Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, an Appreciation
Why do some people who keep cholov Yisroel use products made with regular powdered milk?
Can I wear a talis koton made out of nylon?
May one build an eruv around Manhattan?
These and thousands more shaylos were asked of the rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, whose yahrzeit is on the 21st of Kislev.
First, I will provide a brief biography of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, zt”l, followed by a discussion of some of his piskei halachah.
Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank was born in Kovno, Lithuania (then part of Russia), on the 4th of Tishrei, 1873 (5634). Kovno was a city full of talmidei chachamim, including Rav Tzvi Pesach’s father, Rav Yehuda Leib Frank. Rav Yehuda Leib had studied in the Volozhin Yeshiva for many years and, after his marriage, his wife supported the family while he continued to learn. As a youth, the young Tzvi Pesach outgrew the town’s melamdim at a young age and he continued to learn by himself in the shul, among married men much older than he.
Rav Tzvi Pesach’s early years were enriched by the contact he had with Rav Yisrael Salanter, who visited Kovno periodically to give shiurim, as well as by contact with Kovno’s rav, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector. He later studied in the yeshivos of Rav Itzele Rabinowitz, known in Yeshivah world as Rav Itzele Ponovitcher, and in Telz, where he learned under Rav Shimon Shkop and Rav Leizer Gordon.
In 1892, Rav Yehuda Leib, Rav Tzvi Pesach’s father, decided that the time had come to move to Eretz Yisroel. He was particularly concerned for the welfare of his two older sons, Tzvi Pesach and Tanchum, who were in danger of being drafted into the Russian army. The two boys were therefore sent to the Holy Land ahead of the rest of the family. Rav Tzvi Pesach and Tanchum, together with a cousin, arrived in Yerushalayim in the fall of 1892.
Three years after he came to Yerushalayim, Rav Tzvi Pesach married. Two years after his marriage, several students of the Alter of Kelm, Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, opened a Beis Mussar in Yerushalayim, and Rav Tzvi Pesach joined it. The Beis Mussar developed a kollel, where Rav Tzvi Pesach continued to grow in his learning.
THE YERUSHALAYIM BEIS DIN
The first Ashkenazi beis din in Yerushalayim was established in 1841 by Rav Shmuel Salant, the city’s rav. In 1907, Rav Tzvi Pesach, who had already begun teaching in Eitz Chaim Yeshiva, was appointed to the Yerushalayim Beis Din. He was to serve on this beis din until an advanced age, and from the start he was a well respected and astute dayan. When the Rabbonim and Beis Din of Yerushalayim organized the first modern Otzar Beis Din for Shevi’is in 5670 (1910), Rav Tzvi Pesach was one of the dayanim who signed as a member of the Beis Din.
He was a dayan and a poseik in Yerushalayim for over 50 years, the rav of Yerushalayim for 36 years, and a member of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate in Eretz Yisroel since its inception. In all these capacities, Rav Tzvi Pesach led and guided Klal Yisroel, teaching them what the Torah expected, even in the most challenging situations.
In the difficult years of World War I, he would not let hunger or worry distract him from learning. Quoting the sefer Akeidas Yitzchak, he said, “When a person is found in a situation of poverty, he will be able to learn and grow in Torah.” Following this teaching, Rav Tzvi Pesach gave shiurim and clarified halacha, even when there was no food to be had. He would sacrifice a bit of oil from his daily diet in order to learn by lantern, at night. When he lacked even this oil, he would learn by moonlight.
The Jews of Eretz Yisroel, and the rest of the world, rejoiced when the British captured the country from the Turks. The Balfour Declaration, which promised the Jews that Israel would become their national homeland, gave new hope to the war-weary people.
Anticipating new waves of aliya, Rav Tzvi Pesach began encouraging roshei yeshiva in Europe to move their yeshivos to Eretz Yisroel. Eventually, Rav Tzvi Pesach’s efforts bore fruit, and the Slobodka Yeshiva (under the leadership of Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein and Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel) moved first to Yerushalayim and then to Chevron, while the rosh yeshiva of Slutzk, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, moved to Yerushalayim.
DEVELOPING THE HOLY LAND
In the years following World War I, the Chief Rabbinate was established in Eretz Yisroel. It was viewed with mixed feelings by the religious community. Rav Tzvi Pesach joined the organization with the hopes that it would represent the Torah beliefs on different aspects of life in Eretz Yisroel. In 1918, he became the head of the Yerushalayim Beis Din.
