Rabbi Nathan Tzvi Finkel – The Alter of Slabodka

The gaon Rabbi Nathan Tzvi Finkel Zatzal was born in the tiny Lithuanian town of Rasei in the year 5609. From his youth he was known as an illui (genius), a child prodigy. As he grew older, he was among those close to the gaon Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv of Kelm, the disciple of Rabbi Israel Salanter (the founder of the Mussar movement). Although Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv appointed Rabbi Nathan Tzvi as the director of the Kelm Talmud Torah, he did not rest upon his laurels. In fact he began establishing numerous yeshivot throughout Poland and Lithuania. In 5637 Rabbi Nathan Tzvi helped establish the famous Telshe yeshiva, while at the same time he set up the Kovno kollel. It was there that remarkable avrechim perfected themselves, and where the Mussar movement produced tzaddikim.

Rabbi Nathan Tzvi went on to establish the Slabodka yeshiva, the crown jewel of yeshivot. It was to the Slabodka yeshiva, which Rabbi Nathan Tzvi saw as his great goal in life, that he sent famous gaonim to teach. Nevertheless, he did not neglect other yeshivot, for he cared for his students as a father for his children.

When the First World War began, Rabbi Nathan Tzvi was forced to leave Slabodka, traveling with his students to Minsk, and from there to Kremenchug. In 5684 a portion of his yeshiva students left for Hebron, where the yeshiva continued under the direction of his son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein. It remained there until 5689, when Arabs committed the infamous Hebron massacre. Because Rabbi Nathan Tzvi was so concerned for his students, he became known as the Alter (“elder,” i.e., father) of Slabodka. He passed away on Shevat 29, 5687. May the memory of the tzaddik be blessed.




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