The Warmth of His Fire

March 14, 2024

His fire and fortitude in the beis midrash were legendary.

He fought like a lion for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.

Love and expectations were his signature style of chinuch.

The multifaceted life and work of Rabbi Meir Hertz zt”l

Elisheva Braun

Meir Hertz was born in 1948 Haifa, amid the raging throes of the Israeli war of independence.

He attended a government-run dati school, where he was infused with a burning love of Tanach.

Meir suffered from asthma, so summers found him staying with his grandfather, a chassidishe Yid living in Yerushalayim, far from the Haifa humidity.

“His grandfather lived right near the divide in Yerushalayim,” Rabbi Hertz’s son shares. “My father remembered the barbed wire separating the two sides of the city. Jordanians lived right across the street.”

More memorable than the politics of the day, Meir never forgot the gentle buzz he heard as he slept—the sound of his zeide learning Gemara with a soft niggun,starting at four in the morning.

“It’s very possible,” says his son, “that my father’s ahavas haTorah came from there. It’s possible that the asthma—which seemed, on the surface, like a bad thing—was what caused him to be imbued with the sweetness of Torah in his grandfather’s home.”

Meir was a young teenager when his family moved to Far Rockaway. At HILI (Hebrew Institute of Long Island), he grew close to his eighth-grade rebbi, Rabbi Shea Fishman.

As elementary school drew to a close, Rabbi Fishman drove Meir to Baltimore, where he was accepted to Yeshiva Ner Yisroel. There, he developed a lifelong connection with Rav Naftali Kaplan.

“During his yeshivah years, Abba developed a tremendous ahavas haTorah which stayed with him throughout his life. He never wavered from it,” a son says.

“I remember him telling me that as a bachur, he picked up the Moreh Nevuchim at 10:30 one night. The next time he looked up, it was 5:30 a.m. and he had devoured the entire sefer. Even as young bachur, he was like a kid with a mystery novel when it came to sefarim,” a daughter tells me. “My youngest brother is named Yechezkel after the Noda B’Yehudah. Abba told me that when he was younger, he fell in love with the Teshuvos Noda B’Yehudah. He would fall asleep learning it every night.”

A yeshivah’man at heart

Rabbi Perlstein, a noted talmid chacham and longtime chavrusa of Rabbi Hertz, shares, “When we started learning together, the first thing R’ Meir told me was, ‘I’m not here to learn like a ba’al habayis.’ He wanted to learn with the yeshivah’leit. He wanted to learn the shvere sugyos. He was so alive in the learning. He had such knowledge, such depth in learning, such a teshukah.

“With all his power, with all his clout, with all the weight he carried, what was his pride? Er is a ben Torah. He was proud to be a ben Torah. That’s who he respected; that’s who he was. A real ben Torah.”

Learning with Rabbi Perlstein in the Zichron Yaakov beis medrash, Rabbi Hertz “kept the whole beis medrash riled up,” as one son puts it. “If he had a kasha, he got everyone involved. He would go to all chavrusashafts and get them involved. He made the place alive, on fire, with the rischa d’Oraysa. He needed to share; he needed to challenge people. When he met someone, he would say, ‘I have a bomb kasha for you!’ His enthusiasm for learning overflowed from him.”

Devotion to chinuch

Chinuch was a tremendous part of who he was,” says Rabbi Yitzchok Hertz, R’ Meir’s son. “The Shabbos table was 100 percent hands-on chinuch. He would ask a question and make sure everyone understood it. Every child’s opinion was valued, appreciated, and encouraged, no matter the age.”

“He treated his daughters and sons equally at the Shabbos table,” a daughter interjects. “It didn’t matter if it was Gemara, Mishnah, or Chumash—my father made sure every girl could repeat the questions and understand the concepts.”

His devotion to chinuch led R’ Meir to hire the best, most chashuve chavrusas and rebbe’im to learn with his children.

“He had a way of complimenting us that made us feel as if we’d won the lottery. Sometimes, it was direct praise. More often, he would proudly repeat our kashes to others, and we knew how highly he thought of us.”

A young neighbor shares that he recalls R’ Meir speaking to him as if he were an adult, asking his opinion and schmoozing with him.

“He saw all people as big people,” says his son.

He was a visionary who was able to see people’s potential, their inner strength, their future—even when they couldn’t.

“He wouldn’t let you take a shortsighted view of yourself,” a daughter says. “He pushed us to do what he knew we were capable of doing.”