Rav Tzvi Pesach’s love for Eretz Yisroel knew no bounds. He encouraged the creation of agricultural settlements, particularly among frum Jews, and he was always pained by the sight of settlements that did not keep the halachos pertaining to the Land properly. The way to improve the situation, he believed, was to increase the awareness and knowledge of these halachos.
In a letter, he explained his position clearly: “We must establish regular shiurim on these halachos, as our master and teacher, the gaon Rav Yisrael Salanter, wrote in his letter of mussar — the most exalted and fundamental cure…for the wiles of the evil inclination is to learn the Gemara and poskim on the subject vigorously and with great depth….”
Rav Tzvi Pesach also encouraged the purchase of Jewish products over non-Jewish products.
RAV OF YERUSHALAYIM
In 1935, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook passed away, leaving the positions of rav of Yerushalayim and chief rabbi of Eretz Yisroel vacant.
Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank was considered the best candidate for these positions. However, when he was approached with the request that he fill the roles, he declined the offer. He felt that the job of chief rabbi would involve too much time that could better be spent learning. In the end, he agreed to become the rav of Yerushalayim, but not to accept the rabbanus of Eretz Yisroel, which was eventually filled by Rav Herzog.
One of the most difficult things that Rav Tzvi Pesach had to contend with was chillul Shabbos. There had been virtually no chillul Shabbos in Yerushalayim prior to World War I, so the desecration of Shabbos in the holiest city on earth pained him terribly. He tried to minimize it, however he could.
In the days of the British Mandate, Rav Tzvi Pesach wrote letters to the British rulers, begging them to enact a law against public Shabbos desecration. He wrote them that his goal was not to compel every individual to observe Shabbos, but that he wanted stores to be closed and that the Hebrew radio hour should not be broadcast on Shabbos.
In 1939, World War II broke out, bringing with it the destruction of European Jewry. Rav Tzvi Pesach, in Yerushalayim, organized days of prayer and fasting on behalf of the Jewish people. He urged his fellow Jews to improve their service of Hashem, in the hope that this would avert disaster. In a letter, Rav Tzvi Pesach wrote comfortingly, “For the Jews, a day is composed of night and then day. For non-Jews, a day is a day and a night. Why is this so?
“The main realm for Jews is the World to Come. Therefore, darkness precedes the light, and we consider a day to begin with the night and end with the day. Non-Jews, however, enjoy only this world, and afterwards they will be in darkness. They experience first day, and then night.”
LEADER OF A FLOCK
Later, as the fledgling country of Israel began to develop, organizing its government, army, industry, economy, education and health care, Rav Tzvi Pesach emerged as one of the, and perhaps the foremost, halachic authorities of his generation. He answered numerous shailos on technology, medicine and industry, covering every subject from powdered eggs to hydroponics.
At this point, let us examine some of his well-known halachic positions:
Those who allow use of non-chalav Yisroel powdered milk follow the opinion presented by Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank. Rav Frank assumed that the halacha follows the Chasam Sofer, who requires Jewish supervision to permit non-Jewish milk, and did not accept the heter of the Pri Chodosh (Yoreh Deah 115:15), who understands that one needs to be concerned about chalav akum only when the non-kosher milk is less expensive than the kosher variety, nor the heter of the Igros Moshe and the Chazon Ish that the takanah did not specifically require that a Jew attend the milking, but that it is permitted when one is completely certain that there is no admixture of non-kosher milk (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:47). Nevertheless, Rav Frank permitted powdered milk from an unsupervised gentile source for a different reason.
The poskim permit using cheese that is gevinas Yisrael and butter (I explained both these topics in other articles), even when these products were made from unsupervised milk. Why did they permit this? Because non-kosher milk is low in casein; it does not curd, which is the first step in producing cheese; and it is also low in milk fat (also called butterfat or cream), which makes it non-profitable to make butter from non-kosher milk.
Rav Frank notes that there is a significant qualitative difference between cheese and butter, on the one hand, and powdered milk, on the other, in that there is an inherent problem with making cheese and butter from non-kosher milk, whereas one can powder any milk. Thus, one could argue that the leniency that applies to cheese and butter should not apply to milk powder, as indeed the Chazon Ish concludes.
