Reb Meir Schuster zt”l – An Appreciation

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

It is a sad day for the Torah world because of the loss of this great, great man.  Rav Meir Schuster zatzal passed away today after a debilitating illness.  This man was singlehandedly responsible for bringing more people closer to Avinu sh’bashamayim than entire outreach organizations.  Without exaggeration, many tens of thousands of people came to Torah observance because of the actions of this man.

The greatest insight into this man was perhaps a shailah that was presented to Rav Elyashiv zatzal, when Reb Meir had lost his father.  According to the Torah, the period of mourning lasts for three days.  Chazal extended this period to seven days.  Rabbinic extensions of halachos are universally observed in Judaism.  Chazal tell us  (based on Koheles 10:8) regarding Rabbinic enactments – “Kol HaPoretz Geder yeshacheno nachash – anyone who breaks the fence (on a Rabbinic law) deserves that a snake should bite him.”  Yet, here things were different.  Every day that Rabbi Meir Schuster was not at the Kosel, the wailing wall, was a day that Jewish people would not get a chance to be brought to Torah-true Judaism.  Should he sit three days or seven days?

It was, of course, not even a question.  Rav Elyashiv paskened that he may only sit for three days.  Rav Elyashiv had never ruled in this manner for anyone else.  Rav Meir Schuster was irreplaceable. 

What did he do?  He set people up for Shabbos. Somehow, every Jew has that pintile yid within him to bring him back to the holiest place on this earth.    Rabbi Meir Schuster, a man whose heart burst with love for others would speak to them.  He approached them, lovingly, with earnestness and kindness.  He was their first contact.  He had lists and lists of people that worked with him.  He advised, and was an uncanny shadchan of people. 

He brought them to the Heritage House. And soon after his contact, Jews from all walks of life who had just come to visit in Jerusalem now made the decision to stay the year.  One year turned to two years.

Children estranged from their Father, were brought back to him.

Now, many of these students, those who were touched by Reb Meir Schuster are teachers of Torah in their own right.  They are pillars of Jewish communities in Eretz Yisroel, throughout America, in Australia, London, New Zealand, and Holland.  They, their children and their grandchildren are Talmidim in BMG in Lakewood.

How did he do it?  Mostly it was the genuineness of his love, but he was very down-to-earth as well.  When he was younger he made bets on, of all things, who would win an arm-wrestle.  “If I win, you stay in Yeshiva for a year – if I lose you can go back.”  He was a small wiry figure, the college buffs thought he didn’t stand a chance against them.  They were wrong.  Harrys became Chaims.  Jakes became Yaakovs, and eventually Reb Yaakovs.

It was not just Kiruv, however.  If there were lone Yeshiva bochurim with no place for a Shabbos or a Yom Tov meal, he would set them up too.

The world is now a different place without him.  We are bereft without his loving embrace and warmth.  His legacy is twofold.  The first is the tens of thousands of Torah yidden that he had created.  The second?  A shining example of what one man, one person can do.

Every year the families of those rescued by Oskar Schindler gather together to remember him.  If the same were to be done by those who were touched by Reb Meir Schuster, the seats in Madison Square Garden and CitiField would not be enough.

May he be a mailetz yosher to all of Klal Yisroel and may his memory inspire us all to do more to bring our fellow Jews back to Avinu shebashamayim.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the Five Towns Jewish Times

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5 Responses

  1. Y. Ben-David says:

    I encountered Rav Schuster in 1977 during my first visit to Israel. I was at the Kotel and and he came to me an inquired what I was doing. I was already enrolled in Yeshiva and told him so, which pleased him. What stood out in my mind was the rather unusual combination of black hat and coat combined with a marvleous sun tan! What a priviledge he had in helping bring so many young Jews back to Torah. He will be missed.

  2. Raymond says:

    A couple of hours ago, before I read the above article, I posted the following on a Website accessed by both Jews and gentiles alike:

    Wow. I am feeling chills going up and down my spine, having just learned that Rabbi Meir Schuster has passed away. I realize he is an unknown entity to the world at large, but to any Jew who has ever been at the Western Wall, that man was a legend. He (probably correctly) claimed that he could spot a Jew a mile away, regardless of how that particular Jew dressed or behaved when he spotted them. He would then ask them if they needed a place to stay and food to eat, and if they would not mind perhaps attending a Jewish class or two in the process. He was very respectful of people’s choices and personal space, which, I think, helped him have the tremendous influence he had on the Jewish world, influencing countless thousands of Jews to return to their Jewish faith and people. I would be shocked if he does not make it straight to Heaven without any pitt stops along the way. Rest in peace, good man.

  3. menachemg says:

    The story I heard (many times) is that when R’ Meir’ zt”l sat shiva for his daugther (close to 40 years ago) he asked R’ Elyashiv whether he may go to the kotel instead. R’ Elyashiv ruled that he may not, but was so impressed by the question that he personally went to express his condolences, despite never having met R’ Meir before.

  4. ben dov says:

    The juxtaposition of this article about Rabbi Shuster zt”l with the one reporting blame against women in make-up for cancer is striking. It’s easy to become disgusted with the nuttiness of the frum world. Stories of sincere and loving people reflect the real beauty of Judaism and remind us why we are in the Torah boat in the first place. We should not blame Judaism for Jews but should credit Judaism for its tzadikim.

  5. A says:

    I heard from his daughter tonight at the shiva that the story is as menachemg relates, that it was when he sat shiva for his 6 yr. old daughter and R’ Elyashiv, zt”l decided he must meet (and be menachem) the person who can ask such a shaila. The family very much dislikes when the facts are distorted in retelling this story (and any other story).

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