Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz

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Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (1886, Világ, Austria-Hungary (now Svetlice, Slovakia) - 7 September 1948) was a leader of American Orthodoxy and founder of key institutions such as Torah Vodaath, a Yeshiva in Brooklyn, and Torah U'Mesorah, an outreach and educational organization. His policies were often informed by Torah im Derech Eretz[1] . In the words of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein: "Were it not for him, there would be no Torah study and no Fear of Heaven at all in America."

Biography[edit]

Mendlowitz was born in Világ, Hungary, a small town near the border of Poland, to a Hasidic family. He pronounced his family name Mendelovich. His mother died when he was twelve, and shortly afterwards the family relocated to Mezőlaborc (now Slovak: Medzilaborce), where he studied under the local rabbis. Having received semicha at 17, he continued his studies under Rabbi Simcha Bunim Schreiber (the Shevet Sofer, grandson of the Chatam Sofer). Throughout his life, however, he refused to use the title of Rabbi and insisted on being referred to as "Mr. Mendlowitz."

At 22 he married in the town of Humenné, and began to study several Jewish writings not well known in Hungary, including the works of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch; this briefly led to controversy until he could prove the relevance of Hirsch's work in defending the Orthodox viewpoint against attempts at reforming Jewish practice.

Activities[edit]

He actively sought positions in Germany and the United States, with the intention of disseminating knowledge of Judaism to Jews previously unexposed to their heritage, and in September 1913, he arrived alone in Philadelphia. He lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania for seven years, teaching in the local Talmud Torah (afternoon program in Jewish studies). In 1920 he was able to bring his family from Hungary, and settled in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The founding members of the yeshiva Torah Vodaath soon offered him the principalship of the institution. Originally starting off as an elementary school, Rabbi Shraga Feivel soon added the first Yeshiva high school in America. The yeshiva opened its mesivta in 1926 and then under Rabbi Mendlowitz' direction, another first in America, a post-graduate program. Rabbi Mendlowitz first appointed Rabbi Gedalia Schorr to the faculty of the Yeshiva, later to become its principal and Rosh Yeshiva.

Despite his devotion to Torah Vodaath he assisted in the founding (both personally and financially) of several similar institutions, such as Mesivta Chaim Berlin (to which he relinquished a number of his top pupils), Telshe Cleveland and Beis Medrash Gevoha. All grew to occupy important places in 20th century American Orthodoxy.

His work in Jewish education extended to several other organisations he founded. Aish Dos was a specialized institution that focused on teaching outreach skills, Torah Umesora was a nationwide umbrella organization for Jewish day schools, and Beis Medrash Elyon was one of America's first post-graduate yeshivas (which also included a kollel). In 1931 he founded Camp Mesivta, the first yeshiva day camp.

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