Friday, February 15, 2008

The Saga of Publishing the Works of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner

The Saga of Publishing the Works of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner:
The Issue of Inclusion of Zionism and Rav Kook
by David Glasner
David Glasner, an economist at the Federal Trade Commission, is a great-grandson of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner.

This is his first contribution to the Seforim blog.
Many readers of the Seforim blog may be interested, perhaps even pleased, to hear about the recent publication of a new volume containing a number of works of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner (1856-1924), chief rabbi (av beit din) of Klausenburg (1877-1923), one of the founding fathers of Mizrahi, author of Dor Revi’i on Hullin, Shevivei Eish on the Torah and on selected sugyot, as well as two volumes of posthumously published responsa (Shu"t Dor Revi’i is available online at, and a new volume, entitled Ohr Bahir, which contains six previously published shorter works (kuntresim) that were published between about 1900 and 1915. In chronological order the six kuntresim are Haqor Davar published in 5661 (1900/01) which addresses the permissibility of conversion in cases of intermarriage; Ohr Bahir published in 5668 (1907/08) on the laws of mikva’ot and a defense of the kashrut of the Klausenburg mikveh against (likely politically inspired) aspersions on its kashrut; Yeshna li-Shehitah, on the laws of shehitah published in 5671 (1911); Halakhah l’Moshe published in 5672 (1911/12) on the laws of shehitah and bedikat ha-sakin; Matzah Shemurah on the requirement of shemirah for matzah and on the kashrut of machine matzah during Passover published in 5675 (1914/15); Hametz Noqsha on the sugya of hametz noqsha in Pesahim published together with Matzah Shemurah. In addition to these six previously published works, the volume also contains a previously unpublished responsum by the Dor Revi’i dating from about 1921 or 1922 as well as three short articles by my late father, Rabbi Juda Glasner, which were previously published in the rabbinical journal ha-Pardes.[1]

In a post at the Seforim blog entitled "From Ma’adanei Eretz to Kitvei Ma’adanei Eretz" (link), Rabbi Chaim Rapoport of London discussed the recent publication of a new volume of writings about shemitah by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach entitled Kitvei Ma’adanei Eretz, which includes substantial portions of Rabbi Auerbach’s classic Ma’adanei Eretz, a book written specifically to address halakhic questions associated with shemitah. Rabbi Rapoport posed the question why Ma’adanei Eretz, a classic work that has been out of print for over 30 years, was not itself republished in its entirety. Rabbi Rapoport posited two reasons for its not having been republished. First, in Ma’adanei Eretz, Rabbi Auerbach discussed at length the heter mechirah, which, while not his preferred option, Rabbi Auerbach did regard as halakhically valid and treated respectfully as a legitimate option. Second, Rabbi Auerbach discussed at length, and with the utmost veneration, the halakhic positions of his mentor, Rabbi A. I. Kook. Rabbi Rapoport speculated that Haredi opinion regards both the heter mechirah and Rabbi Kook as being beyond the pale of acceptability. To allow contemporary readers ready access to Rabbi Auerbach’s opinions could evidently have two dangerous outcomes. Questions might arise in some minds about the justification for casting the heter mechirah and Rabbi Kook into the outer darkness, and, perhaps even more disconcerting, in other minds doubts might arise about Rabbi Auerbach’s position as a (or the) pre-eminent late twentieth century Haredi halakhic authority.

Rabbi Rapoport noted that this Haredi attitude toward Rabbi Kook had apparently caused the latter to be excluded from the index of authorities on the Rambam in the Frankel edition of the Mishneh Torah. In his Spring 2005 review of the Frankel Rambam in Jewish Action [PDF], Rabbi Rapoport commented on the exclusion of Rabbi Kook (along with such other luminaries as Rabbis Y.Y. Reines, I. Herzog, J. B. Soloveitchik and M. M Schneerson) from that index. He also pointed out with a certain hint of surprise that the filter against religious incorrectness that had apparently screened the above-mentioned authorities had not excluded the name of my illustrious ancestor from the index of notables despite my ancestor’s outspoken Zionism and other (from a Haredi perspective) problematical positions.

