The Matchless Crown of Torah // A conversation with the Kamenitzer Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Yitzchok Scheiner, shlita

“Yisrael was adorned with three crowns: kesser Torah (the crown of Torah), kesser kehunah (the crown of priesthood), and kesser malchus (the crown of royalty). Kesser kehunah was given to Aharon, as it states (Bamidbar 25:13): ‘It shall be for him and his descendants after him a covenant of priesthood for all time.’ Kesser malchus was given to Dovid, as it says (Tehillim 89:37): ‘His line shall continue forever, his throne, as the sun before Me.’ Kesser Torah lies in wait and is accessible to all of Israel, as it states (Devarim 33:4): ‘Moshe commanded us the Torah as the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.’ Whoever wishes may come and take [this crown]. Perhaps you will say that the other crowns are greater than kesser Torah? It states (Mishlei 8:15-16): ‘Through Me, kings rein and rulers decree just laws; through Me, princes rule.’ From this you can infer that kesser Torah is greater than the other two.”
(Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:1)

One of the gedolei Yisrael with whom the Kamenitzer rosh yeshivah, Rav Yitzchok Scheiner, enjoyed a close relationship for many years was Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zt”l. Their closeness may have stemmed in part from their interconnected trajectories. In a moving hesped delivered at the levayah of Rav Scheinberg, Rav Scheiner summed up the niftar’s greatness as follows: “It was unusual for children growing up in America in those days to remain religious, let alone become a gadol in Torah and yirah.” Rav Scheiner’s acute observation certainly applies to himself.
Although Rav Scheinberg grew up in America, he was born in Europe and came to the United States when he was nine years old. The Kamenitzer rosh yeshivah, by contrast, was born in America and never set foot outside its borders until 1948, when he was a relatively “old” 26 years of age. Yet despite the paucity of Yiddishkeit that existed in America during his formative years, Rav Scheiner grew up to become one of the leading roshei yeshivah in the world, and an esteemed member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Eretz Yisrael. Originally headed by one of the greatest disseminators of Torah in prewar Europe, Rav Boruch Ber Leibovitz—his wife’s maternal grandfather—Rav Scheiner has now headed Yeshivas Kamenitz for decades.

Sadly, Rav Scheiner’s wife passed away in 2007, but he continues to live in the same home in the Kerem Avraham neighborhood in Yerushalayim, and despite his weakened state, he still travels from time to time to the United States. I am privileged to be meeting with him on this mild winter afternoon, reverently surrounded by family members and adoring talmidim, in the Boro Park home of the noted askan, Abe Biederman.

An Extraordinary Trajectory
“I was born in America right after my parents got off the boat from Galicia,” Rav Scheiner tells me in response to a question I pose about his origins. “My aunt lived in Pittsburgh, and she convinced my parents to move there. Growing up, I didn’t even know what a yeshivah was. I attended public school from elementary through high school.”

Rav Scheiner recalls an era when few Jewish families in the United States gave their children a proper Jewish education, if at all. It was a time when these immigrants were slowly but surely losing their Jewish distinctiveness, assisted by wealthy German Reform Jews who subsidized the poor Orthodox newcomers. By the beginning of World War I, only one-quarter of school-aged children received any Jewish education in New York City, and for those outside the metropolitan area the percentage was even smaller.

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