By Michael Orbach
Issue of Oct. 8, 2010 / 30 Tishrei 5771
A new volume of the halachic responsa and letters of HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l will see the light of day thanks to his grandchildren.
The Belarus-born gadol hador, the greatest Torah leader of his generation, was 91 when he passed away on Ta’anis Esther in 1986. Rav Moshe’s reputation as the foremost posek, halachic decisor, and a beloved leader, radiated from the Lower East Side of Manhattan where he led Mesivta Tiferes Jerusalem for half a century while answering an unending stream of halachic questions from all over the world. Many of his decisions were published in a seven-volume collection of halachic responsa titled “Igros Moshe,” the “Answers of Moshe.” He resolved questions on an almost unimaginable array of subjects, from business and ethical disputes to complex medical issues and matters of life and death. One of Rav Moshe’s most famous opinions, still discussed at length today, permitted consumption of non-cholov yisroel milk, unsupervised during the milking process — though only in the United States.
After Rav Moshe’s death, his son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Tendler, and Rabbi Tendler’s son-in-law, Rabbi Shabtai Rappaport, culled an additional volume out of his letters. The volume was published in 1994 and is considered to be the eighth volume of “Igros Moshe.”
“Whatever someone wanted to ask, Rav Moshe would answer: things about marriage, understanding a difficult Gemarah, questions pertaining to tefilah and community life, anything you could think of,” explained Rabbi Rappaport, the Rosh Kollel of Bar Ilan University in Israel. “The only hindrance was time, but nothing was beyond answering because it was too difficult or too esoteric.”
While Rabbi Rappaport was working on another collection of letters, Rabbi Tendler admitted, “things stalled” for close to 20 years.
“Years went by, Boruch Hashem,” Rabbi Tendler recalled. “My family moved on and we acquired nudnicks — grandchildren — and they started asking, ‘where are they?’”
Some of the grandchildren found the remaining letters in Rabbi Rappaport’s yeshiva. Rabbi Tendler described it as a “goldmine.”
“Quite exposed, not hidden anyplace, were nine or so wine cartons filled with Rabbi Feinstein’s writings,” totaling close to 400 printed pages, Rabbi Tendler said. “Most importantly many of them were mucham, prepared, to be published. We took that as an order almost from beyond the grave.”
Rabbi Rapapport offered a somewhat different interpretation of how the volume came together and said that while the family had the papers, other concerns prevented their publication.
“There were simply not enough teshuvas to put together and the teshuvas that remained did not seem significant enough,” Rabbi Rapapport explained. However, that changed once the family published a notice in The Jewish Press about the forthcoming volume and received an additional 40 pieces of Rav Moshe’s correspondence that were kept by collectors.
Rabbi Tendler said that through the process he discovered an aspect of his father-in-law he was not aware of.
“He never sent out anything without leaving a copy for himself,” Rabbi Tendler said about Rav Feinstein. “Before they invented the photocopy machine, he wrote it first on a piece of stationary then copied into the little speckled notebook… then he transferred it to the company ledger, and they printed it.”
Rabbi Tendler said that the new volume will cover “everything,” from simple topics to more controversial ones, as well as some of Rav Feinstein’s personal correspondence with Jewish leaders of his time. One case in the letters deals with a woman whose husband’s disfigured body turned up months after he disappeared. Rav Feinstein permitted the woman to remarry.
“In Israel they’re not accepting DNA evidence, it is the best evidence,” Rabbi Tendler asserted. “[Rav Moshe] struggled to permit someone to remarry based on the laundry marks in the underwear.”
The volume is set to be published by Artscroll and will be considered the ninth volume of the “Igros Moshe.” When Rabbi Tendler was emailed the first 20 pages of the soon-to-be published volume, he said, it was like his father-in-law, “never died.”
“He’s back sitting in my dining room at six o’clock in the morning, hunched over the gray speckled notebook that he wrote in,” Rabbi Tendler said.
Rabbi Rappaport said he was happy the teshuvas “could be shared with other people,” but said he was working on a more “exciting” project that he hopes will soon be published: Rav Feinstein’s commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud.
“For me, Rav Moshe did not die,” Rabbi Rappaport explained. “Great people don’t die. Their teaching, the principles that they gave to us, live on. They die physically but through their talmidim (students) and pshatim (opinions) they are still alive.”