This somewhat rambling introduction is intended to set the stage for the following little drama in which I participated during the runup to the publication of the new volume of my great-grandfather’s writings. The idea for the volume began to take shape three or four years ago when my nephew decided that he would like to sponsor the publication of a volume of works by one of our many distinguished ancestors to mark the bar-mitzvah of his oldest son (which was celebrated b’sha’ah tovah u-mutzlahat a few weeks ago on Shabbat Shirah). I suggested to him the idea of republishing the five kuntresim of the Dor Revi’i, which had been out of print for nearly a century and are now almost unknown and unavailable. I took upon myself the task of re-typing the original into a Hebrew word-processor and to the best of my ability flagging problematic spellings, misprints, typos, etc., and providing as many references to citations as I could find on my own. We eventually retained a cousin in Israel to finish the editorial process (find remaining references for citations and add explanatory footnotes as needed) and to guide the project through its final stages. After the passing of my father, we decided to dedicate the volume to his memory as well as to the celebration of my great-nephew’s bar-mitzvah, and therefore included three short articles that my father had published. It was also agreed that I would write an introduction in which I would say something about the life and work of my great-grandfather and about my father.

By last August, when the editorial process was nearing completion, I had finished a draft of my introduction. In the introduction, I tried to give a brief account of the Dor Revi’i’s life and an appreciation of his (in my eyes heroic) character. To me it did not seem possible to portray his life or his character adequately without mentioning his dedication to Zionism and his large role in the founding of Mizrahi. I also thought that it was necessary to point out that he was very much alone among his colleagues in the Hungarian rabbinate in supporting Zionism and, as a result, was much abused and vilified. His response, however, was never in kind, only to work even harder to support and defend his positions with ever more powerful and more rigorous arguments. I also made mention of the high regard in which he was held by the gedolim of his time, e.g., by Rabbi Kook, to whom he became very closely attached after leaving Klausenburg in the spring of 1923 for Jerusalem where he spent the last 18 months of his life before his sudden passing during haqafot on the night of Shemini Atzeret in 1924. But I also pointed out that he was similarly esteemed by other gedolei ha-dor who were not known for their ardent Zionistic tendencies such as the Maharsham of Brezan (who wrote haskamot to Ohr Bahir and Matzah Sh’murah which are also included in this volume), R. Meir Simha of Dvinsk, R. Haim Ozer Grodzinski, and the Tchebiner Rav.

The draft of my introduction was shown to various members of my extended family. The Dor Revi’i had ten children, and the political and religious views of the descendants, as one might expect, cover a pretty wide spectrum of opinions. The feedback from the more Haredi sectors of the family was not positive.

The first objection that I received was from someone who considered it inappropriate to mention the Dor Revi’i’s close relationship with Rabbi Kook, inasmuch as it is no longer acceptable in Haredi circles to mention Rabbi Kook’s name. I was, to put it mildly, shocked when I heard this objection. I would not have been surprised by an objection to my mention of the Dor Revi’i’s Zionism, but I was not prepared for an objection to the mere mention of Rabbi Kook’s name. In view of the friendship between my great-grandfather and Rabbi Kook and the fact that Rabbi Kook had defended my great-grandfather against scurrilous attacks that had been made upon him,[2] I decided that I could not, on principle, delete Rabbi Kook’s name. But I also told my niece and nephew that if they wished, I would withdraw my introduction and they could substitute a more acceptable introduction by someone else in its place. Their response was that they did not want to publish the volume without my introduction and that I should continue to work on it.

Then the other shoe dropped. This time the objection came from a source with whom my niece and nephew have a much closer personal relationship than they have with the first complainant who had objected only to my mentioning Rabbi Kook’s name, but had not objected explicitly to my discussion of Zionism. The new complaint was that politics had no place in the introduction to a book (such as this) about halakhah, and that whatever my great-grandfather had meant by Zionism in his day, it was certainly much different then from what it is today. Moreover, it was asked, what purpose could possibly be served by revisiting all these old issues that no one really understands, or even cares about, today? I was taken aback by the criticisms to say the least, because it seemed to me that if my great-grandfather had devoted so much effort and suffered such heartache in working and writing and speaking on behalf of Zionism and had endured so much abuse as a consequence, then surely it would not be right to pretend that his mesirut nefesh for the sake of Zionism was null and void and unworthy of memory or mention. I then suggested a compromise in which I would delete the word “tzionut” and would substitute “shivat tzion” in its place. However, I said that I would not delete mention of his participation in the founding of Mizrahi and the 1904 conference in Pressburg. That proposal was shot down at once. I was told that in Haredi circles the very word “Mizrahi” is considered a form of nivul peh and that the social standing of my relatives in their communities would be at risk if it ever became known that they had an ancestor who had been a founder of such an organization. When I pointed out that it was a well-known fact that the Dor Revi’i was a Zionist, I was told that in their circles it was not well-known and they would do all they could to keep it from becoming well known.[3] At this point, I realized that my introduction would not be printed as it was, and rather than seek to rewrite it (there was not enough time for me to have done a decent job even if I had wanted to), I took out everything that I had written about my great-grandfather, but left intact the short account of my father’s life that I had written. To replace my introduction, my niece and nephew were able to secure at the last minute a contribution from Rabbi Avraham Yafe Schlesinger of Geneva and Jerusalem, who is also a great-grandson of the Dor Revi’i, a prolific author (several volumes of Shu"t Be’er Sarim) with, as far as I can tell, impeccable Haredi credentials, and who recently published a new edition of Shevivei Eish combined in one volume with a previously unpublished collection of drashot by the father of the Dor Revi’i, Rabbi Avraham Glasner (1825/26-1877) which he called Dor Dorshav.[4]

