Friday, March 30, 2018

America’s Forgotten Posek - Rav Henkin

rabbi Mintz

jewish press

He was the Gadol haDor in the United States prior to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. And, unfortunately, his rulings and his seforim have, by and large, been completely forgotten.
Walk into any shul or Seforim store and you will be hard-pressed to find a sefer written by Rav Yoseph Eliyahu Henkin zt”l. Open up a contemporary Halachic work and you will rarely find a ruling quoted in his name.
Rav Henkin studied in Yeshiva Etz Chaim in Slutzk, Russia under Rav Isser Zalman Melter zt”l. He received Smicha from Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, the Ridbaz, and the Aruch HaShulchan and served as a Rav in Russia. He arrived in this country in 1923, and eventually founded and headed the organization called Ezras Torah. Rav Henkin issued tens of thousands of rulings and wrote responsa to Rabbonim across America and beyond. He published three Seforim. Yet somehow, Rav Henkin has become “America’s Forgotten Posek.”
How did it happen? How did America’s leading Posek fall into such halachic obscurity?
This author’s theory is that there were three factors. Firstly, Rav Henkin spent most of his time dedicating himself to others, through the vehicle of his remarkable organization Ezras Torah. He did not make photo offset copies of his letters or rulings or write them again for posterity because he gave every spare moment to raising much needed funds for Torah scholars. Secondly, Rav Henkin lived in a time quite different from ours. Then, the Torah scholars were refugees, suffering in misery and distress. They could barely put food on the table. Who thought to put out Seforim? Even those that eventually were issued rarely had the name of the recipient of the letter. Finally, Rav Henkin did not have a Yeshiva or an official Rabbinic Shteller like other great Rabbis and Torah leaders. He was the Gadol HaDor and headed Ezras Torah true, but without a natural constituency demanding the Seforim, it was difficult to bring them to the printing house again. Boruch Hashem, this sad reality will soon be addressed.
With the encouragement of his Rosh Yeshiva, Moreinu HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, a Torah scholar with prodigious talents, Rav Daniel Osher Kleineman, has taken upon himself a remarkable project. Reb Daniel has started the painstaking task of reissuing, or rather newly issuing, Rav Henkin’s incisive and groundbreaking rulings that have been almost lost to oblivion.
Reb Daniel has carefully scoured the letters and archives found in the inner recesses of university libraries across the country for Rav Henkin’s letters. He has called nearly one thousand people from Maine to Los Angeles in his search for correspondences.
At times he has struck gold, finding a cache of letters back and forth from descendants of Rabbis who were active in the 20’s. 30’s and 40’s. Most of the time Reb Daniel comes up empty-handed, but he does not give up.
He has done a fantastic job in putting together the extant material. He has organized Rav Henkin’s writings in the order of the Shulchan Aruch, and has gathered all that is available in print. He has gathered material that has not been printed from Rav Henkin’s family and has found over 100 additional letters in his search.
He is now in his last stretch. This project needs our assistance. If anyone out there is a descendant of a Rav who may have corresponded with Rav Henkin zt”l, now is the time to speak up. If anyone has any such letters in their possession, please reach out to Reb Daniel at or by calling him at 732 370-0995.


  1. It's a very good article.

  2. “America’s Forgotten Posek - Rav Henkin by Rabbi Yair Hoffman - He was the Gadol haDor in the United States prior to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. …With the encouragement of his Rosh Yeshiva, Moreinu HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky, a Torah scholar with prodigious talents,”
    Horayot 2a: “This is the general rule: he who is [in a position] to rely upon himself is subject to a penalty, and [only] he who must depend upon the court is exempt [From bringing the prescribed sin offerings. V. Lev. IV, 27 ff.]”
    “If any person from among the populace unwittingly incurs guilt by doing any of the things which by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and he realizes his guilt—or the sin of which he is guilty is brought to his knowledge—he shall bring a female goat without blemish as his offering for the sin of which he is guilty. He shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering, and the sin offering shall be slaughtered at the place of the burnt offering” (Leviticus 4:27-29).
    See, someone such as Tamar who Rabbi Greenblatt married to her lover while her husband Aaron refused to divorce Tamar---would she be exempt from bringing the prescribed sin offering? Only, if Tamar can credibly claim that she depended on the Kamenistky heter and that she’s not the type that defies leading rabbis.
    Daf Hayomi Horayot 3a:
    R. Assi said: In [the case of an erroneous] ruling [of a court] [In connection with which a sin offering of a bullock must be brought if the majority of the people acted in accordance with this ruling] the majority of the inhabitants of the Land of Israel are to be taken into account [Those living outside that land are not to be included in the computation.] for it is said “So Solomon and all Israel with him—a great assemblage, [coming] from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt—observed the Feast at that time before the Lord our God, seven days and again seven days, fourteen days in all” (1 Kings 8:65). Now, consider, it is written, and all Israel with him a great congregation, what need was there for [lit. wherefore to me], from the entrance of Hamath unto the Brook of Egypt? From this it may be inferred that only these [those living within the boundaries of Palestine specified] are included in the [lit., called] congregation but those are not.
    Now that the majority of Jews live in Israel, we must ask who is the gadol hador in Israel and not in the USA, yes?

