Leib Gurwicz

Rabbi Leib Gurwicz
Gateshead Rosh Yeshiva
Position Rosh yeshiva
Yeshiva Gateshead Talmudical College
Successor Rabbi Avrohom Gurwicz
Personal details
Birth name Aryeh Ze'ev Kushelevsky
Born 1906
Malat, Russian empire
Died 20 October 1982
London, England
Children Yitzchak Dovid
Sarah Leah (Toki)
Chaim Ozer
Alma mater Mir yeshiva (Poland)

Aryeh Ze'ev (Leib) Gurwicz (1906[1]–20 October 1982[2][3]) was an influential Orthodox rabbi and Talmudic scholar. He was the son-in-law of Rabbi Elyah Lopian and best known as Rosh Yeshiva of the Gateshead Yeshiva in Gateshead, England, where he taught for over 30 years.

He studied at various yeshivas in Lithuania and Poland before marrying and moving to England in 1932. This move saved him from the Holocaust under the Nazis.

Early life and education

He was born Aryeh Ze'ev Kushelevsky in the small town of Molėtai, Russian empire (nowadays Lithuania),[4] where his father, Rabbi Moshe Aharon Kushelevsky served as rabbi. His mother was a direct descendant of the Vilna Gaon.[3] His brother was Rabbi Eliyahu (Elya) Kushelevksy (1910–1992), who later served as av beis din (head of the rabbinical court) of Beersheba.[5]

At the age of thirteen he left home to learn in yeshiva. He sneaked across the border into Lithuania and went to learn at the Vilkomir yeshiva ketana, where he proved himself to be a diligent and capable student. After a year and a half in Vilkomir, he traveled to Vilna in the hopes of seeing his family, who had moved there. But his father had been called back to Malat. In the meantime, Vilna was the new home of the Mir yeshiva, which had relocated deep in Russian territory during World War I. Leib decided to join the Mir yeshiva in Vilna, becoming one of its youngest students.[3]

After studying for a few years at the Mir yeshiva, he was forced to change his Polish passport. Due to political tensions between Lithuania and Poland, Polish nationals were liable to be expelled from the country. The nearest passport office was in Baranovitch, where a student of the Baranovitch yeshiva arranged the forgeries. Forced to choose a new surname, he selected his mother's maiden name, Gurwicz, which he kept for the rest of his life.[3] He stayed on in the Baranovitch yeshiva and paid off his debt to the student who had forged his passport by agreeing to learn the Ketzos Hachoshen with him for a year.[3]

Altogether, Rabbi Gurwicz learned in the Mir for 8 years, after which he traveled to study under Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik (known as "the Brisker Rov").[1] The Brisker Rav valued his student highly and said of him: "Reb Leib knows how to learn".[3]

Marriage and move to England

In 1932 Rabbi Elyah Lopian, then head of the Eitz Chaim yeshiva in London, came to Poland then the Torah center of the world with his eldest daughter, Liba, in the hopes of finding a suitable marriage partner for her.[3] Rabbi Lopian's friend, Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, recommended that he go to the Brisker Rav and ask for "Leibeleh Malater".[3] Father and daughter were favorably impressed with the young genius, and when the marriage terms were written up, it was agreed that Liba would leave London and live in Poland, where Rabbi Gurwicz would continue learning.[6]

During the engagement period, however, Rabbi Lopian's wife, Sarah Leah, died at the age of 49 in England, leaving 13 orphans. Liba, the eldest girl, wrote to her fiancé saying that she could not leave her father with the burden of caring for all the children on his own, and that if Leib wished to break the shidduch, she would understand. Unsure of how to proceed, Rabbi Gurwicz traveled to the elder sage of the generation, the Chofetz Chaim, who was then 94 years old and in poor health. Instead of giving a direct response to Gurwicz's question about whether to proceed with the shidduch, the Chofetz Chaim kept repeating a series of verses from the morning prayers, including "Blessed is He Who redeems and rescues". Rabbi Gurwicz understood this as a message that he should go ahead and marry Liba Lopian and move to England.[3][6]

His bride insisted that they use the presents and money they received for their wedding to pay for a ticket for his father to join them at the wedding in England; it was the first time father and son had met since Rabbi Gurwicz had left home at age 13. A few years after Rabbi Kushelevsky returned to Poland, he was murdered by the Nazis.[3] As a resident of England, Rabbi Gurwicz was able to help his sister, brothers-in-law, and several friends obtain visas to leave Nazi-occupied Poland in 1940 by acting as their sponsor.[6]