What is the deeper significance of this sad little tale? First, it solves the minor puzzle about which Rabbi Rapoport wondered in his Jewish Action review, namely, what made the Dor Revi’i an acceptable entry for the Frankel index of authorities when other luminaries of a similar ilk were not acceptable. The answer, I now understand, is that there is nothing that makes the Dor Revi’i more acceptable than the others beyond the (from my perspective) unfortunate fact that there are too few people around who know who the Dor Revi’i was and what his political and hashqafic beliefs were to make the appearance of his name objectionable to most contemporary Haredim.[5] It’s not a matter of the intrinsic acceptability of the authority, just a question of what one can get away with. If enough people recognize the name and associate it with taboo opinions, it has to go. If they don’t recognize it, or don’t know enough about it to mind, then gezunter heit. Second, it shows how extraordinarily powerful are the pressures to conform in Haredi society. Individuals and ideas that do not perfectly fit the accepted norms (and thereby suggest the possibility of different norms) of that society are literally taboo. To mention Rabbi Kook in the context of a halakhic discussion or as something other than an object of scorn is in wide sections of that community to cross a red line. For my Haredi relatives, it is truly a scary thought that their ancestor would be grouped together with one such as Rabbi Kook. I really am on very close and friendly terms with many of my Haredi relatives, including some who are and some who aren’t Dor Revi’i einiklakh, and I have great respect and admiration and very deep affection for them. But this episode has forced me to view their society from a new and, I regret to say, disturbing angle. In the course of my little encounter with Haredi sensibilities, I felt a whole range of emotions, but the one that remains after having (largely) gotten over it is compassion for people who actually have to live in fear lest the events of a life such as the one led by their very own ancestor, the Dor Revi'i, become known within the community in which they live.

[1] For further information about my great-grandfather, the Dor Revi’i, see my “Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner, the Dor Revi’i,” Tradition 32.1 (Winter 1998): 40-56, which is available, along with other translations of his various works -- including all the divrei torah on the parshiot and hagim from Shevivei Eish and translations of various writings of his son and successor as chief rabbi of Klausenburg, Rabbi Akiva Glasner -- online at If you would like to purchase a copy of Ohr Bahir ($20 a copy plus $3 shipping and handling for single copies), please contact me by email (, please put “Ohr Bahir” in the subject heading). If you are in Israel and would like to purchase a copy, please contact Rabbi Shaya Herzog 04-697-4802 or 052-764-6975 for further information. If you are a book seller and would like to order copies, please contact me directly.

[2] The attacks were made in a pamphlet (Mishpat Tzedeq) published by the newly formed Sephardic community in Klausenburg, which was the creation of a small group consisting of perhaps one hundred families (out of a total Jewish population in Klausenburg that exceeded 10,000) who decided that they could no longer remain subject to the authority of a Zionist rabbi. The term “Sephardic community” was a sort of legal fiction designed to gain the recognition of the secular authorities that would recognize only one Orthodox community within a given town or district. The only “Sephardic” aspect of the community was that they recited prayers in “nusah s’fard.” Largely made up of Sigheter Hasidim, the group chose as their spiritual leader Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the future Satmarer Rebbe, whose older brother, the Atzei Haim, was then the incumbent Rebbe in Sighet, original seat of the family dynasty. R. Joelish never took up residence in Klausenburg, and after heading the Klausenburg Sephardic community for about five years, he vacated the position in favor of his nephew Rabbi Y. Y. Halberstam, who eventually was to become famous as the Klausenburger Rebbe. While the brilliance and charisma of the latter were already evident during his years in Klausenburg, he led a community that was never more than one or two percent the size of the community headed by my grandfather, and who, in his own right, was one of the leading rabbinical figures in Europe in the interwar period. It was only after Holocaust destroyed organized Jewish life in Hungary, and after he had left Klausenburg, that the adjective “Klausenburger” became routinely attached to Rabbi Halberstam. For the three quarters of a century prior to the Holocaust the title “Klausenburger Rav” was held by a Glasner. That, as such things go, is a fairly straightforward historical fact, and is not meant as explicit or implicit derogation of Rabbi Halberstam. Unlike his uncle, whose hostility to the successor of the Dor Revi’i was unrelenting, Rabbi Halberstam did maintain a civil, even friendly, relationship with my grandfather during his nearly twenty years in Klausenburg. After publication of Mishpat Tzedeq, the Orthodox community of Klausenburg published a pamphlet (Yishuv Mishpat, now available online on the website of the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem) opposing the breakaway community and defending my great-grandfather against the attacks leveled against him. Rabbi Kook contributed an open letter (a hyperlink to the letter is available at to the rabbis who allowed their opinions permitting the breakaway of the Sephardic community from the Orthodox community in Klausenburg to be published in a pamphlet containing slanderous accusations against the Klausenburger Rav whom Rabbi Kook described as “gadol ha-dor b’torah b’hokhmah, bi-z’khut avot, u-v’midot terumiot.”

