Living Legacy: Rav Shimon Shkop, zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Shaar HaTorah Grodno
By: Yehuda Alter
Thursday, 9 Cheshvan, marks the yohrtzeit of one of the most important Roshei Yeshiva in the prewar era. As a Rosh Yeshiva in Telz, Maltsh, Breinsk, and later in his own Sha’ar haTorah in Grodno (and even during his years in America), he shaped thousands of talmidim, and his monumental Sha’arei Yosher has become a classic in the yeshiva world.
Rav Shimon was born in the year 1860, in the town of Turetz, Belrarus. He began learning in the Mirer Yeshiva at the age of twelve, and then went over to the Volozyner Yeshiva. There, he was among an elite group of talmidim who learned under Rav Chaim Brisker, in the days before he opened his own yeshiva in Brisk.
He married a niece of Rav Eliezer Gordon, Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe, and four years later, in the year 1885, he became a maggid shiur in Telshe, and remained there for eighteen years, teaching many talmidim. In 1901, he became the Rosh Yeshiva of Maltch and later Breinsk, where he served for another close to twenty years.
In 1919, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky of Vilna, one of the greatest Torah leaders of prewar Europe, asked him to assume the helm of the Yeshiva Sha’ar Hatorah in Grodno. It was here that many chashuve talmidim from throughout the region would journey to learn under him and hear his shiurim.
In the late 1920s, he was assisted by his talmid Rav Aaron Yeshaya Shapiro, zt”l, later a Rosh Yeshiva in Torah Vodaath for 40 years, in writing his monumental Sha’arei Yosher, which has spread throughout the yeshiva world in the decades since.
In 1929, Rav Shimon traveled to America to raise for the yeshiva. During this time, he gave shiurim in Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon. He considered remaining there, but Rav Chaim Ozer and the Chofetz Chaim asked him to return to Grodno, shaping the future of European talmidei chachomim, and so he did.
He remained in Grodno even after WWII broke out, continuing to learn with a handful of talmidim, the rest of whom had escaped to Vilna. A few months after the outbreak, he was niftar.
He left a son, Rav Moshe Mordechai, who came to America, and a number of great talmidim, including the aforementioned Rav Shapiro, Rav Yitzchok Dov Koppelman of Lucerne, Rav Tzvi Markowitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Karlin Stolin in Eretz Yisroel, and dozens of leaders of prewar European Torah Jewry.
Through his son, Rav Moshe Mordechai, he had a grandson, Rav Avrohom Shkop who davened in the Mirer Minyan of Boro Park, and a son-in-law, Rav Zelig Epstein, who founded the Yeshiva Sha’ar HaTorah, which exists today in Queens, continuing the incredible legacy of harbotzas Torah of Rav Shimon Shkop, zt”l.