The Gurwiczes had three sons and a daughter: Avrohom, who succeeded his father as rosh yeshiva; Yitzchak Dovid, a consulting engineer;[6] Chaim Ozer, a lecturer at Gateshead Yeshiva; and Sarah, who married her cousin (Leib Gurwicz's nephew) Rabbi Zvi Kushelevsky, head of the Heichal HaTorah BeTzion Yeshiva in Jerusalem.[7]


Upon arriving in London, Rabbi Gurwicz gave a shiur at his father-in-law's Eitz Chaim yeshiva; one of his students was Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, who received semicha from him.[8] He also served as the Rav of the Great Garden Street Synagogue in the East End.[3]


In 1948[3] Rabbi Gurwicz's brother-in-law, Rabbi Leib Lopian, who studied in the Gateshead Kollel headed by Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler,[9] wrote to him in London suggesting that he join the staff of the budding Gateshead yeshiva. This yeshiva (which included the Gateshead Kollel) had grown to 120 students from the influx of refugees following World War II,[7] and now included immigrant students whose learning skills were much greater than those of boys from the East End, since the former had studied in Europe's leading yeshivas.[3] Rabbi Gurwicz was accepted to the staff and began teaching the highest shiur (class).[6] Under his leadership, the number of students increased many times over, and Gateshead became Europe's primary Torah center.[6] He also served as the chairman of the World Agudath Israel.[3]

Second marriage

After Sukkos 1977, Rabbi Gurwicz and his wife were coming back from a visit to their children in Israel when she had a heart attack and died in Heathrow Airport. She was buried beside her father, Rabbi Elya Lopian, on the Mount of Olives.[3]

Two years later, a shidduch was suggested for him with Malka (Mollie) Isbee (19172001),[10] widow of Jack Isbee of Detroit, who had been widowed at the age of 51. They were married for nearly four years, until his death in 1982.[11]

Death and funeral

Rabbi Gurwicz suffered a stroke on Wednesday morning, 20 October 1982 (3 Cheshvan 5743). Although his doctors said that he could remain in that condition indefinitely, his family and a few students remained by his bedside, where he died later that day.[3] At the funeral on Thursday, 21 October,[3] Rabbi Gurwicz's coffin was carried by his past and present pupils through the streets of Gateshead, past the synagogue and kollel. Then the cortege of about 1,000 people made its way to Newcastle airport, where the coffin was flown to London for further eulogies at the Stamford Hill Beth Hamedrash.[3] The coffin was then flown from Stansted Airport to Israel, where a gathering of more than 15,000 people heard eulogies by leading Israeli rabbis in the Kiryat Mattersdorf neighborhood. Interment took place before the onset of Shabbat.

He was succeeded as rosh yeshiva by his son, Rabbi Avrohom Gurwicz.



  1. 1 2 3 Saltiel, Manny (12 October 2010). "Today's Yahrtzeits & History 4 Cheshvan". matzav.com. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  2. Saltiel, Manny (2011). "Gedolim Yahrtzeits: Cheshvan". chinuch.org. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Teller, Hanoch (1987). "Reb Leib Gurwicz: The lion's share". Sunset: Stories of our contemporary Torah luminaries zt"l and their spiritual heroism. New York City Publishing Company. pp. 209–227. ISBN 0-9614772-2-9.
  4. Freedman, Chaim (1997). Eliyahu's Branches: The descendants of the Vilna Gaon (of blessed and saintly memory) and his family. Avotaynu. p. 172.
  5. "Prof. Avraham Kushelevsky". B'Or HaTorah. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Krohn, Rabbi Paysach J. (October 2002). Reflections of the Maggid. Mesorah Publications. pp. 64–67. ISBN 1-57819-751-1.
  7. 1 2 Farnell, Ashley (15 November 2006). "Newcastle Upon Tyne". Orthodox Union. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  8. "Harav Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, zt"l". Hamodia. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  9. Keller, Rabbi Chaim Dov (December 2003). "Searching for Meaning in the Maelstrom: Gaining strength and faith from the Torah renaissance that emerged from Churban Europe" (PDF). The Jewish Observer. XXXVI (10): 13. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  10. Samsonowitz, M. "Rebetzin Mollie Isbee-Gurwicz: Chessed Unlimited in Yerushalayim (Part I)". Yated Ne'eman. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  11. Samsonowitz, M. "Rebetzin Mollie Isbee-Gurwicz: Chessed Unlimited in Yerushalayim (Part II)". Yated Ne'eman. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
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