in Telshe-Chicago, then in Beth Medrash Govoha, and then at the Ponovezher beis hachayim in Eretz Yisrael, where his kevurah took place.
Over the next few pages, those who knew and learned from the great Telzer rosh yeshivah present a small portrait of his special character and personality, which klal Yisrael is now mourning. –Yossi Krauss