A world-class Talmudist with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Talmud and its commentaries, Rabbi Shalom Povarsky—a beloved teacher, known for his warmth, charm and loving smile— passed away on Shabbat, Dec. 26, after a brief battle with the coronavirus. He was 85 years old.

In addition to being a renowned scholar who dedicated his days to teaching Talmud and poring over nuances in Maimonides, Rabbi Povarsky was known for the love and care he showed his students and acquaintances.

When an orphaned student was slated to be married, the rabbi recruited some of his students and took them on an atypical trip: to the apartment this bridegroom was soon moving into. “He’d never mopped a floor before,” his son, Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Povarsky, tells Chabad.org, but the rabbi, always sensitive to the needs of others, realized that it had been overlooked. For hours, the great scholar swept, mopped and dusted before returning home, telling nobody, not even his wife. “During the shivah, a student came and told us this story. Nothing was beneath him.”

When a neighbor lost her husband, leaving nine young orphans, the rabbi helped raise the children as his own, getting them into the right schools and concerning himself with their needs.

Born in 1935 in Baranovitch, Belarus, to Rabbi Dovid and Chaya Feigel Povarsky, Rabbi Shalom was the youngest of the three Povarsky brothers: the eldest, Rabbi Boruch Dov (Berel) Povarsky, serves as head of academy at the Ponevezh yeshivah in Bnei Brak, Israel, where he has taught since 1953; the second, Dr. Chaim Povarsky, is an expert on Hebrew law.

In Baranovitch, the rabbi’s father was a study partner of the illustrious Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman—murdered by the Nazis in 1941—at the Yeshivah Ohel Torah. Life was becoming more difficult under the oppressive Communist boot. Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Povarsky recalls his father's childhood during the period before the family fled to Vilna, and later, Palestine: “The Soviets raided the cheder and commanded all the children to remove their yarmulkes.” For Rabbi Dovid Povarsky, this was the last straw. In 1940, the family fled to Vilna.

Rabbi Shalom Povarsky, center, with his brothers, Dr. Chaim Povarsky, left, and Rabbi Boruch Dov Povarsky.
Rabbi Shalom Povarsky, center, with his brothers, Dr. Chaim Povarsky, left, and Rabbi Boruch Dov Povarsky.

In 1941, Rabbi Povarsky emigrated to Israel with his family; his father became rosh yeshivah, or head of academy, at Chabad’s Achei Tmimim yeshivah in Tel Aviv before moving on to lead the Ponevezh yeshivah in Bnei Brak in 1945.

Rabbi Boruch Dov Povarsky, today a leading figure in Israel’s Lithuanian Orthodox community, studied informally at Achei Tmimim, alongside Rabbi Yoel Kahan, who went on to become the chozer” (responsible for memorizing and transcribing the talks of the Rebbe) of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Rabbi Shalom Povarsky, a gifted scholar and teacher at a young age, began teaching at the Be’er Yaakov yeshivah, shortly before his marriage to Cheina Esther Pines in 1962. He taught there for 20 years, gaining acclaim for his lectures.

In 1982, he was appointed Rosh Yeshivah of the Jerusalem Kol Torah yeshivah, where his reputation as a stellar lecturer continued to grow, attracting students from all over the world.

What made him stand out among his colleagues was his strong emphasis on the simple reading of the Talmudic commentaries, rather than ascribing novel interpretations to their words. Many a budding scholar was gently chided by the rabbi for hastily offering their own reading of Tosafot or Rosh, before carefully considering the nuance in the author’s every word. “To my father,” Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Povarsky tells Chabad.org, “each word was holy and special. He analyzed every word deeply before offering his own understanding.”

Even after decades of teaching the same material, year after year, no two lectures were alike. “He spent four to five hours preparing for his classes. It was something new each time,” says his son.

But more than his scholarship and teaching, was his personal, caring relationship with his students and with anyone who crossed paths with him. While visiting the United States once, the rabbi went to a bank to make a deposit. “I know you,” said the non-Jewish teller. The rabbi was sure they hadn’t met before and asked what he meant. “You came here last year,” replied the teller, “and I’ll never forget your smile.”

Rabbi Povarsky’s prayers were legendary in the yeshivah circles. “He was full of emotion, he prayed with such feeling and sweetness,” his son describes. “For a Lithuanian Rosh Yeshivah, his emotional prayers were an anomaly.”

“When he would recite the Haftarah,” recalled a student, “he would cry at the words of the blessing: ‘Cause us to rejoice … with Elijah the prophet, Your servant, and with the kingdom of the House of David, Your anointed.’ ”

“He had a warm heart,” his son says, “more than just the Torah he taught, he taught the joy of Torah.”

He is survived by his wife, Cheina Esther, and their children.