Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin Courtesy
Arutz Sheva posted the writer's article about American Rabbi Avraham Tanzer: "Foreigners in South Africa: Selfless Rabbis and their wives who brave it out". This essay continues the story, focusing on Rabbi Tanzer's close friend and colleague Rabbi Azrial Chaim Goldfein (1935–2007).

The world of Torah scholarship and especially South African Jewry lost one of its greatest marbitzei Torah ("spreaders of Torah"): HaRav HaGaon Azriel Chaim Goldfein, Rosh Yeshiva ("yeshiva head") of the Yeshiva Gedolah of Johannesburg, South Africa, who was niftar ("passed away")on the fourteenth of Kislev 5768 (24 November, 2007) in Johannesburg, South Africa at the age of 72. He succumbed to complications from open heart surgery. His kevurah ("burial")was attended by thousands of South African Jews and dignitaries and he was laid to rest in the prestigious Chelkas Harabonim ("rabbis' section") of West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Rav Goldfein was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, the middle son of Mr. and Mrs. Boruch Goldfein who founded the first Jewish day school in Minneapolis in 1945. During a visit to that city by the Skverer Rebbe of Boro Park, Rav Dovid Twersky, Rav Goldfein’s older brother Yaacov was persuaded to leave home and enroll as a talmid ("student") in the Mesivta Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn where he became one of Rav Yitzchok Hutner’s close talmidim ("students") and also became a noted marbitz Torah in his own right as a rebbe ('teacher") in Memphis, Tennessee.

A few years later, Rav Azriel was persuaded to give up plans to become a medical doctor and to enroll instead at the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland Ohio, where his kishronos ("brilliance") and hasmada ("diligence") were recognized very quickly as he became a lifelong talmid muvhak ("devoted student") of Harav Mordechai Gifter. Rav Goldfein remained in Telshe from 1953 to 1962 during which time he also married and learned in its Kollel. From 1962 to 1966 he served as Rov in Vineland, NJ, and from there he moved to St. Louis, Missouri from 1966 to 1972, where he served first in its day school and then as magid shiur ("Torah lecturer") in the Yeshiva of St. Louis.

It was in 1972 that Rav Goldfein accepted the request of his closest friend and fellow Telzer HaRav Avrohom Tanzer who had preceded him to South Africa a few years earlier and headed the Yeshiva Bais Yitzchok (also known as Yeshiva College of South Africa – in South Africa a “college” refers to a private high school) who wished to establish a post-high school bais medrash in his school. With the guidance of the gedolim ("great rabbis") whose counsel and examples he always cited and lived by, Rabbi Goldfein accepted the call and with the enthusiastic support of his Rebbetzin ("rabbi's wife") came with his young family to begin an illustrious career that would make him the most notable longest serving Rosh HaYeshiva in the history of South African Jewry, a South African godol ("great rabbi") from the United States that the community had never witnessed before, since they were used to Yiddish-speaking rabbis previously from Eastern Europe and Hebrew-speaking personalities from Israel.

Rabbi Azriel Goldfein
Rabbi Azriel Goldfein Rudomin

An English-speaking American-trained godol in their midst was something entirely new and as it turned out, given Rav Goldfein’s warm and winning personality always conveyed with a wide smile that always bespoke a deep happiness and simchas hachaim ("joy of life"), it was a winning combination that gained him a wide and deep following among the youth and their parents South African Jews are mostly the descendants of immigrants from Lithuania who arrived between 1886 (when gold was discovered and the city of Johannesburg was born) until the 1930s when the white Afrikaner government stopped the flow of all immigrants to South Africa to protect their own jobs.

Like American Jews of those years they began to assimilate, but they always retained a strong and abiding love for Torah and its scholars, built magnificent Orthodox shuls with kosher mechitzas ("partitions'), and gave the highest amounts of tzedaka ("charity") per capita of any Jews in the world.

Many rabbonim over the years won the support, both financial and personal, of South African Jews, but when Rabbi Goldfein arrived he came with a vision to create and build not just another Hebrew day school or a community Jewish high school, even though it would be Orthodox, his unbending wish, while always maintaining the highest degrees of ahavas Yisroel ("love of Jews") and kovod habriyos ("repect for others") was to build a serious makom Torah that would become a literal replica of the Telshe Yeshiva he so loved and constantly praised. He wished to recreate in Johannesburg what he had lived and loved in the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland with its special brand of the Telzer derech ("method") of learning, its special discipline in tefila ("prayer") and avoda ("worship"), and its decades-old history going back to Lithuania with a great unbroken lineage of Roshei Yeshiva and lomdim ("scholars").

It was in that spirit, and tapping into the enthusiastic support of the community while having won over many young men who were able to enjoy his masterful and precisely organized shiurim ("lectures") who joined him, that he established the Yeshiva Gedolah of Johannesburg which he exclusively headed until his petirah ("passing"). The yeshiva soon began a path of growth and attracted hundreds of excellent talmidim over the decades that gave up opportunities to learn abroad and chose instead to become talmidim of their beloved rebbe, HaRav Azriel Goldfein.

Rav Goldfein was a soft-spoken personality whose lomdishe shiurim ("scholarly lectures") were powerfully delivered enhanced by his beautiful tone of voice, supreme command of both English on the highest levels and the loshen ("language") and mehalech ("method") of Chazal ("the Jewish sages"). He had the gifts of a powerful orator, magid shiur ("lecturer") and darshan ("preacher") combined, as anyone who attended his shiurim ("lectures") soon fell under the influence of his clarity of thought, clarity of speech and clarity of delivery – always delivered under a wide smile and sparkling eyes that shined as he spoke.

