Memory Lane: Rav Benzion Dovid Taubenfligel
In last week’s article we wrote about Rav Grossman who served as the rov of Maimonides Hospital (1958-1973). He directly succeeded another Boro Park rov who held that position at Israel Zion since 1940, until his passing in 1958. His name was Rav Benzion Dovid Taubenfliegel, a talmid and musmach of the Avnei Nezer, a ga’on in Torah and sensitivity to another. He resided and led the community for two decades in Boro Park of yore.
A Tradition of Rabbonus
Rav Dovid was (at the very least) the third in a line of prominent Polish rabbonim. His grandfather and namesake was a talmid of the famed Chemdas Shlomo, and served as the rov of the great Polish towns of Plunsk, Prusnitz, and Kutna, and finally in Kolo, pronounced Koil. He was succeeded in the town’s rabbonus by his son Rav Shmuel Binyomin, and this is where he had his son Dovid in 1882. While a rov in Kutna in 1825, a neis occurred involving a dove, and since then they called themselves Kanfei-Yona.
The family traced their lineage to Rav Chaim Vita and to the Abarbanel, and family heirlooms included a leichter and sefer Torah from the Abarbanel which Rav Dovid always treasured in his Boro Park home.
When he was a teenager he entered the Yeshiva of the Avenei Nezer in Sochachov, who would call in the young prodigy to speak in learning. The avnei nezer would ask practical questions of those who came to get semichah. When Rav Dovid came to get semichah, there was also another applicant there. He asked them “what do we do when someone gets a bloody nose on Shabbos?” The other individual began to give all kinds of caveats and conditions, while Reb Dovid immediately answered without hesitation: ‘It is pikuach nefesh, and one must be mechalel Shabbos to treat it. The Avnei Nezer appreciated his approach. He then received semichah from the holy Avnei Nezer—something that not many American rabbanim could boast.
The Chofetz Chaim’s seforim.
In his monumental biography of the Chofetz Chaim, Reb Moshe Meir Yoshor, documents the following story told by Rav Dovid Taubenfliegel. “In the year 1911, the Chofetz Chaim was in Warsaw, and I went to see the great tsaddik—whom I witnessed taking out a pile of seforim. I offered to help him, and he replied, ‘I would never be mishtamesh with talmid chochom.’ He then explained that the Torah is the chayei Olam that Hashem has implanted within us—the greatest luggage that He wishes us to carry throughout our lives.
Rav Dovid married around Cyrel Levy, a native of Koil, where his father was then a rov, after having inherited the position from his 1900. They had two children. Tragically, both children were niftar in the flu epidemic of 1918 that swept Europe and other parts of the world. For the rest of his life, he would shudder when the word “flu” was mentioned. We will never know, but perhaps it was this immeasurable loss that propelled the couple to start over in a faraway place.
In the winter of 1922, we read in their ships manifest, about their arrival on Ellis Island aboard the S.S. Berengaria, having embarked from Cherbourg, France, and about his father Rav Binyomin Shmuel’s address at Ogrodowa 5, Kolo, Poland. He was appointed Av Beis Din in Woodridge (and later served as a chaplain in the US Army during WWII). The current main Shul of Woodridge today is actually the “the new Shul.” The old Shul was located a bit further up the block, and that’s where he served. During his tenure, Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz, and rav Avraham Yitzchok Hakohen Kook visited his Shul for a Shabbos.
More hardship struck the family when the Rebbetzin fell ill in the late 1930’s, and they relocated to Boro Park. He began davening at a large area Shul. But then he saw that there were people coming to Shul on shabbos with cigars in hand, so he refused to come there anymore. He then began serving as a Rav of a small shtiebel on 8th Avenue and 46th. At home, he had a Beis din shtiebel.
He became the Rov of Israel Zion hospital. His son relates how he would not only supervise the kashrus of the food, but would also ensure that the quality and nutritiousness was likewise good. He would visit patients and would oversee the kashrus or the food. But he went beyond that; getting rid of food that he felt wasn’t fresh enough for the patients. Letters exist of the hospital asking their rov to make appeals in the area shuls to support the hospital.
Sadly, she passed away in 1941 at the age of 53, and was laid to rest in Beth David Cemetery. He soon remarried. He would go visit the Fink family of the David Elliott to give a hechsher on their plant. About his kashrus supervision; he was once coming to check out a local butcher shop. He was asked by the bystanders; “what does the Rav say? He said; there are many other Rabbanim that you ask. The people said: ‘the others just want money, you are truly honest.’
At one point, he fell ill. He asked his loved ones to visit the Rav Menachem Benzion Rottenberg-Halberstam from Bensonhurst (Boro Park of Yesteryear, August 30, 2019) who, Rav Taubenfligel testified, was Baki even in the most far flung places in Shas. Upon his advice they added the name Benzion. Following WWII, he welcomed many refugees from the family, and they stayed with them indefinitely until they acclimated. He was friendly with the Rabbanim of his time, and was a chaver in Agudas Harabanim.
He passed away in the 1958, and was interred in Bnei Brak, following a two decade tenure in Boro Park of yesteryear.