Rabbi Zev Leff is one of Israel’s most popular English-speaking Torah educators. For more than 20 years, he has served as the rav (rabbi) of Moshav Matityahu, a small religious community located in central Israel adjacent to Kiryat Sefer, and just outside Modiin. In addition to the shiurim (lectures) he gives seven days a week at Matityahu, Rabbi Leff is constantly traveling to speak at schools, yeshivot, seminaries, community centers, and events throughout Israel and abroad.
A much sought-after lecturer and teacher, Rabbi Leff is often called to England, South Africa, the United States and other countries to inspire, enlighten and provide Torah guidance. He has the rare ability to bring across a subtle point of Torah learning with wit, humor and analytical brilliance. Rabbi Leff has also authored books and countless articles.
Rabbi Leff received his semicha ordination from the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland Ohio, where he studied under Rav Mordechai Gifter, zt"l. In 1974, Rabbi Leff became the rabbi of Young Israel of North Miami Beach, where he spent the next nine years building a thriving young Torah community. Fulfilling a life-long dream, he moved with his family to Eretz Yisrael in 1983 settling in Moshav Matityahu where he continues to serve as Rav, as well as Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshiva Gedolah Matisyahu.
Rabbi Leff was born in the Bronx, New York and became interested in furthering his Judaic studies while attending a local Hebrew school. His Jewish education progressed after his family moved to the Greater Miami Area, and he began attendance in the Talmud Torah of a local Conservative temple. Here the teachers and lay leaders quickly recognized the young boy’s enormous potential. Impressed with the youth, they were determined to provide him with the best educational opportunities available.
Rabbi Leff entered the Hebrew Academy of Greater Miami, led by Rabbi Alexander S. Gross, zt"l. While he should have been placed in the fifth grade, he was placed in a third grade class in order to help him catch up. Two years later, Rabbi Leff had not only caught up but was rapidly developing into one of the school’s best talmidim. During this time, Rabbi Leff also made the decision to become shomer Shabbat.
Rabbi Leff then went on to the Mesivta of Greater Miami where he was regularly assigned to the most advanced shiurim in the yeshivah. He was an enthusiastic student and reveled in the give and take of Talmudic discussions. It was not uncommon for him to come up with she’eilot (questions) that his rebbeim couldn’t answer, as well as teshuvot (answers) to questions they had never even thought of.
Rabbi Leff left to study at the Telshe Yeshivah in Cleveland, Ohio, where he became a close talmid of Rav Mordechai Gifter, zt"l.
In the fall of 1968, he was introduced to Rivkah Minkoff, from Ellenville, New York. Before the end of that year they were engaged, and married soon after. The Leffs settled in Cleveland, where Rabbi Leff learned in kollel and supervised the Telshe dormitory.
During a Pesach visit to Miami in 1974, Rabbi Leff stepped in to help the Young Israel of Greater Miami in North Miami Beach with the Holiday sermons. His sermons were received so well that after Yom Tov, he was invited to apply for the position of rabbi.
After returning to Cleveland, he mentioned the experience, in passing, to Rav Gifter. To Rabbi Leff's surprise, Rav Gifter told him to apply, adding that 20 years earlier, the roshei yeshivah in the United States had made a major mistake by failing to encourage their best talmidim to enter rabbanut. Were more capable talmidim leading American synagogues, Rav Gifter said, America would look much different. He also reminded Rabbi Leff that he had a personal responsibility to serve the community that had helped him develop into a ben Torah.
Rabbi Leff returned to Miami for an interview. The board offered him a one-year contract. He took it, but asked Rav Gifter to hold his old job open in case things didn’t work out.
Rabbi Leff served as the rav of the Young Israel of Greater Miami for nine years. The transition from dormitory counselor at Telshe to rav of an out-of-town community was not terribly difficult for the young rabbi: he had been moving in two worlds his entire life. He had gone from growing up in a non-observant home to becoming the best talmid at the Mesivta. While he never compromised his religious principles, he always maintained ties with his former world. Indeed, his ability to incorporate all of his experiences so well enables him to relate to a broad spectrum of Jews. It is what gives him a perspective and a depth of experience that few other leaders in the Torah world have.
While Rabbi Leff served as a rabbi in Miami, he invested much time and effort working with the NCSY chapter based in his shul, and even returned to teach at the Mesivta where he had been a talmid more than a decade earlier.
By 1983, the Leffs decided to make aliyah. Upon moving to Israel, Rabbi Leff became the rav and morah d’asra (leader of the community) of Moshav Matityahu, a community located in central Israel adjacent to Kiryat Sefer, and just outside Modiin.
Today, in addition to his communal duties, Rabbi Leff is also rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva Gedolah Matisyahu, and oversees the 20-member kollel on the Moshav. Additionally, he teaches a group of unaffiliated Israelis who live near Moshav Matityahu and lectures at several leading Israeli yeshivot, seminaries and institutions, including the Orthodox Union’s Israel Center. He is a featured speaker at the conventions of the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel and Torah Umesorah.
"The lesson I learned more than 30 years ago at NCSY conventions is that Judaism is not monolithic and that there are many legitimate approaches to Yiddishkeit," says Rabbi Leff. "This has been the guiding philosophy of my life."