In the early years of the yeshiva he hired rebbeim to assist him, and in later years his two oldest sons Rav Avrohom and Rav Dovid successfully took over the roles as magidei shiur. They have succeeded him as the Roshei Yeshiva of the yeshiva, which has now expanded, with about three hundred talmidim, to include a yeshiva ketana known as the Hirsch Lyons Yeshiva, a high school mesivta and a Bais Yaakov school with Rebbetzin Goldfein as the menaheles.

When Rav Goldfein arrived in South Africa in the early 1970s its Jewish population stood at about 120,000 Jews, but as the anti-Apartheid struggle increased, Jews began to leave in large numbers to other countries. The Jewish population of South Africa is presently at about 60,000. During these difficult political times in the country Rav Goldfein made a momentous and life-long decision for himself and his family: He would stay on and talked about the positive opportunities that the new South Africa under majority rule would bring for all its citizens. He spoke and gave elaborate shiurim on the zechusim ("merits") of all population groups in South Africa, Blacks and Whites, Jews and non-Jews that a good and prosperous future would continue in South Africa as it always had been.

Regardless of the political changes, Rav Goldfein together with other marbitzei Torah and rabbonim in South Africa gave chizuk ("encouragement") to its Jews, warning them about the dangers of assimilation that faced them as they emigrated to far off places like California, Canada and Australia and urged all those who stayed to strengthen themselves in limud haTorah ("learning Torah") and ahavas habriyos ("loving people"). He did this mainly through his talmidim who spread his teachings and derech ("method") and through his shiurim ("lectures"), subsequently distributed through thousands of audio tapes.

Rav Goldfein established a rigorous semichah ("ordination") program for his most outstanding students and after many years of higher learning, many of these talmidim took on key rabbinical, chinuch ("education") and kiruv ("outreach") positions in South Africa. A watershed event revealing how far-reaching, recognized and appreciated Rav Goldfein’s contributions to South African Jewry became, was after the previous Chief Rabbi of the community announced his resignation, then the Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa and the Johannesburg Bais Din ("Jewish court") announced that they had selected a talmid muvhak of Rav Goldfein to become the next Chief Rabbi of South Africa.

In 2005, at the age of 32, Rabbi W. Goldstein was installed as South Africa’s youngest Chief Rabbi. Rabbi Goldstein learned almost exclusively in Rav Goldfein’s Yeshiva Gedolah, he is also a qualified attorney, and his PhD thesis, Defending the Human Spirit: Jewish Law's Vision for a Moral Society, was published by Feldheim Publishers. Razbbi Goldstein has become famous as an international outreach rabbi creating the popular Shabbos Project!

Probably the most quintessential essence of Rabbi Goldfein’s hashkafa ("outlook") was his love of and profound knowledge of the kisvei ("writings of") Maharal. He began this appreciation in the years when he was learning in Telshe but would come to spend time with his older brother Rav Yaacov on Yom Tov at the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and they were both enthusiastic talmidim of Rav Yitzchok Hutner, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, who would deliver special ma’amorim ("discourses") in the yeshiva during Yom Tov. Rav Azriel took to the study of the Maharal in depth, and he later enhanced that knowledge with the publication of Rav Hutner’s Pachad Yitzchok seforim each of which he obtained and that added to his mastery of their deep and profound subject matter.

Torah was all one to the great Rosh Yeshiva of South Africa and he taught the value of achdus ("unity"). He delved into the derech hamachshave ("intellectual method") of the Maharal of Prague, creating his own profound shiurim and a type of Torah that the young thirsting minds of South African Jewry had never heard before and which they absorbed with great love.

Rav Goldfein’s greatness was that he was able to project the embodiment of Torah, with his warm and winning personality, the unflagging and untiring support of his dear Rebbetzin, with nine children and many grandchildren always besimcha ("joyful"), a home that was always open, he was able to concentrate, combine and convey the lomdus ("intellect") and shiurei das ("lectures on Jewish thought") of Telz, with the bekius {"wide knowledge") and amkus ("depth") in Rishonim, Acharonim, and Poskim, training a new generation of South African rabbis in Halakhah, conveying the mystical and intellectual derech of the Maharal of Prague, Rav Hutner’s Pachad Yitzchok, and the seforim of the baalei Mussar ("ethicists") and machshoveh ("Torah intellectuals".

He spread Torah far and wide all over the communities of South Africa on a scale and depth never before seen, winning a loyalty from hundreds of talmidim and thousands of grateful South African Jews whom he helped to reconnect with Avihem SheBaShamayim ("Father in Heaven") and the mesorah ("tradition") of their own ancestors in Lithuania and stretching back to Har ("Mount") Sinai.

Yehi Zichro Boruch ("may his memory be for a blessing"), and may he continue to be a Meilitz Yosher ("good emissary") for his dear Rebbetzin, his entire family, for South African Jewry who suffered the loss of a great Torah leader – their Rosh Yeshiva, and for all of Klal Yisrael.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers CollegeColumbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 19881995, a Trustee of AJOP 19941997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 19952015. He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy.Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin atizakrudomin@gmail.com