One son was on a Chol Hamo’ed trip when he overheard a boy ask his father which day of Chol Hamo’ed it was.

“It’s the third day,” the father replied.

The Hertz boy was shocked.

“My father would never simply feed us an answer. He would have encouraged us to come up with the answer on our own.”

Stopping at nothing

If someone was in need, whether they were experiencing a tzarah or they weren’t being treated right, R’ Meir would stop at nothing to help them.

“He really felt other people’s pain,” a son says. “Sometimes, struggling Israeli bachurim would come to the US for various reasons. Because my father knew Ivrit, people would ask if a bachur could come by for supper, just to schmooze. He never said no. With all his accomplishments, with all his greatness, he did this small chessed with so much joy. ‘When else do I get to speak in Ivrit?’ he would say with a smile.”

A family that had older girls to marry off had no means to financially support a kollel life.

“Say that you’re offering five years’ support,” Rabbi Hertz told the father. “I’ll pay.”

The girls soon found shidduchim, and Rabbi Hertz indeed paid up.

A Tashbar rebbi shares, “My ninth-grade daughter was unhappy in her high school and wanted to switch. I asked Rabbi Hertz for help. ‘I’ll do what I can,’ he said. His only stipulation was that I first clear the switch with the owner of the school my daughter attended at the time. He didn’t want the owner to feel hurt.

“He convinced the dean of the high school to meet with me, but they repeated what we’d already heard from them: ‘We don’t have room for your daughter.’

“Months later, at the end of the summer, Rabbi Hertz called me. ‘You’re in!’ All that time, he had been working behind the scenes to make it happen.”

Taking charge

When Meir was eight years old, his father asked him to do something. When Meir explained why he couldn’t complete the task, his father told him, “There are two types of people in the world, those who make excuses and those who get the job done. Make sure you’re the second type.”

This sense of responsibility, the ‘ein hadavar taluy ela bi’ urgency, stuck with him all his life.

R’ Meir became a person so many relied on.

At the levayah, R’ Meir’s younger brother R’ Boruch drove this point home.

“I lost my father and my mother, and I became a yasom,” he said. “Whenever I had a question that I would have asked my father or mother, I asked my brother instead. I always had my brother. Today, I feel like a real yasom.”

He had a sense of mission. He knew he was in this world to do, not for himself but for others,” notes a daughter. “He didn’t have buddies or pals he hung around with. His friends were those he learned with, did klal work with. The idealistic people who shared his vision were his yedidei nefesh.”

Aside from founding Tashbar and playing a key role in establishing YTT and Mesivta Keser Torah, Rabbi Hertz is probably most famous for running Lakewood’s HUD program for close to 50 years.

How did he get involved?

Rav Eliyahu Levine shares that R’ Meir lived in a crowded apartment complex. The landlord didn’t take care of issues and harassed his tenants with all sorts of fees and charges. The tipping point came when a woman with a challenging life told the landlord that she didn’t have hot water. He was rude to her and refused to solve the issue.

When the problem was his personal issue, he didn’t fight. But when someone else was hurting, R’ Meir couldn’t tolerate the injustice. He organized a rent strike for the entire complex, forming LTO (Lakewood Tenants’ Organization), which still exists today.

The landlord laughed at his efforts—one small man fighting a large company. But with a lot of lobbying and determination, he eventually prevailed. On the way, he formed connections with Lakewood’s mayor and township officials. This network would soon prove invaluable.

Reading the newspaper one day, R’ Meir learned that there was federal rent money available but that the Lakewood township had refused the funds. The reason? It didn’t want to attract low-income residents.

With the connections in place, Rabbi Hertz was able to show township officials how he would run HUD so it wouldn’t have any negative effects on Lakewood, a win-win for everyone.

At the time, Rabbi Hertz was working with Rabbi Dov Lesser to launch a BMG kollel in Pittsburgh. On the recommendation of Rav Shneur Kotler, Rabbi Hertz was chosen as rosh kollel. Rabbi Hertz built Lakewood’s HUD program with the understanding that he wouldn’t be local to run it or benefit from his work, although in the end, his plan to move fell through.

Moving mountains

If anyone could make something happen, it was Rabbi Hertz.

Rabbi Perlstein said, “R’ Meir once shared that approximately $60–70 million had gone through his account to yungerleit. Do you know how much shalom bayis he saved, how many people were able to stay in learning because of him, how much Torah he was tomeich?”

