Rav Zevulun Charlop zt”l dedicated nearly four decades of his life to the esteemed position of dean at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). Beyond his administrative role, he stood out as a towering talmid chacham, a scholar, and a tzaddik. His multifaceted personality, coupled with unwavering commitment, defined the greatness that was Rav Charlop.
He stewarded RIETS through ups and downs, and fueled the tremendous growth that the yeshiva has seen over recent decades. Limmud Hatorah, untainted and uncompromised, remained the essence of his leadership. He staunchly defended the yeshiva’s principles, irrespective of external pressures for change.
My personal relationship with Rav Charlop blossomed with his retirement as Dean of RIETS in 2008. As a gift for the occasion, I compiled all of his written chidushei Torah I could find, well over 40 essays, and had them bound into a softcover sefer that could serve as a rough draft to eventually publish the chiddushim.
I was humbled when he invited me to learn through them together and prepare them for print in what was finally published in 2018 under the title, Shefa Yamim. It was in those many afternoons we learned together over a period of almost ten years that I was privy to see the brilliance and gadlus of Rav Charlop up close.
Rav Charlop, a first-rate talmid chochom, had an inexhaustible well of thought-provoking divrei Torah. His chidushei Torah, spanning the vast realm of Torah wisdom, were delivered with creative genius and poetic precision. Through this experience I was witness to his true character. His immense joy in discovering a new chiddush was unparalleled. His enthusiasm for all mitzvos was infectious. Running to mincha with zerizus, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to connect with Hashem, was just one example. Baking matzos with Rav Charlop, his excitement evident as he rushed to the oven, yelling “l’Shem matzos mitzvah,” remains deeply ingrained in my mind, uplifting everyone present and infusing the excitement of Chag haPesach.
But his greatness was not limited to the amud haTorah. Rav Charlop was an incredible ba’al chessed. He had a soft and loving heart and would do anything he could to help the rabbaeim in yeshiva or any of the talmidim; he was like their father. But his giving heart wasn’t limited to people he knew well or had a close relationship with; he could be brought to tears listening to the stories of the many aniyim who lined up at his door for help. He had time to listen and give generously to everyone who asked him for help. There were times that some took advantage of his generosity, but it never made him cynical towards others in need. No questions asked – if a Jew came to him to ask for help, it was his responsibility to answer the call.
And he loved Rabbanim. He spoke with reverence of his Rebbi, Rav Soloveitchik, and cherished the opportunities he had to interact, help and learn with the Roshei Yeshiva at RIETS. But there was no one about whom he spoke with more love, awe and reverence than his illustrious grandfather Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlop zt”l and his father, Rav Yechiel Michel Charlop zt”l. He would tell stories of their interactions with Rav Kook and the Brisker Rav and other gedolim and share their divrei Torah. He firmly believed perpetuation of their memory and their Torah was part of his responsibility.
In addition to his role at RIETS, Rav Charlop served as the Rav at the Young Israel of Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx for an astounding 54 years. His unwavering dedication to the shul, even in changing times, showcased his commitment to community. His masterful drashos, enriched by his broad scholarship in history, literature, and politics, connected with people from diverse backgrounds.
Together with his Rebbetzin Judy a”h, Rav Charlop’s home was a haven of warmth and care for all who entered.
With his exceptional synthesis of Torah knowledge, middos tovos, lev tov and broad scholarship, Rav Charlop was a cherished and unique gadol b’yisrael. May his memory be a blessing – Yehi Zichro Baruch.
Rabbi Ari Zahtz serves as a maggid shiur at RIETS, Associate Rabbi at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, NJ and editor of Zeved Tov, festschrift in honor of Rav Charlop and Shefa Yamim, a collection of essays of Rav Charlop.