Monsey Memories: Rav Shmelke Taubenfeld
The first day of Sukkos marks the yohrtzeit of one of Monsey’s all-time ga’onim, one of the prime products of Beis Medrash Elyon (where he was known as the Roiter Iluy), and the Rov of Monsey’s Khal Charedim, Rav Shmuel Shmelka Taubenfeld, zt”l.
Rav Shmelke was born in the town of Yaroslav in the 1930’s, where he learned with a melamed. But soon, the war came, and that family went on the run from the Nazis, ending up in Siberia. An incredible series of events happened to the young iluy while in Siberia when his melamed—who had since left the world— would come to him in a dream every night to teach him Torah. When the young boy took notice of the oddity of this, then he stopped coming.
IN 1948, the family went to Eretz Yisroel for a year, where he learned in the nascent yeshiva established by the Belzer Rebbe. The Rebbe Reb Ahre’le lived in Tel Aviv and made it clear that the bochurim were to remain at the yeshivah rather than join him for Shabbos, except for one. The young man from Yaroslav was welcome.
Reb Shmelke arrived in America in 1949, seemingly a finished product, proficient in Shas, poskim, and Midrash. After spending a few weeks in Torah Vodaas, he sought out the Torah outpost in Monsey, New York, known as Beis Medrash Elyon. Rav Reuven Grozovsky, who was then heading the yeshiva, was skeptical of the Galician newcomer. Nevertheless, a bechinah was arranged in which Shmelke would sit in the shiur and then repeat the shiur back to the Rosh Yeshiva.
He did so, not missing a single nuance. Reb Shmelka’s repetition of the shiur was impeccable. “At this point, the Rosh Yeshiva paused to cough,” the bochur told the Rosh Yeshiva. “Today,” the Rosh Yeshiva remarked to the other rebbeim, “an eme’se iluy arrived.”
He would learn day and night, and he became a legend within the chaburah of beis medrash Elyon; he was known to spend his nights in the beis medrash, even by the gentile custodian.
Rabbi Nosson Scherman, General Editor of Artscroll/Mesorah, writes, ““I was a roommate of Harav Shmuel (Shmelke) Taubenfeld, zt’l, a rare iluy who was a tremendous talmid chacham. One Shabbos afternoon, he learned through the entire She’eilos U’teshuvos Rav Akiva Eiger. Inevitably, we were all in awe of Rav Shmelke.”
Reb Eli Tabak, zt’l, a member of Reb Shmelka’s close-knit chaburah, recalls the night Reb Shmelka first discovered a sefer written by Ramchal, called Yarim Moshe. “He learned through the entire sefer that first night, and he said over from it for the rest of his life.”
For years, he lived a simple life, sitting and learning, while living in the tiny yeshiva bungalows, and for years, he served as the rov of Khal Chareidim, where he was deeply beloved by the mispalelim, and they felt incredible pride at being associated with this gadol.
At the end of his short life, he grew weaker, and on the first day of Sukkos of the year 1985, he returned his pure neshomoh to its maker. His Levaya took place the second evening of Yom Tov and he was laid to rest on Har Mamenuchos in the chelkas harabanim—following a lifetime dedicated to Torah and Avodah.