By Rhona Lewis
Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv zt”l, who passed away on 28 Tammuz, (July18) this year at age 102, spent all of his days and most of his nights learning Torah. He was the paramount leader of our generation, and inspired tremendous awe and reverence in everyone who knew him. Now, every woman has the stunning opportunity to do something in his memory. A Sefer Torah is being written in his memory and women around the world have the chance to dedicate a letter.
The Beginning of a Holy Venture
It all began close to forty years ago when Rebbetzin Tehilla Abramov started teaching brides and married women the laws of taharas hamishpacha, family purity. Since there were several books and differing opinions on the subject, Rebbetzin Abramov’s husband, Rabbi Yirmiyohu Abramov (a graduate of the Ponovitch Yeshiva), suggested that she take all her questions to the top—to Rav Elyashiv who was considered the foremost halachic authority of our generation. Determined to teach correctly and seriously, Rebbetzin Abramov did exactly that: “I’d take my young children with me and go to ask Rav Elyashiv about the questions that arose,” she says. Following Rav Elyashiv’s directives, Rebbetzin Abramov taught brides for fifteen years. Subsequently, she was asked to train teachers who would in turn teach brides themselves.
When Rebbetzin Abramov began developing a manual for this training course, Rav Elyashiv directed her to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, the head of the Israel Center for Family Purity for guidance. Thus this manual has the approval of both Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, the leading authorities of our generation. Shortly after, the Abramovs began work on The Secret of Jewish Femininity, a book which gives insights into the practice oftaharas hamishpacha and is used by both teachers and students. “The original manuscript with Rav Shlomo Zalman’s handwritten comments in the margins is very dear to me,” says Rebbetzin Abramov. In 1988, the English edition of the book was printed for the first time.
While raising her family, Rebbetzin Abramov, studied by correspondence and earned a medical Bachelor of Science degree, a Post Graduate degree in Marriage Guidance and Counseling and a diploma in childbirth education and lactation consulting. In 1984, the Abramov’s, with the encouragement and guidance of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Elyashiv, establishedJewish Marriage Education (JME), an international voluntary organization that promotes awareness and a deeper understanding of Jewish marriage and family life. In the ensuing years, the Abramovs wrote several additional books that address many areas of Jewish family life: Two Halves of a Whole which gives Torah guidance for marriage; Straight from the Heart, a Torah perspective on mothering through nursing; Our Family Our Strength, which gives insights into creating a Jewish Home. Their latest book, The Unique Princess, addresses the topic of tznius, modesty. “All of these books were checked by Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein shlita, Rav Elyashiv’s son-in-law, and given approbation by Rav Elyashiv,” says Rebbetzin Abramov.
At a convention held in April this year in Jerusalem, Rebbetzin Yocheved Elyashiv, daughter-in-law of Rav Elyashiv and principal of Bais Yaakov Givat Shaul, recalled that Rav Elyashiv had instructed his family to allow Rebbetzin Abramov access at any time. Rebbetzin Elyashiv quoted her father-in-law’s exact words to explain why this privilege was awarded. Rav Elyashiv said, “Her teachings are true and correct. I went over them and so did my son-in-law. It is all two hundred percent correct and you can trust her.”
Through JME, Jewish couples have access to material that covers all the cornerstones of a Jewish home. “The issue of modesty is simply the next logical step,” explains Rebbetzin Abramov. “It’s a sensitive subject because women are defensive when it comes to discussing their appearance and conduct. It’s a topic that no one likes to talk about, but it’s time to put it on the table,” says Rebbetzin Abramov firmly. “There is simply a lack of understanding of this delicate subject. The Vilna Gaon explains that themitzvah of modesty for women is parallel to the mitzvah of learning Torah for men.”
“The Unique Princess was a difficult book to write and it took several years to complete,” says Rebbetzin Abramov candidly. “I knew the Rav felt strongly that improvement was necessary in this area, so I asked him for a blessing to be able to write it as he wanted.” Last year, Rav Zilberstein went over the book and Rav Elyashiv gave his approbation. It was one of the last approbations he was to give. “The day Rav Elyashiv left for the hospital in February last year, the Hebrew edition was released. The day he passed away, the English edition was shipped off to the USA,” recalls Rebbetzin Abramov. Following Rav Elyashiv’s directive, The Unique Princess, like the Abramov’s other books, is being translated into other languages because Rav Elyashiv wanted the book’s message to be available to Jews all over the world.