  3. Was this sefer with Rav Henkin's teshuvos ever by published by Reb Daniel Osher?

  4. Was R. Kleinman involved in the blogs trying to besmirch you?

  5. Yes.
    Additional volumes to follow, b'H.

  6. “America’s Forgotten Posek - Rav Henkin”
    The biggest problem in America today is intermarriage, particularly non-Jewish women marrying Jewish young men. Israel now has the majority of world Jews.
    America needs a gadol hador in the spirit of Nehemiah.
    “And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to [follow] the Teaching of God, their wives, sons and daughters, all who know enough to understand, join with their noble brothers, and take an oath with sanctions to follow the Teaching of God, given through Moses the servant of God, and to observe carefully all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, His rules and laws. Namely: We will not give our daughters in marriage to the peoples of the land, or take their daughters for our sons” (Nehemiah 10:29-31).
    “Also at that time, I saw that Jews had married Ashdodite, Ammonite, and Moabite women; a good number of their children spoke the language of Ashdod and the language of those various peoples, and did not know how to speak Judean. I censured them, cursed them, flogged them, tore out their hair, and adjured them by God, saying, You shall not give your daughters in marriage to their sons, or take any of their daughters for your sons or yourselves” (Nehemiah 13:23-25).
    “How, then, can we acquiesce in your doing this great wrong, breaking faith with our God by marrying foreign women?” (Nehemiah 13:27).
    Are America leading rabbis doing anything about the problem of intermarriage in the USA? The only solution is aliya. Israel has little intermarriage.
    See my

  7. “America’s Forgotten Posek - Rav Henkin He was the Gadol haDor in the United States prior to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l”
    In the Rubin dorm at YU around 1963 I once saw Rav Moshe Feinstein greet Rav Yosef Solovetchik. NYC then was like Shushan. I quote: חידושי הרמב"ן מסכת מגילה
    וכשעיינתי בכתובים נתיישב לי הענין יפה, לפי שהוא דבר ברור שבזמנו של נס זה כבר נפקדו ישראל ועלו לארץ ברשיון כורש ונתיישבו בעריהם, ואף על פי שאמר המן ישנו עם אחד מפוזר ומפורד בין העמים, מ"מ אנשי כנסת הגדולה עם רוב ישראל בארץ היו, ושוב לא עלו מהם אלא מעטים עם עזרא, וכשצוה אחשורוש להשמיד להרוג ולאבד היו הפרזים והעיירות שאין להם חומה סביב בספק וסכנה גדולה שלא יעלו עליהם אויבים יותר מן המוקפין, וכענין שאמר בהם בספר עזרא (נחמי' ד') ויהי כאשר שמעו סנבלט וטוביה והערבים והעמונים והאשדודים כי עלתה ארוכה לחומות ירושלים כי החלו הפרצים להסתם ויחר להם מאד ויקשרו כלם [יחדיו] לבוא להלחם בירושלים ולעשות לו תועה ונתפלל אל אלהינו ונעמיד משמר [עליהם] יומם ולילה מפניהם, וכשנעשה הנס עשו כולם יום נוח ומשתה ושמחה, דכתיב ושאר היהודים אשר במדינות המלך אחשורוש נקהלו ועמוד על נפשם ביום שלשה עשר ונוח בארבעה עשר ועשה אותו יום משתה ושמחה, ושל שושן עשאו ג"כ ממחרת הנס שלהן, וזה היה בשנת הנס בלבד.
    “And when I read the scriptures, the matter was settled, for it is clear that at the time of this miracle [of Purim], Israel had already been redeemed and went up to Israel on license from Cyrus and settled in their cities. And even though Haman said then to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them” (Esther 3:8). And only a few of them rose up with Ezra. And when Achashverosh commanded to destroy and kill, there were the open spaces and the towns that had no wall around them [in Israel], and there was doubt and great danger that enemies will come on them more than on the walled towns [in Israel]. As in the book of Ezra [Nehemiah] “When Sanballat and Tobiah, and the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that healing had come to the walls of Jerusalem, that the breached parts had begun to be filled, it angered them very much, and they all conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to throw it into confusion. Because of them we prayed to our God, and set up a watch over them [i.e., the workers on the walls] day and night” (Nahemiah 4:1-3). And when the miracle [of Purim] was done “to this effect: The king has permitted the Jews of every city to assemble and fight for their lives; if any people or province attacks them, they may destroy, massacre, and exterminate its armed force together with women and children, and plunder their possessions” (Esther 8:11), all of them made a rest, party, and joyous day as written “That was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar; and they rested on the fourteenth day and made it a day of feasting and merrymaking” (Esther 9:17).”
    According to the Ramban the Shushan miracle was after the 70 years exile Jeremiah prophesized and then the majority of world-wide Jews lived in Israel and faced enemies, as recorded in Nehemiah. What a wonderful head of Sanhedrin Nehemiah was: getting everybody religious and Israel strong etc.

