Memory Lane: Rav Shmuel Kalman Mirsky
A child of Yerushalayim, this brilliant mind came to America and settled in Boro Park. He fused brilliance and piety, and his brilliant Torah legacy lives on to this day through his writings and the many who remember him so fondly.
Youth in Yerushalayim
Rav Shmuel Kalman was born in Moldova in the year 1899, and at the age of five his family moved to Eretz Yisroel, settling in the neighborhood of Beis Yisroel, where his father earned a living as a sofer stam. He was seen as a genius from a young age, and he learned in the yeshivos of old Jerusalem; Toras Chaim in the old city, in Eitz Chaim, and in a Sephardic yeshiva in the Zichron Moshe neighborhood, where he learned b’chavrusa with Rabbi Benzion Meir Chai-Uziel, the Sephardic chief Rabbi in the pre-State days. They developed a lifelong friendship.
In 1920, he married Shulamith Salomon, a daughter of two prominent yerushalmi families; the Salomon’s who were from the “Talmidei Hagro who came to the Holy Land in the early 1900’s, and on her mother’s side, the famed Porush family from the old Yishuv.
Young Israel of Boro Park
In 1926, he moved to America to be reunited with his parents. He visited RIETS, which was then still located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and was immediately offered a teaching position. Simultaneously, he acquired Master’s and Doctoral degrees at Columbia University.
He began writing and publishing articles on many subjects in the periodicals in America and Eretz Yisroel. He also created many friendships with Rabbonim. One of them was Rav Eliezer Silver of Cincinnati, who would call to draw upon Rav Mirsky’s encyclopedic knowledge. A daughter-in-law recalled; “I once asked Rav Silver why a Rav of such caliber needed to ask sheilos. He answered. “I know the same sources as he does, but what takes me half an hour takes him one minute.”
Around 1930, he moved to Boro Park, and was soon asked to serve as the chairman of the educational board at the newly opened Shulamith School for Girls (the sister organization to Etz Chaim/Hebrew Institute of Borough Park). Shortly thereafter he was asked to give a weekly Gemara shiur at Young Israel. He soon started Boro Park’s first Daf Yomi Shiur, and after completing a cycle of Shas, he was offered a contract to serve as its official Rov, a position in which he would serve until his passing—35 years. His tenure represented the glory days of Young Israel, and numerous youngsters of that time recall his brilliant derashos, some of which were given on the alternate Friday nights, when the four large Boro Park Shuls alternated for Friday night programming.
So many youth of those years still live in frum communities in America and Eretz Yisroel who were inspired by Rabbi Mirsky’s leadership—and for so many of them, the Young Israel, which was focused on drawing in the youth of America, remained a spiritual sanctuary for many years, even as they were raising their own families. It was a different time in Boro Park…
In this tenure, Rabbi Mirsky would complete the daf Yomi cycle another three times, and he was intimately involved in communal affair in Boro Park, heading the Vaad Harabanim of Boro Park. His impression on the young people was lifelong; many would also visit his home on Shabbos. Celebrated Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, a child of Boro Park, still recalls the drasha that Rav Mirsky gave at his Bar Mitzvah which took place on Parashas Shoftim.
He was predeceased by his rebbetzin Shulamith, who passed away in 1964. As noted, she was involved in myriads of causes in Boro Park and beyond. Rav Shmuel Kalman passed away in the fall of 1967, and was interred in Young Israel’s cemetery plot. In 1977, his aron—along with that of his rebbetzin—was transferred to his birthplace of Eretz Yisroel, and reinterred on Har Hazeisim, in proximity to his relatives; a fitting resting place following a lifetime of teaching Torah and writing Torah in Boro Park of yesteryear.