In the Mishpacha article “Book of Life” (issue 613 2 Sivan 5776 June 8, 2016) Eytan Kobre interviewed Rabbi Daniel Osher Kleinman (the editor of Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin’s zt”l’s teshuvos Gevuros Eliyahu) regarding Rabbi Eitam Henkin Hy”d. In order to demonstrate Reb Eitam’s quest for the truth and his ability to be mekabel, Reb Daniel cited an incident when he unearthed an inconsistency and Reb Eitam reversed his long held opinion. The issue was regarding the halachic feasibility of an eruv in Manhattan according to the opinion of Reb Eitam’s grandfather Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin.
Rav Henkin had written several letters on the topic of the Manhattan eruv. In one undated letter, he joined Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l in declining to publicly support an eruv, while in another, seemingly his last on the matter, Rav Henkin ostensibly lent his approval. The prevailing belief, with which Reb Eitam concurred, was that in his final pronouncement on the matter, Rav Henkin had, indeed, endorsed the construction of an eruv in the borough. However, Rabbi Kleinman discovered that the address of Ezras Torah on the stationary that Rav Henkin used for this undated letter was crossed out, and a new address was written in. According to Rabbi Kleinman, when Ezras Torah moved in the summer of 5721/1961, Rav Henkin made sure to cross out the previous address and write the new one on every letter following 26 Tammuz 5721. Therefore, the undated letter of non-support for the eruv, although previously thought to have been written years earlier, had actually been penned sometime after late Tammuz 5721, making it veritably his last known statement on the issue.
The prevailing belief on the topic of Rav Henkin’s position regarding an eruv in Manhattan up until Rabbi Kleinman unearthed this inconsistency had been set forth by Rav Menachem Kasher zt”l and the Shatzer Rebbe zt”l. Because of Rav Henkin’s stature as one of the preeminent poskim in America, the significance of his position cannot be underestimated. It is for this reason that Rabbi Kleinman’s discovery is of great importance. However, to those unfamiliar with Rav Henkin’s writings on the subject, the article may leave some with the mistaken impression that not only did Rav Henkin in his final opinion not lend his support for the eruv, he was actually in opposition to the establishment of an eruv for Manhattan [since he joined Rav Moshe Feinstein who, as is well known, signed onto the 1962 kol korei in opposition to the Manhattan eruv; more about this later on]. This is incorrect, and as I will demonstrate further on, there are omissions in Rabbi Kleinman’s arguments, as well.
To begin with, it is important to note that the first Manhattan eruv, which was established by Rav Yehoshua Seigel zt”l in 1905, used as its parameters the natural riverbanks [mechitzos hayam] that only encompassed the Lower East Side up until the Third Avenue El. As the Jewish community migrated out of the Lower East Side, there was a growing need to enlarge the Manhattan eruv to encompass more of the island. In 1949, the Amshinover Rebbe zt"l urged Rav Tzvi Eisenstadt zt”l to establish an eruv that included the entire Manhattan. Rav Eisenstadt spent days investigating the Manhattan waterfront and concluded that it was bounded by man-made walls [mechitzos b’y’dai adam] and, therefore, an eruv could be established (Minchas Tzvi, siman 4). There were many meetings and teshuvos written concerning this eruv, the culmination being that most rabbanim allowed an eruv in Manhattan. Along with Rav Eisenstadt and the Amshinover Rebbe, the list included the Kapishnitzer Rebbe, Boyaner Rebbe, Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Michoel Dov Weissmandel, Rav Yonasan Steif, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav Menachem Kasher, and the Shatzer Rebbe, zt”l. In Iyar of 1962, an eruv was finally established under the supervision of the Shatzer Rebbe.
The following month on the 18th of Sivan, a kol korei opposing the Manhattan eruv was issued by the Agudas Harrabanim with the signatures of Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Gedalia Schorr, Rav Chaim Bick, and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l.