Wednesday, January 08, 2014

My Correspondence With the Rivevos Ephraim zt"l

This past week, Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt zt"l, author of the multiple volumes of Shu"t Rivevos Ephraim was niftar. Below appears the obituary that appeared in HaModia

I was privileged when yet a young lad of 18, learning in Sha'alvim, to commence a correspondence of several years with the Rivevos Ephraim, continuing through my years in Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. Over the course of several blog posts, I will share some of that correspondence l'illui nishmaso.

I have tremendous hakoras ha'tov to the Rivevos Ephraim for carrying on a massa u'mattan shel Halacha with a young bachur with such courtesy and friendliness. When I met him several years later, he was mekabbel me b'sever panim yafos in the same manner that was reflected in his letters.


His first Halachic response to me, from 26 Kislev 5740, concerned four questions, only the first three of which I can recall:

1. When there is a dispute in a yeshiva as to opening the windows in the Beis Medrash in the winter, who has the upper hand?

2. In tying tzitzis, it is customary to use a longer string, the shamash, to do the windings. What if one used one of the other strings, or even switched from string to string to do the winding for the various segments?

3. Can one of Ashkenazic descent go to a Rav of Sepharadic origin for a psak?

Longtime Rav of Memphis, Tennessee

The Torah and halachah world was grieved by the news of the passing of one of the eminent poskim of our generation, Harav Ephraim Greenblatt, zt”l, author of Rivevos Ephraim  and a talmid muvhak of Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, who passed away on Thursday evening at the age of 81. The levayah took place in Yerushalayim on Friday, and he was buried on Har Hamenuchos.

Harav Ephraim Greenblatt was born in Sivan 5692/1932 in Yerushalayim to his father, Harav Avraham Baruch Greenblatt, known to the Gedolim of Yerushalayim at that time as the “Masmid from Brisk”; the son of the well-known darshan from Brisk, Harav Yitzchak Greenblatt, zt”l. Reb Ephraim’s mother was the daughter of Reb Chanoch Birenstock of Lodz.

As a child, he attended Talmud Torah Yavneh, and later yeshivah ketanah Mekor Chaim, where he studied under Harav Avraham Dovid Levin and Harav Tikochinsky, zt”l. He then attended Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi under Harav Tzvi Yehudah Meltzer, the son of Harav Isser Zalman Meltzer, zt”l, and Yeshivas Kletzk in Rechovot, under Harav Elazar Shach, zt”l, and Harav Zevulun Graz, zt”l, the Av Beis Din of Rechovot.

After learning for a short time in the Mir in Yerushalayim, Reb Ephraim was summoned by his grandfather, Reb Yitzchak, the darshan of Brisk, to come to the United States to help him and to serve as a Rav there. Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, arranged the legal papers and visa.

Harav Greenblatt shared his life story with Hamodia’s Rabbi Tuvia Freund about three years ago, shortly after moving back to Eretz Yisrael. In his own words: “I came to Harav Isser Zalman Meltzer and told him of my plans. I shared my deliberations. He thought for a moment and then said, ‘Fort gezunteheit kein America, have a safe trip to America, and you will be matzliach and be zocheh to return and be mekarev people from America.’ For me this was the final decision. Later, I also went to the Chazon Ish. Both these Gedolim wished me a good trip, so I got up and went,” Reb Ephraim related.

At the age of 19, he began serving as a Rav in a shul in New York. Concurrently, he began learning in Mesivtha Tiferes Jerusalem, headed by Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, who became Reb Ephraim’s rebbi muvhak.

One day in 5712/1952, Reb Moshe told Reb Ephraim that he wanted him to travel to Memphis, Tennessee. He’d received a phone call from a Jew who lived there asking Reb Moshe to send a bachur to shore up the community there. “For some reason, Reb Moshe felt I was suited for the task. He suggested I travel there to visit the place and meet the community, and then I could decide if the job was for me or not.”

