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Our Heroes: Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin (1901 – 1985)

by Rabbi Michoel Seligson

This article is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Eliezer Lipman ben Rabbi Yehoshua A”H Dubrawsky, the Rebbe’s shliach in  Vancouver, Canada. He was nifter on the 28th of Nissan. Rabbi Dubrawsky was a constant presence in the home of Rabbi Zalman Shimon, his grand-uncle, whom he assisted in his later years, acting as the Rov’s personal secretary.

May we soon witness the fulfillment of the prophesy, “Those resting in the dust, should awaken and rejoice..“

–Michoel A Seligson

The following is the second part of a two part series on Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin OBM. Click Here for Part 1.

The following describes a few hours of the intensive activity in the Rabbonus of the gaon and Chossid Reb Zalman Shimon Dworkin and is an accurate reflection of a routine week day, beginning early in the morning and concluding very late at night. It is based on the observation of one of the Rav’s relatives. The facts are true to life, though some details have been changed or omitted. Reb Zalman Shimon did not have an office but his house was the place to  which  people from all over turned, for a solution to their problem.     

If not for the Rav’s organizational skills, it would be difficult to comprehend how he so successfully digested such a long day, and every weekday was a long day, with the countless shaalos, problems, arguments, matters of Hatzala and help, and many others, that it brought.

Approximately at 5 A.M. on a summer day and Reb Zalman Shimon had just managed to pour negel vasser. The phone rang. A communal leader from Manchester, England was on the phone. Did he know exactly when the Rav opened his eyes in the morning? Not necessarily.  He hadn’t accurately calculated the time  difference between England and the United States. He had a very urgent shaalo, a matter of pikuach nefesh. So how could one look at the time? He did the Rav a favor, by allowing him to recite Birchas Hashachar prior to the conversation. At the end of which Reb Zalman Shimon commented with a smile, “This you considered pikuach nefesh?!”

Reb Zalman Shimon sat in the kitchen while he studied. Among his daily shiurim was the study of the holy Zohar. Reb Zalman Shimon could not hold back his expressions of excitement, when discussing the Zohar. “Every time that one studies the Zohar, one feels an additional liveliness in every word. During a Yechidus, the Rebbe RaShab instructed a Chassidic Tomim (who had studied in the Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim) that when one reaches these years (the Chossid was older than middle age) one needs to learn more Zohar”.

Reb Zalman Shimon sat glued to the sefer, but not for long. Soon the bell rang.

Reb Zalman Shimon lifted his eyebrows as was his custom, and said, ”Ahh, the shochet”. The shochet arrived to show the Rav the different chalefs which he was using for shechita. The Rav checked them all and approved them with a smile, saying, “Good”! The door had been left slightly open and a subdued looking yeshiva bochur entered. He had just noticed in error, his talis koton had been exchanged with someone else’s. He realized that there was a shaalo regarding the kashrus of this talis koton. Reb Zalman Shimon told him, “OK, show me the tzizis.”

In the meantime, the tea kettle in the kitchen had already boiled and the water was cooling, a usual event.  Reb Zalman Shimon replaced it on the flame and again opened the sefer. When the tea kettle whistled once more, the phone rang and the door chimed. Reb Zalman Shimon once said that he needed to be as light as an eagle, and as swift as a deer, and that is how he was until his last years.


Reb Zalman Shimon placed the cup of tea on the table, opened the door and then answered the phone. On the phone was a young lady married only a short while, who she had recently returned to Yiddishkeit. She just managed to say “Dear Rebbe” and Reb Zalman Shimon heard a sigh of distress. She cried as she spoke in English scattered with defective Yiddish. Reb Zalman Shimon already knew who this was, and said, “Mrs. P. yes? More trouble with the husband? Nu, you already had trouble one time!” It seems, that after a quarrel that had taken place over the course of a few days, the husband had left the night before without saying a word, and had not returned home. ”Nu, nu, calm down. Don’t lose yourself. With the help of Hashem it will straighten out. Come tomorrow, at 6 P.M. I will contact your husband”.

In the waiting room sat two Yidden waiting for the Rav. They saw the posted schedule on the Rav’s door and each excused himself. The Rav needed to be mochel because each had an urgent matter and had no choice. The first person was a young shliach in a distant location, and needed to leave immediately. The issue was a life matter that related to a large family and the Rebbe had advised him to turn to Reb Zalman Shimon. Being that it was confidential Reb Zalman Shimon took the young man into the kitchen and conversed privately for a long while. The Shliach walked out of the kitchen with a happy face and said farewell to the Rav. He thanked him but could not control his emotions. He hugged the Rav, who smilingly said, “They say that you are Baal Mochin, a composed person”.