Rav Elyashiv, Torah and Tznius
When he was thirty years old, Rav Elyashiv was told by his doctor that he had two weeks to live. His reaction to hearing this prediction was to don his coat and leave the house to go and learn. “According to the doctors, I only have two weeks left to learn,” he explained to his wife. This single-minded pursuit of Torah knowledge made Rav Elyashiv into the most knowledgeable scholar of our generation.
And yet, there was another, less well-known side to the sage. Rebbetzin Elyashiv clearly recalls Rav Elyashiv’s strong connection to modesty. About four years ago, when Rav Elyashiv was in his late nineties, one motzei Shabbos, there was a large tznius convention at the Tamir Hall in Jerusalem. Rebbetzin Leah Auerbach a”h, who took care of her father, was surprised to see Rav Elyashiv putting on his coat, particularly since he had felt so ill during the day. She assured him that the convention would go on without his presence. He replied, “Without me it will surely go on, but I want to be there.” This was because tznius was of prime importance to him.
After Rav Elyashiv passed away, the Abramov’s began thinking of an exceptional way to perpetuate his memory. “We know how the Rav felt about the mitzvah of tznius. We cannot forget the words he once said: ‘If we fix the matter of modesty, there will be peace.’ Those words have stayed with us,” says Rebbetzin Abramov.
Rav Abramov thought of an idea that would combine the two areas that were of paramount importance to Rav Elyashiv: Torah and tznius. With the approval of Rav Elyashiv’s family, they decided to have a unique Sefer Torah written.
“We’re not looking for one or two people to sponsor this Sefer Torah,” says Rebbetzin Abramov. “This Sefer Torah is being sponsored by women across the globe. Every woman can obtain one letter in this Sefer Torah on condition that she takes upon herself to learn and improve in the mitzvah of modesty. Thus every letter symbolizes an improvement in modesty of a Jewish woman.”
Although Rebbetzin Abramov makes it clear that any improvement is between the woman and Hashem only, some women are eager to share their decisions. “One woman told me that she was going to make sure to keep her knees covered at all times. Another woman said she would no longer wear tight-fitting shirts and another confided that she had had her wig cut to an appropriate length.” While every woman is moving forward from a different point, there is one thing that they have in common: a desire to be a unique princess according to Jewish law. “Our sages tell us that we will be redeemed in the merit of the righteous women of the generation. Our women are truly trying,” concludes Rebbetzin Abramov.
Starting To Write The Sefer Torah
On the 26 Elul (12 September) two months after Rav Elyashiv passed away, the project took off in Tiferet Bachurim, the shul where Rav Elyashiv and his father before him gave a shiur for many years. Following the shiur, which is now given by Rav Moshe, Rav Elyashiv’s son, the shul filled with close family of Rav Elyashiv and his students, all eager to give their blessings for this Sefer Torah. Rabbi Aryeh, Rav Elyashiv’s dedicated grandson, described the hundreds of times that Torah scrolls were brought to Rav Elyashiv so that he could write a letter. In the few moments before the Rav was given the inkwell to write, he would look at the letters of the Sefer Torah with a mixture of longing and holiness.
After Rosh Hashanah, the Sefer Torah parchment was taken to the home of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Eliyahiv’s son-in-law. Rav Kanievsky, together with Rav Elyashiv’s sons and son-in-laws, Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Rav Azriel Auerbach and Rav Avraham Elyashiv all wrote letters. Rav Kanievsky blessed the project and said that he would give a personal blessing to every woman who acquires a letter.
“We will consult with Rav Elyashiv’s family to decide where to put the completed Sefer Torah,” says Rabbi Abramov, “but it is our prayer that we will merit to greet Moshiach with it.”
Now the completion of the Sefer Torah is up to Jewish women all over the world who are eager to show their dedication to the mitzvah of tzniyus.
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How to Dedicate a Letter
Make a decision to learn about and improve in the mitzvah of modesty. Then send in your name and your mother’s name so that you can get a blessing from Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Remember to add a minimum of $10 to cover costs to:
P.O. Box 43206
or use the JME website: www.JewishFamily.org
If you want to consult on adapting your clothing according to Mishmar Hatorah, a beis din that was established by Rav Elyashiv to help women tackle the challenges of modesty, call JME at 972-8-9741030.
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