  8. Oh, I left out the main point: מ"מ אנשי כנסת הגדולה עם רוב ישראל בארץ היו, ושוב לא עלו מהם אלא מעטים עם עזרא,

    “The people of the Great Assembly [The Sanhedrin with Nehemiah its head and 3 prophets: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi] with most of Israel [world-wide Jews] were in Eretz Yisrael, and yet no more than a few of them [in Shushan] came up with Ezra,”

  9. Yes.

    Rav Henkin's son was also a famous professor of law at Columbia law school.

  10. May I continue with Shushan in Queen Esther’s time looks like NYC in the 1960’s or so?
    מלבי"ם אסתר פרק ט פסוק טז
    והנה בפסוק ג' דבר מן הערים המוקפים חומה, ששם היה מושב השרים ושם עמדו חיל המלך והיו למגן בעד היהודים, ושם איש לא עמד בפניהם, ולא הצטרכו לעמוד על נפשם ולהלחם, אבל פה מספר איך היו ענינם בהפרזים, כי בערים הפרזות הקטנים ובהכפרים ששם לא היו לא השרים אשר נשאו את היהודים ולא חיל המלך, ושם באמת הרימו אויביהם יד להלחם בם, ולכן ספר כי שאר היהודים אשר במדינות המלך, שהם אותם שאינם יושבים בערים המוקפים נקהלו ועמוד על נפשם ולחמו בחרבם וכלי מלחמה עד שנחו מאויביהם, ותגבר ידם עליהם, וע"כ ספר כי הם הרגו בשונאיהם כי הם כללו ההריגה לכל זרע עמלק אחר שנצתה המלחמה, משא"כ בהמוקפים ספר שעשו בשונאיהם כרצונם ולא הרגום, אחר שלא היה מלחמה ביניהם:
    Malbim on Esther 9:16:
    And here, in verse 3 [“Indeed, all the officials of the provinces—the satraps, the governors, and the king’s stewards—showed deference to the Jews, because the fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them” (Esther 9:3)], from the cities surrounded by a wall, where the seat of the ministers stood, and the king's army stood and became the protector of the Jews---they did not have to stand for their lives and fight. But elsewhere there neither ministers nor the king's army protected the Jews---the enemies really raised a hand to fight them [Jews in unwalled cities]. “The rest of the Jews, those in the king’s provinces, likewise mustered and fought for their lives. They disposed of their enemies, killing seventy-five thousand of their foes; but they did not lay hands on the spoil” (Esther 9:16). This is why they said that they killed their enemies [75,000] because they included the killing of all the seed of Amalek. In [Shushan] they did as they willed and did not kill [many, only 500] as there was no war between them. [“In the fortress Shushan the Jews killed a total of five hundred men” (Esther 9:6)].”
    Notice how the Gamara refutes the suggestion that Malachi was Mordecai:
    Megilah 15a
    R. Nahman [According to a better reading, Rab. V infra] said: Malachi is the same as Mordecai. Why was he called Malachi? Because he was next to the king [“For Mordecai the Jew ranked next to King Ahasuerus and was highly regarded by the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brethren; he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his kindred” (Esther 10:3)]. The following was cited in objection to this: Baruch the son of Neriah and Serayah the son of Mahseyah and Daniel and Mordecai, Bilshan, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi all prophesied in the second year of Darius! This is a refutation.”
    This fits well with the Ramban I cited earlier, that Nehemia 4:1 etc occurred before the holiday of Purim: “When Sanballat and Tobiah, and the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that healing had come to the walls of Jerusalem, that the breached parts had begun to be filled, it angered them very much, and they all conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to throw it into confusion. Because of them we prayed to our God, and set up a watch over them day and night” (Nehemia 4:1-3).
    Today as in Queen Esther’s time, Israel is where the majority of world-wide Jews live.


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