[3] I was also told by one relative that he had it on good authority that after the Dor Revi’i arrived in Palestine and saw with his own eyes the disasters perpetrated by the Zionists, the Dor Revi’i repented of his Zionism and was subsequently shunned by his former Zionist friends. A rumor to this effect actually seems to have circulated during the lifetime of the Dor Revi’i, and a former resident of Klausenburg, Shlomo Zimroni, who settled in Israel after the Holocaust and wrote a number of works about the religious history of Klausenburg, refers to this rumor in a short article about my great-grandfather in Shana b’Shanah, published by Heichal Shlomo (5640): 434-39. He quoted from a letter that the Dor Revi’i wrote to a former lay antagonist who, having heard the rumor, wrote to invite his return to Klausenburg and to propose reconciliation. The letter quoted by Zimroni (pp. 436-37) makes emphatically clear that the writer had not changed his mind. The suggestion that the Dor Revi’i changed his mind about Zionism and was then shunned by his former friends is further refuted by the following story which, my father told me he had heard from his father, Rabbi Akiva Glasner, when his father sat shiva for his mother (the wife of the Dor Revi’i) in the early 1930s (when my father was probably in his mid-teens). According to my father, my grandfather said that when Rabbi Yosef Hayyim Sonnenfeld, a student of the Ketav Sofer, the Dor Revi’i’s uncle and (briefly) teacher, paid a shiva call at the home of the Dor Revi’i in Jerusalem, he begged forgiveness from the Dor Revi’i’s rebbetzin for not having attended the funeral of her husband. He said that he had not meant any disrespect by not attending and indeed had had every intention to attend the funeral, but had been misled as to the time of the funeral by his aides who did not want him to show public respect to a Zionist. That apology and explanation would obviously not make any sense had the Dor Revi’i renounced his Zionist opinions and had he been shunned by his former Zionist friends. In that case, why would Rabbi Sonnenfeld’s handlers have wanted to prevent a show of public respect by Rabbi Sonnenfeld to the Dor Revi’i? Such inventions of “bsof yamav” have become a characteristic of of Haredi oral traditions (urban legends) and historiography as Rabbi Rapoport noted in footnote 10 of his posting.

[4] Avraham Glasner was a talmid muvhaq of the Ketav Sofer. He married Raizel Ehrenfeld (daughter of Dovid Tzvi and Hindel Ehrenfeld), a niece of the Ketav Sofer and the oldest granddaughter of the Hatam Sofer. In his twenties, he was appointed chief rabbi of Gyonk, Hungary, and after eleven years in that position he became chief rabbi of Klausenburg. He served in that position for 14 years until his premature death at the age of 52. His only son, Moshe Shmuel, though only 21 years old, was appointed to succeed him on erev Hanukah in 1877. Moshe Shmuel was the oldest great-grandchild of the Hatam Sofer, which along with the implicit Zionistic allusion, was the reason that he chose “Dor Revi’i” as the title of his great work.

[5] It’s therefore somewhat comforting to know that the memory of the Dor Revi’i is being kept alive, if not exactly well, among the Satmarers. They have long memories and nurse their grievances with care and feeling. Thus in volume six of the official biography of the Rebbe, Reb Joelish, unpretentiously entitled Moshian shel Yisrael, there is a whole chapter that is largely devoted to my great-grandfather. The title of the chapter is “milhemet ha-shem neged amaleq.”

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