Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Chofetz Hayyim His Death, the New York Times and Research Tools

I have gotten multiple emails (and now S. has posted it on English Hebraica) in the past couple of days regarding an obituary which appeared in the New York Times for the Chofetz Hayyim. The email explains that after hearing someone mentioning the Times covered the Chofetz Hayyim's death the person couldn't believe it and decided to investigate the matter. He then went to the New York Public Library and poured over microfiche to finally locate the story on the Chofetz Hayyim's death. The story, which did indeed appear in the Times, is merely a republication of a Jewish Telegraphic Association article.

There are two points I would like to mention about this whole email and story surrounding it. First, I am at a loss to understand why this person had to go the New York Public Library. While I am all for libraries, for this research he could have done it from the comfort of his home in under 5 seconds. All he had to do was go the New York Times website and search using the words Chofetz Chaim. He would have found the article he located as well as another one, this second one actually written by the Times describing the memorial services held in Brooklyn. This second article discusses the various eulogies held at Tifereth Israel and had Rabbis Simha Solovetchick, Israel Dushowitz and M. Somanowits in attendance and participating in various degrees. Anyone who has a Times Select subscription (if you subscribe it is free) can download the articles.

Second, according to both articles the Chofetz Hayyim was 105 years old when he died. His actual age, however, is in dispute. Some place him at a mere 94 when he died. R. Nathan Kamenetsky, in his Making of a Godol, attempts to prove how old the Chofetz Hayyim actually was. He does so in a rather ingenious manner. First, he attempts to figure out how old the Chofetz Hayyim was when his father father died during the cholera epidemic. Also, at age 70 there was a birthday celebration that R. Kahanneman (Ponivezher Rav) attended in Radin. R. Kahanneman was in Radin in 1909 thus putting the Chofetz Hayyim's birthday in 1839. Finally, R. Kamenetsky points to the recently published request of the Chofetz Hayyim's to emigrate to Israel and the birth dates used there. In the end, R. Kamenetsky concludes that in fact the Chofetz Hayyim was a spring chicken of 94 when he died. (See Making of a Godol, pp. 1106-1108).

It is also worth mentioning that America was not the only other country (outside of Radin or Europe) where there were eulogies for the Chofetz Hayyim. R. Elchonon Wasserman was in England when the Chofetz Hayyim died and participated in a service for the Chofetz Hayyim where Rabbi I. J. Unterman gave a eulogy. London Jewish Chronicle, October 6, 1933, p. 8. (Thanks to Menachem of AJHistory fame.)

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