The second person waiting, an older Polish chossid, turned to the Rav, “Rebbe, please pardon my bothering you so early, I have no one to turn to, only you can help me”.

Reb Zalman Shimon also called this person into the kitchen. Maybe he would successfully drink some warm tea. “In short” – the Yid began his long story – he and his sick daughter were being evicted from their apartment. They hadn’t paid rent in months. They had no money and he had no work. They had just enough money from the social security to eat. “I want to ask the Rav. According to Halacha, are they permitted to evict me, when I hope that Hashem will help me and I will be able to pay.”

Reb Zalman Shimon responded, “Surely Hashem will help. I will not get involved in the Halachic view of the matter. One must pay rent and not get too far behind. Something, one must pay”. Reb Zalman Shimon placed his hand in his “Tzedoko pocket”, reserved for charity; maybe there were two such pockets.  The Rav began counting dollars, “How much is the monthly rent?” the Rav asked, and handed the person enough money for a few months rent. The Yid did not move, “Rebbe, No! I can not take it”. Reb Zalman Shimon, with his positive temperament insisted firmly that he should accept it. “Let it be a Gemach, or a loan over a long period of time.  Be well and pay up the rent for the apartment”.

With a sigh, Reb Zalman Shimon sat down again at the Zohar, with his head between both hands, trying to concentrate. The phone rang. This time he answered the phone, had a brief conversation and then hung up. In the quiet that allowed, his quiet, sweet song flowed as he learned.

As soon as Reb Zalman Shimon took his talis and tefillin bag preparing to go to Shul for Shacharis, the phone rang again. A young woman, recently married, asked the Rav for an appointment. She and her husband wanted to personally come and thank the Rav. Reb Zalman Shimon managed to turn the offer down. Since he was very busy these days, and he would accept the “thank you” by phone with a full heart. With the help of Hashem, at a simcha in their family he would personally speak with them.

What was the story? They were married a few weeks ago. A couple of days after her chasuna to a fine chassidisher bochur, she arrived at the Rav’s house, terrified. Reb Zalman Shimon anxiously asked, “What is it? Anything, G-d forbid, wrong in the relationship?” the young lady answered, everything is Boruch Hashem in order.  But what is it? She and her husband did not have the means for to make enough money. Both were alone and poor and had a quiet wedding. The Rav   officiated at the wedding. In fact, the young woman did not know that the Rav himself had helped finance the wedding. After the wedding, the husband studied in the Kollel and she worked as teacher. At the time, they had no furniture or possessions. But the couple was happy with each other. Then a minor issue came up in which they did not agree. Using the wedding money, she managed to buy some curtains for the two windows facing the street. Her husband argued that  she could do what she wanted with the money, but in his opinion, curtains were a luxury and not a necessity. This is what he was taught in Chassidus. She did not want to return the curtains. She had bought them cheaply and they enhanced the apartment. The husband suggested, “Let us consult the Rav”. They considered Reb Zalman Shimon not only a Rav but a dear grandfather. So the young lady, although embarrassed and confused, came to the Rav. Reb Zalman Shimon asked, ”How much did the curtains cost?” He gave her money, saying that she could not refuse to accept it because this was his personal gift for the wedding and “When one receives a drasha geshank or wedding gift, one does not turn it down. This is what you should relay to your husband”.

Regarding marital problems, a couple once came to Reb Zalman Shimon and told him that they had decided to divorce and wanted him to perform the get. The Rav responded, “My job is to marry couples. For a get, you can contact Rabbi … (Reb Zalman Shimon mentioned the Rabbi’s name).

The Rav again took his talis and tefillin attempting to get to shul. While he opened his door, two Yidden called out, “Oy, Rav, forgive me, only two words!”

Reb Zalman Shimon asked “What is it about?” they respond that they had a quarrel. Reb Zalman Shimon asked “Do you want a Din Torah”, “No”, they answered. “We are relying on your opinion and will accept anything you advise us”.

