Moshe Mordechai Epstein
(1866-1934) was Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva
Knesseth Yisrael in Slabodka,
Lithuania and is recognized as having been one of the leading
Talmudists of the twentieth
Epstein was born in the town of Bakst, in the
Vilna district of Lithuania, on the 20th of Adar, 5626 (1866), to Rabbi Tzvi Chaim and Baila Chana
His father, who served as the rabbi of Bakst, had
been affectionately referred to during his days in the Volozhin yeshiva
as "the Black Genius".
Little Moshe Mordechai's genius was detected from a very early age.
The child prodigy began studying in the Volozhin yeshiva at the age
of 16, under the guidance of the legendary Torah giant Rabbi
. There, he met
his brother-in-law-to-be, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer
, and, in 1889,
married Menucha Frank, the eldest "Frank sister".
The Frank sisters
one of the most influential and illustrious Torah families of that era was that of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Frank, a wealthy fur
merchant in Kovno, Lithuania,
and a devoted follower of Torah and mussar.
Rabbi Frank, who died of pneumonia at
the age of 43, left four daughters yet unmarried, and in his will,
he asked that his wife, Golda, marry off each daughter to a young
man who showed the signs of becoming a "gadol b'yisrael
-- a true leader of the Jewish people, a colossus of Torah in its
knowledge, thought, diligence, commitment, and values. Rebbetzin
Frank took this mission very seriously,
and she investigated every candidate thoroughly.
In the end, Rabbi Frank's prayer was realized. His sons-in-law
became the pillars of Torah Jewry through the next generation, and
its guides after the ashes of the Holocaust
. When the European strongholds of Torah
were replanted in America and Israel, it was the sons-in-law and
grandsons of Rabbi Shraga Frank who cultivated it. These four leaders
were Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer
of Slabodka and Kletzk, Rabbi Boruch Horowitz of Slabodka, Rabbi
Sheftel Kramer of Slutzk and later
Haven, Connecticut; and Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein.
After his marriage, Rabbi Epstein moved to his wife's hometown, in
Kovno, and was joined there two years later by Rabbi Meltzer,
following his marriage to Rabbi Epstein's sister-in-law, Baila
Hinda Frank. In Kovno, the two scholars studied under the renowned
mussar master, one of Rabbi Yisrael
's foremost disciples: Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer
, known in yeshivos
as "Reb Itzele Peterburger". It was there
that they became intrigued with the study of mussar.
In 1894, both rabbis started teaching in the famed Slabodka
yeshiva, which was not far from Kovno. In 1897, the Alter of Slabodka
(Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel
famed mashgiach ruchani
Rabbi Epstein to become the rosh yeshiva. Rabbi Epstein accepted
the post, while Rabbi Meltzer moved to the town of Slutsk to lead
's yeshiva there. The Slabodka
yeshiva flourished under the joint leadership of Rabbis Eptein and
Finkel, and many of its students were crucial in nurturing the
spiritual level of the Jewish people in subsequent generations. For
a list of notables, see Slabodka
Rabbi Epstein, the Alter, and most of the yeshiva, relocated to
Hebron, in what was then British Mandate for Palestine.
yeshiva thrived for five years in Hebron as it had in Lithuania. In
late August 1929, Arab mobs, incited by the antisemitic Mufti of Jerusalem
, swarmed the
yeshiva, killing 68 Jews and wounding many more, in an event now
known as the 1929 Hebron
. In the aftermath, the British authorities evacuated
the rest of the Jewish community. The yeshiva was relocated to the Geula section of
Jerusalem. In 1975 Chevron
Yeshiva moved to its current location in Givat
Rabbi Epstein was known to share a warm relationship with Rabbi
Finkel. The Alter later became Rabbi Epstein's mechutan
, when the latter's daughter married
the Alter's son, Moshe Finkel. Rabbi Epstein's other daughter
married Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna
succeeded Rabbi Epstein as Rosh yeshiva of Chevron after his death.
Rabbi Epstein had only one son, Rabbi Chaim Shraga Feivel, whom he
named after his father-in-law. Rabbi Epstein authored the
, which contains his chiddushim
or novellae, on the entire Talmud.
Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein died in Jerusalem in 1933,
corresponding to the Hebrew date