However, Rav Frank quotes the Ritva (Avodah Zarah 35b), who pointed out that, technically, one could make cheese even from non-kosher species, but the cheese yield from these milks is very poor, and when the milk curds, most of it becomes whey. Thus, although it is theoretically possible to make cheese or butter from non-kosher milk, the halacha does not require one to be concerned about this. Rather, one may assume that a gentile would not adulterate this milk.
Rav Frank concludes that what permits the unsupervised milk used in cheese and butter is not that it is impossible to use non-kosher milk for this process, but that it is unlikely. Thus, he reasons, although one could powder non-kosher milk, the prohibition of chalav akum was limited to fluid milk and other products available in the days of Chazal which could easily be made from non-kosher milk. Since powdered milk did not exist in the days of Chazal, and since we are certain that standard, available powdered milk is of bovine origin, the prohibition against chalav akum does not apply to milk powder, just as it does not apply to butter and cheese.
Another responsum authored by Rav Frank (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:9) discusses whether one fulfills the mitzvah of tzitzis with a four-cornered garment made of nylon. He discusses whether nylon should be comparable to leather, which is exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. Rav Frank concludes that leather is not obligated in tzitzis, because it is not woven. He then notes that there are two types of nylon garments, one made from woven nylon thread, which he rules would be required to have tzitzis, and one made from sheets of nylon, which are not woven and are therefore absolved from the mitzvah of tzitzis, just as leather is.
DRINKING BEFORE YOUR ANIMALS
Why should drinking be permitted before one feeds one’s animals when it is forbidden to eat, and, according to many authorities, even to have a small snack? Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:90) provides two reasons for this distinction. First, suffering from thirst is far more uncomfortable than suffering from hunger, so the Torah did not require one to remain thirsty in order to make sure that the animals are fed. Second, the Torah forbade eating before feeding one’s animals out of concern that once one gets involved in eating, he may forget to feed his animals. Drinking does not create this concern, since it takes less time.
COTTONSEED OIL ON PESACH
Rav Pesach Frank (Sefer Mikrai Kodesh, Hilchos Pesach vol. 2 pg. 206) permits the use of cottonseed oil on Pesach, and quotes that Rav Chayim Brisker permitted its use. Cottonseed is not a food at all and, also, does not grow in any way similar to grains, unlike canola that grows similar to the way grains grow. However, Dayan Yitzchak Weiss of the Eidah Hachareidis writes that he is uncertain whether cottonseed oil may be used on Pesach. He cites sources that the prohibition against kitniyos includes any item stored the way grain is stored and forbids eating any seeds, grains, or anything derived from them (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 3:138:2 and 4:114:3). As a result, many hechsherim in Eretz Yisroel, for example, the Eidah HaChareidis, treat cottonseed oil as kitniyos, whereas the prevalent practice in the United States allows it.
DESTROYING A FRUIT TREE
Here is another psak of Rav Frank:
“We just moved into a new house, and the only place where we can put a sukkah is in an area which is shaded by a fruit tree. May we chop down the tree, in order to have a place to build our sukkah?” Rav Frank analyzes the topic and is inclined to be lenient, reasoning that the performance of a mitzvah cannot be considered a destructive act. He concludes that one should have a gentile remove it, but not as an agent for a Jew (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim II #102).
ERUV IN MANHATTAN
Rav Menachem Kasher asked Rav Frank whether one could build an eruv in Manhattan. Rav Frank answered that he was not in a position to answer the question specifically, but that, in general, he was in favor of the concept (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim II #24). In this particular psak, he followed a position that was disputed by many of the famed poskim and gedolim of the New York area, including Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Aharon Kotler, both of whom published teshuvos to the contrary.
Rav Frank’s teshuvos tend to be on the short side, and are written by explaining the sources of the halachos involved and the basis of his psak in a very clear way. He does not quote many later sources, but, rather, explains clearly how to understand the central issue of the topic and prove why the approach he is following is correct.
Always learning, always clarifying halachos — to his last days, Rav Tzvi Pesach remained the leader of his people in Yerushalayim and the rest of the world. He passed away on 21 Kislev, 1960 (5721), after over half a century of dedicated learning and serving the Klal.