In the past three months, Klal Yisroel suffered the loss of two remarkable individuals, Gedolim in their own rights, who for many years maintained a special relationship with the OU. Each left an indelible imprint on the OU, and in a broader sense, profoundly influenced the world of Kashrus. These two giants were Rav Arye Lerman, zt“l, who was niftar on the 29th day of Tamuz, 5767, and Rav Shimon Eider, zt“l, who was niftar on the 16th of Tishrei, 5768.
I was fortunate to have maintained a close personal relationship with Rav Arye and Rav Shimon. I, as well as most of their acquaintances, did not know that they were critically ill for a short time before their petira. The enormous shock of their passing has not left me nor has the pain of their absence diminished with the passing of time.
In these short lines, I will not present a synopsis of their lives which does justice to their many accomplishments. Rather, I will share a brief personal recollection of these two individuals who were dear and close to my heart.
For the past three decades, Rav Arye Lerman, zt“l, served faithfully as a mashgiach for the OU. He visited a wide spectrum of accounts and traveled near and far, domestically and abroad. He was a kashrus professional par excellence, and when I first joined the OU twenty-three years ago, I often accompanied Rav Arye on his visits and learned first-hand from a master how to review an OU facility.
Rav Arye’s skill as a mashgiach emanated from his stature as a Talmud chochom. He was a tremendous masmid, was proficient throughout Shaas and was an accomplished lamdan. As a ben Torah, he approached each inspection with yiras shamayim and had a profound sense of achrayus, and this was reflected in the detail and thoroughness of his work.
Ray Arye epitomized the statement in Yoma Pay-Vav:
V’Ahavta Es Ha-Shem Elokecha sheyehai shaim shamayim misahaiv al yodecha, sheyehai korei v’shone u’meshamaish Talmud chochom, v’yehei masao umosno benachas im habriyos, ma habriyos omaros olav, Ashrei aviv shelamdo Torah Ashrei Rabo shelomdu Torah, Oy lahem labriyos shelo lomdu Torah, ploni shelomdu Torah ra-u kama naim drachov kama mesukanim maasov.
My great Rebbi, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, observed – sichos (musar lech lecha, 5733 that the point of this Gemara is that the beautiful character of a Talmud chochom, is not simply the result of naturally fine midos, but rather, the refinement of Torah manifests itself in the noble character of such individuals. Rav Arye, an authentic Talmud chochom, repeatedly accomplished shey’hei shem shamayim misahev al yodecha.
As a mashgiach, he served as an outstanding ambassador of Torah as he interacted with numerous people. He developed close relationships with plant personnel who viewed Rav Arye as a close personal friend, and he often provided wise counsel and words of encouragement and lent an emphatatic ear to the distressed. He touched the lives of countless people and left an indelible impression on their souls. I recall that when the news of his petira reached my office, two secretaries approached me in shock and related how Rav Arye was a great gentleman; he greeted each one with a smile and spent time chatting with them when he visited the office, thus demonstrating their importance in his eyes.
My most cherished memories of Rav Arye were the times that he would stop by my office at the OU. He never left without sharing a beautiful Torah insight. Rav Arye did not relate cute “chopps” or esoteric “vortloch”. He chose ideas that were inspiring and uplifting and infused them with feeling and passion. The last time I saw Rav Arye, he shared with me a thought from the Kotzker Rebbe. When Yosef went to find his brothers, he met a man who said “Mah Tevakesh“? Rashi says that man was Gavriel HaMalach. The Kotzker said that Gavriel was offering advice to Yosef advice to help him survive his years of exile in Egypt. “Know always what you seek; what are your goals and aspirations?”
Rav Arye selected Torah thoughts that he identified with and incorporated into his life. Indeed, he lived by the Kotzker dictum of knowing “ma tevakesh.” His life was a journey focused on seeking kedusha and spirituality. I will always remember Rav Arye, zt”l, through the prism of our last encounter.
Rav Shimon Eider, zt”l, had a direct relationship with the OU since 1993 when he established a company to manufacture OU certified gelatin from kosher hides. Rav Shimon spared no expense to insure the kashrus integrity of the gelatin. However, Rav Shimon’s involvement in kashrus extended far beyond his business enterprise.
Rabbi Eider was a highly disciplined, organized, persistent and tenacious person. Like his great Rebbi, Rav Aaron Kotler, zt”l, Rav Shimon was driven throughout his life by a profound sense of achrayus for Klal Yisroel. He often involved himself in areas which were not in his direct provence of responsibility. Rav Shimon cared about the tzibur in a manner that one typically finds only in an adam gadol. .
Thus, Rav Shimon was a driving force behind an organization called ACKO (Association of Communal Kashrus Organizations), which was established in the mid 1980’s for the purpose of enhancing standards of supervision. For the past 20 years, Rav Shimon traveled at his own expense to conferences around the country so he could offer his keen input and suggestions. Rav Shimon was the only member of ACKO who did not represent a kashrus organization. Why was he there? Because of his sense of achrayus to the tzibur.
Rav Shimon was a close friend of the OU and always supported the organization. His friendship did not stop him from calling me and others to prod us with suggestions for improvement when he sensed an area of weakness. Rav Shimon was in constant contact with Rabbi Mendy Dombroff, who heads the Bureau of Kosher Law Enforcement of N.J., and he regularly offered input of ways to enhance the State’s efforts. In particular, Rav Shimon recommended a valuable structure for the auditing and authentification of private label supermarket brands.
It was Rav Shimon’s same sense of achrayus that motivated him to make halacha accessible to the masses. While still a teenager in the 1950’s, Rav Shimon began to deliver public shiurim on halacha, and shortly thereafter he began to publish his English sifrei halacha. In those years, most people lacked the skill to study halacha in the original sources. Rav Shimon created a new genre of sifrei halacha in English, which presented halacha in a simiplified and organized fashion that could be easily grasped by anyone with even a limited background, yet fully documented with extensive footnotes that made the seforim valuable resources for accomplished Talmudei chachomim, as well. Rav Shimon was a trailblazer, and many subsequent authors duplicated the model of his seforim. Throughout his life, even when he was not well, Rav Shimon continued to travel throughout America and abroad to teach halacha and inspect eruvim, which was an area where he was particularly successful in being mezake horabim.
I was particularly close to Rav Shimon. In 1963 I attended his shiur in halacha in Camp Munk and Rav Shimon profoundly influenced my development. I remained a talmid, in his shiur for three consecutive summers, and it was Rav Shimon who sparked my lifelong love of halacha. He introduced me to the world of authentic Torah and inspired me as my first role model of a true ben Torah. I often visited him in Lakewood as a teenager, and it was because of his influence that I attended the Philadelphia Yeshiva and eventually Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J. Eventually, I was privileged to be farherred for s’micha by Rav Shimon on behalf of Rav Schneur Kotler, zt”l.
Ironically, both Rav Arye, zt”l and Rav Shimon, zt”l, passed away at the age of 68. Sixty-eight is the gematria of chaim. Though they have departed this physical world, no doubt their memory and accomplishments will continue to influence and inspire klal Yisrael, and in that sense, they are still in a state of chaim.
V’tehyena nafshosahem tzerura bzirur hachaeim Ha-Shem Hu nachalosom v’yanuchu b’shomom al mishkevosahem amein!