Rav Yehoshua Leiman z”l

Last weekend, in which the parshah we read referenced an eshkol anavim, Klal Yisrael lost an ish ha-eshkolos. Rav Yehoshua Leiman z”l was niftar after a long struggle with illness.

Separated as we were by thousands of miles (he lived in Flatbush), I did not know him well, but knew that he was remarkable the very first time I met him, at one of the first AJOP conventions. I don’t recall how we first began speaking, but it became apparent that he was a genius. (It is probably familial. Yibadel le-chayim tovim, his brother is Prof. Shnayer Leiman.) I deliberately chose the elliptical “became apparent,” because he didn’t flaunt it. He was downright easy-going, modest and accessible.

Our conversations initially were about Maharal, and spread to other sifrei machshavah. He would always challenge me – to provide a source here, refine a thought there. His Torah interests were eclectic. Although clearly self-defining as a member of the haredi Yeshivah world, he was familiar with historical and academic figures and scholarship, Rav Kook, and the philosophical works of the rishonim (the ones not studied too often any more in yeshivos).

He was extremely medakdek in halacha, carrying around a sack of personal chumros and hanhagos. (Even when he came to Los Angeles for medical treatment last summer, already in a weakened state, he refused food from all givers. He made his own arrangements for food and even its preparation. When he surprised me and took a long walk to my house on a Shabbos afternoon, I couldn’t get him to eat anything more than fresh fruit.) He lacked the somberness and distance that sometimes goes along with such dikduk. His voice was always full of life, and there was an ever-present twinkle in his eyes. He was an easy conversationalist with people from all walks of life, including those who could not keep up with him intellectually if he let out the throttle.

He was a pioneer in English-language Torah literature. Decades ago, when little else existed in haredi circles besides the Jewish Observer, he published The Light, a modest periodical that among other things, brought important machshavah pieces that would otherwise have been missed (and some that couldn’t be published in the Jewish Observer!) to the attention of the community. It was a harbinger of the explosion of Torah thought and literature that would follow.

He was full of ahavas Yisrael, which included people far from his community. He sent off series of emails to the West Coast during the imprisonment of Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel of the JDL, urging people to look in after them, and to provide for their Yiddishkeit while incarcerated. He worried about their safety, and proved to be remarkably prescient. Irv Rubin died while in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center. (His death was ruled a suicide, but the method was so out of the ordinary that many people simply did not believe it.) Earl Krugel, almost immediately after transfer to a Federal facility (where he should have been segregated from general population because he was a high-profile prisoner) was murdered by an inmate either acting on orders of, or trying to curry favor with, skinheads.

Rav Leiman’s combination of intellect and feeling, his scope of interests and learning were sui generis. He will be greatly missed.

Yehi zichro baruch.

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5 Responses

  1. S. says:

    One only needed to see the breadth and depth of the seforim — well used — that lined the shelves of his apartment.

    But that only pertains to his scholarship. His true beauty was in his manifold works of chesed and lovely personality.

  2. em says:

    Rabbi Leiman was such a special person . . . For me, personally, he did so very much . . .
    For over three years, Rabbi Leiman counseled me, giving me advice. But not only that; he was like a father to me, a zaidy to me. As the writer of the article commented, Rabbi Leiman was accessible. By email, by phone, in person – Rabbi Leiman made time for me. I could call him practically all afteroon and in the evenings after he finished teaching. Not only that; while Rabbi Leiman was in Los Angeles, he was still responding to my emails! At the time, he told me, “I’m going on vacation for a few weeks.” I thought that he just wasn’t up to teaching for a few weeks, or something . . . I had no clue of how sick he was. Apparently, he didn’t want to worry me . . .
    Even though Rabbi Leiman had his chumros, he didn’t impose them on others. His point was – learn the halacha, know what it is, and follow it. And he also told me not to impose my chumros on other people. I remember that Rabbi Leiman told me that a certain action was not required – but I saw that he, himself, did it.
    Rabbi Leiman knew how to use words, spoken and written, to give mussor, to give comfort, to heal, to advise, to make another feel good.
    Rabbi Leiman truly cared for others. He once told me, when he knew I was waiting for a ride, “Call me when you are picked up.” In his emails, he would write, HAGS (have a good Shabbos). Despite his own weakened state, he took a long, tiring trip to be at my grandmother’s levaya. And more . . .
    You could talk to Rabbi Leiman about practically any topic; there was no need to be embarrassed. I wrote to Rabbi Leiman about a couple of very sensitive issues, and he responded to my questions, never making me feel that I was wrong for asking.
    Unfortunately, there is much that I don’t remember, particularly the divrei Torah, but I do know that more than once, Rabbi Leiman said a dvar Torah that really surprised me and that I enjoyed.
    Rabbi Leiman always had a look of menuchas hanefesh about him . . . And he was so patient.
    At the levaya, Rabbi Shnayer Zalman said that the family – even he – used to be sho’el eitza from Rabbi Leiman. And now . . . ?
    Rabbi Leiman did me a tremendous favor by directing me to a person with whom to speak. But who is on the same caliber as Rabbi Leiman? Who has that same depth of understanding of people and situations? Who has that same sensitivity? Who has that aura that makes you know – here is someone I can trust implicitly?
    Boruch HaShem that time does heal; last Motza’ay Shabbos, the tears just kept coming. But still . . . I lost my rebbi, I lost my guide, I lost my teacher, I lost my surrogate father and zaidy.
    May the neshoma of Yehoshua ben Yitzchok Tzvi constantly ascend ever higher . . .
    Nu, Rebbi, maybe now, for once and for all, I’ll finally put some of your advice into practice . . .

  3. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Is anyone working on collecting his writings, especially unpublished stuff that is probably in notebooks somewhere? He is someone I would definitely like to know about. I remember the period when he was in Yerushalayim putting out the Light, or should I say lighting the light. Unfortunately my fear of hareidim at that time prevented me from encountering him. Yehi zichro baruch.

  4. em says:

    below are links to articles from Light Magazine, found online.
    I also would very much like to know if anyone is collecting the writings . . .
    I know that a few years ago, Rabbi Leiman wrote an article in the Hamodia regarding Dor Yeshorim. “Trailblazer in Jewish Genetics” or something titled very similarly.
    Also, Rabbi Leiman edited Nesivos Sholom on the topic of the Churbon, the Holocaust, etc. He also edited Responsa from the Holocaust by Rabbi Ephraim Oshry.He translated Avraham ben Avraham.
    This past summer, Rabbi Leiman mentioned to me that he was sending some writings to a publication. He did not tell me which one.

    From Light Magazine:
    http://www.aish.com/family/honoringparents/All_the_Way_Home.asp – see comment 28

    For more about Rabbi Leiman, see:

    As Rabbi Leiman wished me last year, “An illuminating Chanuka.” How apropos for the person who spent his life living the light of Torah and spreading it to others . . .

  5. em says:

    correction –
    Rabbi Leiman didn’t edit Nesivos Sholom; he translated it.
    Sorry for the misinformation.

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