When he learned that Lakewood’s Title 1 funds were being diverted to public schools, Rabbi Hertz fought a bitter battle to ensure that all students could get the support they needed.

It didn’t matter if his opinion was unpopular. Even when his efforts made him enemies, Rabbi Hertz forged on.

Through it all, his devoted wife, Mrs. Chani Hertz, stood by him.

Was she ever afraid?

“I remember the first time the government started up with him. I had eight children to marry off, and I was so scared. I asked him, ‘Maybe you don’t have to do this?’ But trying to stop my husband from doing the right thing was next to impossible. When he knew something was right, he fought for it. There was no guarantee he would succeed. It wasn’t easy for him. But courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the ability to transcend fear and go on.When the going got tough, the tough kept going. That was my husband.”


“Abba was passionate about sharing the joys of Yiddishkeit with non- or less religious Jews. He felt an achrayus to use the extraordinary kochos Hashem gave him to impact others. My mother was a full partner in his work,” a daughter relates.

As a kollel yungerman in the early ’70s, he organized Gefen Poriya, a system in which Lakewood yungerleit learned with local ba’alei batim. He later helped found Ohr Samayach in Monsey, where he would give shiurim from time to time.

In the summers of ’ 76 and ’77, the couple went on a SEED program to Brazil, a toddler and three-week-old baby in tow. This week, the son of the couple who hosted them came to be menachem avel.He told of the doros that are frum because of the Hertzes.

Through Rabbi Neustadt’s Vaad L’hatzalas Nidchei Yisroel, the couple visited Russia in the freezing winter of 1983. The KGB bugged their hotel room and followed the couple every step of the way. Prohibited from distributing religious items, the Hertzes smuggled eight sets of tallis and tefillin.

“All these sets are ours,” they insisted. “We have a weekday pair, one for Shabbos, for Ta’anis Esther, and for Purim…for each of us.”

They also brought ink, which they explained away as dye for R’ Meir’s graying beard.

A son says, “I recently met Rabbi Eliyahu Essas, a famous refusenik and a tremendous talmid chacham, who remembers my father fondly.”

The Hertzes left no stone unturned in trying to help Jews find Yiddishkeit.

They spent Shabbosim with the kehillah in Moodus, Connecticut, and worked with Yossi Wallis to bring Arachim programs to America.

“After the first Lakewood Arachim seminar, a frum man told us, ‘Now I know why I’m frum. Now I know the Torah is true,” Mrs. Chani Hertz remembers. “It was a very powerful moment.”

Echoing her husband’s insistence that children understand what they’re taught, she tells me, “Sometimes, children need to understand; they need to know. When we grow up frum, we take it for granted. It’s important to give new dimensions of thinking even to frum people.”

Love of life

“Abba had an innate curiosity, a sense of adventure, a tremendous optimism that carried him through massive challenges. He woke up excited to see what he could do that day.

He viewed problems as puzzles for him to crack. He never despaired, never gave up. He knew there was a solution; it was just a matter of finding it. He wasn’t afraid to try new things; he relished the challenge.

He had a sense of adventure; he loved exploring new places, always managing to find interesting people to talk to, constantly broadening his horizons.

His enthusiasm for life and unshakable bitachon were put to the test when his son Tzvi was suddenly niftar.

“I’ve never seen my father so heartbroken. He was in so much agony. He was devastated. His emunah, however, never wavered. he constantly worked to strengthen his emunah. He reached out for chizuk;he never felt it was beneath him to get support from others, even much younger people.”

A living kiddush Hashem

At the levayah, Rav Shmuel Perlstein said, “Before the petirah, R’ Meir was in a shvere matzav. He was forgetting things, losing his ability to control his mind. He forgot my name; he forgot where he was. When he came into the beis medrash, it was a peleh! The only thing he remembered, the only thing he understood, was Torah. Until the last kochos, until the last inch of his mind, he was devoted to Torah. As it got harder for him to learn, he kept working on it. He never, ever gave up.”

In the last two years, he was deteriorating physically, but he learned every day with his chavrusa Rabbi Shmuel Perlstein. To see him schlepping in a wheelchair, fighting to concentrate, was an astounding sight. Anyone who saw it was inspired by his unbelievable dedication. It was a tremendous kiddush Hashem.

