|Born||October 15, 1915|
|Died||January 18, 2001|
Shmuel Zalman Gifter
Luba Rochel Feuer
|Denomination||Haredi Orthodox Judaism|
|Predecessor||Chaim Mordechai Katz|
|Ended||January 18, 2001|
Rabbi Mordechai Gifter (October 15, 1915 - January 18, 2001) was the rosh yeshiva of the Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland and among the foremost religious leaders of Orthodox Jewry in the late 20th century. He studied in yeshivas in Lithuania and held several rabbinical positions in the United States of America.
Mordechai Gifter was born in 1915, in Portsmouth, Virginia to Yisrael and Matla (May) Gifter. He was raised in Baltimore, Maryland where his father Reb Yisroel owned a grocery. He was known as Max at the time and attended the Baltimore City Public Schools and received his religious education in after-school programs. He had a younger brother and sister, both who predeceased him.
As a young man Gifter studied in the Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University (YU/RIETS) in New York, New York, under the tutelage of Rabbi Moshe Aharon Poleyeff and Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik. His uncle, Rabbi Dr. Samuel Saar (Yehudah Leib), was the Dean of the Seminary. At the time, Rav Avigdor Miller, also a Baltimore native, was learning in RIETS.
Gifter was immediately accepted for admission and placed in advanced classes. He developed a strong bond with Rabbi Zalman Bloch, the Dean of Students at the yeshiva. He eventually became engaged to Bloch's daughter. In 1939, prior to his wedding, Gifter returned home to the United States to visit his parents in Baltimore. He planned on returning to Lithuania for his wedding and to resume his studies.
When it became obvious that he would be unable to return due to the political climate of the late 1930s, he arranged for his bride's family to join him in the United States. Only his bride came; the family chose not to abandon their community in its time of greatest need. The Gifters married in Baltimore, with Mrs. Gifter's family still in war-torn Lithuania. One of the witnesses at Gifter's wedding was Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander, then a rabbi in Baltimore and later founder of Touro College.
Shortly thereafter, Gifter was appointed to the pulpit of the Nusach Ari Synagogue in northwest Baltimore. He soon became well known as an invigorating speaker and refined orator. His lectures and addresses became popular throughout the Baltimore area, and his national reputation began to grow as well. In addition to his rabbinic position Gifter was appointed an adjunct lecturer at the expanding Ner Israel Rabbinical College headed by Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman. He was the first native Baltimorean to lead a congregation in the city.
In 1941 Gifter moved to Waterbury, Connecticut and assumed a rabbinic pulpit in that community. In 1944 Rabbi Gifter moved to Cleveland, Ohio to join the faculty of his alma mater, the newly re-established Rabbinical College of Telshe, which was moved from Telshe, Lithuania to Cleveland. The original school and Telshe community were almost completely destroyed by the Nazis and Lithuanian militia. In 1964 he was appointed Dean together with Boruch Sorotzkin.
In 1977, Rabbi Gifter brought 20 students from Cleveland to Israel and opened a branch of the college in the town of Kiryat Ye'arim (Telz-Stone) near Jerusalem, leaving Rabbi Sorotzkin in charge of the Cleveland campus. In addition to teaching his students, Rabbi Gifter delivered a shiur (Torah lecture) on the Minchas Chinuch on Fridays in Jerusalem, attracting many Torah scholars. Notes from that shiur were eventually compiled in a sefer called Pitei Mincha. When Rabbi Sorotzkin died in 1979, Rabbi Gifter was sent back to the United States to lead the Cleveland campus and the Israeli branch closed. Rabbi Gifter never recovered from the tremendous loss that he felt for his first love, Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), and did not return to his on-campus residence, but moved into small quarters in the students' dormitory to accentuate his feeling of being in "golus" (exile).
For many years he led the presidium and leadership council (Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah) of Agudath Israel of America. Rabbi Gifter maintained a relationship with his first faculty position at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, returning to Baltimore annually to visit his daughter and son-in-law and friends.
Gifter died in 2001, having suffered numerous ailments for many years prior to his death.
He was one of the electrifying speakers in the Jewish world. One notable feature of his speeches was his use of sophisticated English, unusual for a rabbi of Lithuanian background. It is said that after he gave a speech at Northwestern University he was offered a professorship, which he declined.
He was eulogized by Rabbi Dovid Barkin amongst others.
He was survived by his wife, three sons and three daughters. His eldest son Rabbi Binyomin Gifter who together with his brothers are working on publishing the works of his father via www.kollelateresmordechai.org; His son-in-law Rabbi Ephraim Eisenberg served as Lecturer and Associate Dean of Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore prior to his death in 2002. His grandson, Avraham Yitzchok 'Yitz' Eisenberg, owns Creative Kids, a parent/teacher store in Lakewood, NJ.
Other survivors are his son Rabbi Yisroel Gifter of Lakewood, New Jersey. and his sons in law Rabbi Yaakov Reisman, Rav of Congregation Agudath Yisroel of Long Island in Far Rockaway, New York and Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, writer, author and lecturer and former rav of Kehillas Beis Avrohom of Monsey, New York, presently Shaarei Chessed, Jerusalem.
As a leading Haredi scholar, Gifter frequently addressed controversial topics. In one lecture, he sharply berated Haskel Lookstein for his condemnation of Rabbi Elazar Shach for his criticism of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
Rabbi Gifter was a prolific writer. As a young man he authored articles on some of the most complicated issues in Jewish Law. They were published in the Talmudic law Journal of Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank (1873-1960), Chief Rabbi (1936-1960) of Jerusalem, Israel.
He published numerous books on Jewish Law, philosophy, theology and bible. He was a frequent contributor to many scholarly journals, and once wrote an article for the Western Reserve University Law Review.
Among his books are:
Many of these books are available online at www.kollelateresmordechai.org
Some of Gifters' lectures may be heard here: https://torahdownloads.com/s-148-rabbi-mordechai-gifter.html . Others can be found at: https://www.torahanytime.com/#/speaker?l=681