After traveling over 30 hours by train, Rav Greenblatt discovered that there were only two other Shomrei Shabbos in Memphis. He promptly returned to N.Y. When Rav Greenblatt told Reb Moshe that Memphis was a desolate place, Reb Moshe told him he’d sent him there to infuse the Jews with Yiddishkeit and help the community grow and sent him back. Memphis was where Rav Greenblatt remained for the next half a century.

A few years after his arrival in America, Reb Ephraim married Mirel, nee Moskowitz, a”h.

Over the years, he maintained close contact with Reb Moshe, who guided him every step of the way on communal matters. Reb Ephraim would consult Reb Moshe in all areas of halachah, via long, detailed correspondence, to iron out details of the halachos.

While in Memphis, Reb Ephraim published his renowned sefer Rivevos Ephraim, which includes nine volumes of she’eilos and teshuvos; there is one volume that never saw publication.

The sefarim are a compilation of thousands of responsa to questions that he received from Rabbanim all over the U.S., as well as teshuvos to questions that he sent to Reb Moshe.

He also published two volumes of Rivevos Ephraim al HaTorah. Harav Greenblatt authored hundreds of essays and responsa that were printed in Torah journals.

While in Memphis, Harav Greenblatt was called upon by Rabbanim from all over the country for assistance.

He was frequently offered positions in larger cities, but he always refused. “If I am doing my job here, what will a different position somewhere else give me? More kavod? More money? That’s not the objective of rabbanus,” he would say.

In 5762/2002, Rebbetzin Greenblatt was killed in a car accident. In Elul of 5769/2009, he left Memphis and returned to Eretz Yisrael, after over 50 years. He settled in Har Nof, Yerushalayim, where he continued learning and disseminating Torah.

On Thursday Rosh Chodesh Shevat, he felt unwell and was taken to Shaare Zedek Hospital; he passed away that night.

The levayah was held at Shamgar Funeral Home. Hespeidim were delivered by Harav Yehudah Silver, a Rav in Memphis and a leading kiruv figure there; a brother, Harav Nuta Greenblatt; a son-in-law, Rabbi Eliezer Langsam, who delivered the words of the niftar’s oldest son, Rabbi Menachem Greenblatt, from America; and grandsons Reb Moshe Langsam and Reb Avraham Baruch Goodman. Kevurah was on Har Hamenuchos.

Harav Ephraim Greenblatt is survived by his sons Rabbi Menachem Greenblatt, a Rav in St. Louis, Missouri; and Rabbi Yitzchak Greenblatt, a principal in Far Rockaway; and his daughters, Mrs. Kenigsburg of Lakewood; Mrs. Langsam of Har Nof and Mrs. Goodman of Yerushalayim, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who follow in his path.

This article appeared in print on page 16 of the January 6th, 2014 edition of Hamodia.


  1. Thanks for the posts on Rav Ephraim Greenblatt z"l.

    Here is a great article on Rav Greenblatt z"l that you may have not seen, that readers should enjoy -

    Rabbi Efraim Greenblatt, ZT'L: The Greatness and Warmth of Torah
    By Rabbi Yosef Tropper

  2. My family was visiting New Orleans when our trip was interrupted by hurricane Katrina. We fled to Memphis (12 hours by car in horrible traffic) which was the closest place we could find a hotel. I was surprised and delighted to find that I could find hot kosher food in that city; now I know that I have owed him a debt of gratitude ever since.

    Yehi zichro boruch.

  3. On the Ptil techelet website, in the section where people write questions, someone also asks if you need the same shamash the whole time, and they basically give the same answer. (That's the minhag, but it is not miakev.)

    I didn't know you went to shalavim. I find that intressante.

  4. Sorry, did not mean not to respond. [I am not a "regular" here at this time, only an "occasional" visitor.]

    I only meant that from your personal appearance, some lectures of yours I've listened to [which were apparently given in an informal chaburah atmosphere with bachurim] and from articles of read of yours, I thought you had a typical black-hat yeshivah background, rather than Shalavim.

    [Obviously that is not meant as a "judgment" in any way, nor am I capable or qualified in any way, GF, of passing judgment on anyone, least of all someone of your learning, which I respect, even when I disagree. I was just expressing a little surprise.]