May we learn from his strength, his courage, his indomitable drive to do the right thing, his unwavering clarity and focus, his wholehearted avodas Hashem.

May his family have a nechamah, as well as all the tens of thousands warmed by the sun of his personality, and may we be zocheh to greet him very soon with the coming of Mashiach.

Yehi zichro baruch.


With strength and softness

Rabbi’s Hertz’s indelible impact on Tashbar

“Every rebbi should reach every talmid every day,” was a creed Rabbi Hertz shared all the time with menahalim and rebbe’im.

Years before it was in style, Rabbi Hertz championed attentive, loving chinuch.

It was mentioned at the levayah that to see the greatness of his chinuch, one only has to look at the Hertz children, the greatest testament to who he was.

“I learned extra mishnayos with some of his sons who are all very bright. It was clear from our interactions just how much thought and effort he invested in their chinuch,” Rabbi Applegrad, a Tashbar rebbi for 30 years, says.

Understanding brings love

Tashbar was one of the first Lakewood schools to teitch into English.

Parents in town saw that there was a need for a mosad that teitches in English. Rabbi Hertz was approached and asked to open Tashbar.

“Rabbi Hertz was a person who got things done. When he wanted to do something, nothing stood in his way,” Rabbi Applegrad says.

“He wanted the boys to understand what they were learning. He deeply believed that understanding the Torah is what brings joy and love for it,” says Rabbi Heller, who worked with Rabbi Hertz for 15 years, first as a rebbi and later, a menahel.

“Rabbi Hertz would sometimes stop boys in the hallway and schmooze with them in learning. He was elated when a boy was clear on the limud. Rabbi Hertz cared deeply about havanah.”

Love of Torah

Rabbi Applegrad remembers, “Rabbi Hertz used to host a Purim-night seudah for the rebbe’im. One year, when we were sitting around the table, Rabbi Levi Goodman came by to collect tzedakah. Rabbi Hertz spoke in learning with Rabbi Goodman. Rabbi Goodman had a kashe, and Rabbi Hertz offered a teretz.

“Twelve months later, we were sitting around the same table when Rabbi Goodman came to collect once again. ‘I have a teretz for your kashe!’ Rabbi Hertz told him, and they were right back in the sugya where they’d left off the previous Purim.”

Rabbi Heller relates, “A family that was part of Tashbar for many years graduated their youngest of seven boys. After graduation, the parent paid a visit to Rabbi Hertz, and he told him that he wanted to give him a gift for everything the dean had done for his family. Rabbi Hertz said, ‘Please, I don’t need a gift. It is a zechus for me…’

“On that cue, all seven metzuyanim walked into the room. That was the gift he did treasure, and Rabbi Hertz was always visibly emotional when talking about this story. He thanked Hashem for having the opportunity to have a share in the chinuch of Tashbar.”

Nothing gave him greater pleasure than hearing about the accomplishments of his talmidim.

“One of our first-grade rebbe’im is a Tashbar alumnus,” Rabbi Heller adds. “The pride and nachas he had when we got to hire talmid as a rebbi are indescribable.”

What got Rabbi Hertz excited? Says Rabbi Heller, “His love and excitement for a good kashe were legendary. When he had a kashe he liked, the whole world heard about it. There were times when he came to yeshivah for Minchah and shared a kashe with the boys, offering a cash reward for every good answer. His son later shared that Rabbi Hertz used to collect the answers and write them down; they were so precious to him.”

“He had our backs”

“Rabbi Hertz was so proud of his rebbe’im,” says Rabbi Heller. “He gave them chashivus and praise, he always had a kind word for them. He empowered his menahalim; he trusted us. While he liked to be updated and informed, he let us lead the school.

“Rabbi Hertz always told us, ‘People ask me what my algorithm is for getting the very best rebbe’im. I tell them it’s a gift from Hashem.’

“A rebbi who was part of Tashbar for over 20 years said that he can’t remember one encounter with Rabbi Hertz from which he didn’t walk away feeling better about himself.”

“He wanted perfection, the highest standards of education, but he never pressured a rebbi to be something he wasn’t,” Rabbi Applegrad shares. “He always referred to the staff as ‘mishpachti,’my family. The rebbe’im’s and teachers’ simchos were his; our tzaros were his. His wife has always been involved. When a staff member went through a hard time, Rabbi Hertz would call them and ask what he could do to help, from financial assistance to chizuk.”

Rabbi Hertz was a master mechanech who will be sorely missed.