Reb Zalman Shimon concluded, “Call me at 12:00 o’clock”. They continued, “One of us is leaving overseas in an hour”. Reb Zalman Shimon, “Then come back to see me when he returns from his trip”. The two men, “But the trip depends on your decision”. Reb Zalman Shimon, “What do you want from me?” “We need an etza, advice.” Reb Zalman Shimon added, “After I have heard your ‘few words’, my advice to you is that I should be able to go daven. When you will decide what you want to do, I will see what I can do here”.


From the Rav’s house to the shul was a distance of a few steps. But it took a long time for him to successfully enter the shul. He was greeted by people who “escorted” him, by simply stopping him in the street. One of them asked Reb Zalman Shimon, “Rav, please forgive me, one short question. No, two”. A second person handed Reb Zalman Shimon a big package saying, “Reb Ch. in California sent the blueprints for the Mikva which he is building. He needs quick advice from the Rav”. A third person, a religious professor, removed a black toupee from his pocket. He inquired, if Halachically, this was a satisfactory size to cover his head while giving a lecture at a distant university that had strange rules. Another group of Yidden stopped the Rav while he walked from the entrance of the shul to his place. A group of people were already waiting for him as he folded his Tefillin after davening. People who had private questions waited on the street or at the house.

When the Rav reached his house, around ten in the morning, his nephew had already arrived to assist him. He was answering the phone and already had a list of urgent shaalos. A few gabaim, communal leaders, were waiting for a meeting about an urgent matter that had been scheduled with the Rav for 10 A.M. A young Rabbi and a tall youth were waiting to see the Rav about performing a conversion. In the corner an elderly man waited with a package under his arm.

Reb Zalman Shimon gave a quick look to all the assembled and with a special smile said to the elderly man, “Ah, Reb Yonason! How are you?” and taking his package added, “According to me, you are the first one on line.”

After Reb Zalman Shimon had checked the slaughtered chicken and the person left, the Rav explained why he had priority. “He is a simple person, not a great Ben Torah, who has lived in America for fifty years. He never ate from any shechita except that which he personally took to the shochet. He then soaks and salts the meat himself. Whenever a question arises, he brings the question to the Rav. It is a trip of two hours. Nu, how many Yidden do I have of such caliber?”

That is how the Rav’s day continued, far into the night.

To conclude with few anecdotes that took place in Reb Zalman Shimon’s last days. These stories were heard this past Shabbos from a Yid who is a shochet for many years, knew Reb Zalman Shimon in Pittsburgh, and was very closely connected to him.

When Reb Zalman Shimon was already hospitalized, critically ill, this Yid held a vigil by the Rav’s bedside. The Rav was taken down by elevator for tests. When Reb Zalman Shimon opened his eyes and saw the Yid standing next to him in the elevator, he immediately asked mechila for a situation that had taken place when the shochtims’ pay was delayed. The Yid was surprised that Reb Zalman Shimon asked mechila, since it was not he who had held back the salaries.

To conclude on a happy note, this Yid recalled that while Reb Zalman Shimon was lying in the hospital, from time to time he would fall into a coma and be unable to respond. This Yid’s daughter, who was very close to Reb Zalman Shimon and had received his guidance, became a kallah. When the father told Reb Zalman Shimon the good news, he wasn’t sure if the Rav heard him. Suddenly Reb Zalman Shimon burst into laughter, and asked from which of two families was the chosson.

The 17th of Adar, Reb Zalman Shimon’s ptira, was the day that Reb Yosef Karo completed the Shulchan Aruch centuries earlier. Reb Zalman Shimon was truly “A Halacha Yid” who internalized Torah knowledge and Jewish law in his relationships with both Hashem and man. “Bain odom lamkom ubain odom lachavairo”.

Yehi Zichro Boruch! May Reb Zalman Shimon’s life as a legendary Rav whose self- sacrifice for the benefit of any Jew that turned to him, serve as the inspiration to utilize consideration, devotion, and self-less commitment one to another, no matter the situation or background, and concern ourselves with the physical and spiritual needs of every individual in a sincere and full hearted manner.

We should speedily witness “The ones who dwell in the dust will awaken and rejoice” with Reb Zalman Shimon amongst them and in the lead.



  • 2. Toishev H'shuchuna wrote:

    Rav Dworkin Z’tzal was involved with Rav Elye Gross Z’l in trying to keep ‘Brooklyn Jewish Hospital’ open. Which they in fact did for a while. They ever able to secure $ 300 million of state funding.


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