Monsey Memories: Rav Shmuel Ephraim Zalman Unger, Skverer Dayan
By: Yitzy Fried
This past Sukkos marked the twentieth yohrtzeit of the Skverer dayan, zt”l, a giant talmid chochom and posek who bridged the old world of the great tzaddikim in whose glow he basked with an evolving, post-Holocaust world in which he spread Torah and halacha for more than half-a-century.
He was born in the Hungarian town of Beled in the year 1924. His father was the rov of a town called Kapvar. As a young boy, he exhibited great hasmodoh in learning. All day, he would sit and learn, all of this with humility and middos tovos. As a young bachur he made his way to Pupa, where he learned under the Vayaged Yaakov, continuing his great diligence in learning.
It was during these years that his beloved Rebbe, the Pupa Ruv, was niftar, and his son, the Vayechi Yosef of Pupa assumed the leadership of the yeshiva.
In 1944, the Germans marched into Hungary, continuing with their cruel and evil rampage through Europe. Zalman suffered terribly during this time, most of all, the loss of most of his family. Despite all his suffering, he remained steadfast in his emunah and his Yiddishkeit—not missing a day of donning tefillin, even in the camps.
Following the liberation, he returned to Hungary, and later to Bucharest, where he met up with the Skverer Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Yosef. It was the Rebbe’s smile and love that drew him in, and he would remain at the Rebbe’s side until the end of his life.
During this time, he went back to Hungary and married his Rebbetzin, who was also a distant relative of his, and continued right on learning. A short while later, he was stricken with a terrible lung disease, which had him bedridden for a number of years. Eventually, he came to America and was reunited with the Skverer Rebbe.
At first, he lived in Williamsburg, in the glow of the Skverer Rebbe, and later he moved to Montreal. As plans for the New Square village progressed, he was one of the first to be a part of this oasis in America, and would remain one of its most important personalities.
He was one of the most important figures in the town of New Square, and was one of the first residents in the shtetel. He served as a dayan for more than forty years, having been appointed to this post by the previous Skverer Rebbe, and continued serving under the current Rebbe, shlit”a. At the same time, his brother, Reb Yeshaya Unger, was the longtime meshamesh of the Skverer Admorim.
In addition to his tremendous avodas Hashem and Torah learning which kept him so occupied, he was a prominent figure at all the Skverer functions, prominently seated near the Rebbe. He established generations of Talmidei Chachomim who continue his legacy of Torah and hora’ah.