Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Writings of R. Hayyim Dov Ber Gulevsky - Part I

The Writings of R. Hayyim Dov Ber Gulevsky - Part I
Marc B. Shapiro
In honor of Dan Rabinowitz, in appreciation of his commitment to the free and open exchange of ideas.

In a previous post I mentioned the new writings of R. Kook and also the works of R. Hayyim Dov Ber Gulevsky. I would like to speak about both of them before returning to my discussions of Judaism and Christianity.
Let me begin with R. Gulevsky, who obviously is not as well known as R. Kook, although he does have his own important yichus. He was born in Brisk where his grandfather was the famous R. Simcha Zelig Rieger, who served as dayan in the city. (Professor Sara Regeuer of Brooklyn College is also a descendant.) R. Simcha Zelig was descended from R. Hayyim of Volozhin’s brother, R. Simcha, for whom Gulevsky’s grandfather was named. Gulevsky is also descended from R. Hayyim of Volozhin.[1] A picture of the young Gulevsky and R. Simcha Zelig is found in the recently published Iggerot Maran ha-Griz, p. 174.
Stories of R. Simcha Zelig’s relationship with R. Hayyim Soloveitchik and R. Velvel are legendary. While R. Hayyim and R. Velvel focused on theoretical Torah study, R. Simcha Zelig was an expert in practical halakhah. It was because of this that R. Hayyim brought him from Volozhin to Brisk. Unfortunately, his many responsa were lost during the Holocaust, in which he was also killed. One interesting point about R. Hayyim and R. Simcha Zelig is that neither of them wore rabbinic garb. Here is a painting of both of them (made from famous pictures) found in Gulevsky’s home.

Gulevsky’s parents were also killed in the Holocaust, as was the rest of the city of Brisk. Fortunately, he was not there when the Nazis arrived, and was able to make it to Japan with R. Aaron Kotler and around fourteen other Kletzk students, where he spent the war years. (Before studying in Kletzk, Gulevsky was in Kaminetz.) On the slow journey by train across the Soviet Union, four people slept in a compartment, and Gulevsky shared one with R. Aaron and his wife and daughter. He is also mentioned in one of the letters R. Aaron sent from America to the Kletzk students in Shanghai.[2] Following the War Gulevsky came to the United States where he studied in Lakewood. One can hear his recollections (in Yiddish) of R. Aaron Kotler here. For his eulogy of R. Aaron, see Ha-Darom (Nisan 5723), pp. 40-42.

Gulevsky taught at Yeshiva University’s Teacher’s Institute for a number of years, as well as at the religious Zionist Bachad (Berit Halutzim Datiyim) school in Jamesburg, N. J. This school existed in the early 1950's and combined Torah study with preparation for agricultural settlement in the Land of Israel (hachsharah). Incredible as it sounds, Gulevsky might be the only living native of Brisk in the United States who was part of the city's Torah community. (I am not referring to those who left Brisk as children and have no real memories of it. In Israel some of the children of R. Velvel are still alive, and R. Aharon Leib Steinman was born in Brisk.)
Here he is, in a picture that could be used if anyone wants to make a gadol card.

Here he is with the indefatigable Menachem Butler.

Gulevsky’s writings are quite interesting and reveal information not found elsewhere. Before looking at them, however, I should note that some readers might recognize his name, without knowing who he is. He is the rav ha-machshir on two Indian vegetarian restaurants in Manhattan, Madras Mahal and Chennai. I first ate at Madras Mahal not too long ago, at a surprise birthday party for Sharon Flatto. Sharon is a professor at Brooklyn College whose doctoral dissertation on R. Yehezkel Landau, the Noda bi-Yehuda, will soon be published by my favorite press, Littman Library.[3]
She is married to my good friend, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, who teaches at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. I believe R. Ysoscher has the distinction of being the youngest maggid shiur ever to complete the daf yomi cycle. This happened a number of years ago when he “said the daf” at the Agudas Yisrael shul in Boro Park. This was also the largest daf yomi in the country, with some seventy-five people in attendance. He took over the shiur of R. Simcha Elberg, who taught it for many years. Although R. Ysoscher no longer teaches there, the shiur continues and I am told that it is the longest running daf yomi in the country.
Returning to Gulevsky, over the years he has published a good deal, and much of his writings have been collected into two volumes. Here are the title pages of these books.

Although not noted on the title page, included in the Arba’ah Sefarim Niftanim is his Lahat Herev ha-Mithapekhet, first published in 1976. Here is the title page.

This volume is significant as it the first detailed defense of R. Hayyim Soloveitchik against the criticisms of the Chazon Ish. As should be expected from one who grew up in Brisk and whose family is so connected to the Soloveitchiks, Gulevsky views the defense of R. Hayyim as a holy task. However, I wonder if there any truth to the following statement he makes:

והנה בשלהי קיץ שנת תשל"ה, שמוע שמעתי שיצאו אנשים בלתי הגונים, ולא שמעו לקול הורים ומורים, ולמשפחת הגאון החסיד צדיק יסוד עולם בעל החזון איש, והוציאו במרמה נגד רצונם את ההשגות שהחסיד הנ"ל רשם על ספר חדושי רבינו חיים הלוי והדפיסו את זה יחד עם הספר חדושי רבינו חיים הלוי.

Even if it is true that the Chazon Ish never intended to publish his notes, is that any reason for them not to be printed? Didn’t the Netziv tell the Wuerzberger Rav's son not to pay attention to his father’s wish that his writings not be published, since the Torah thoughts that he developed were not to be regarded as his personal possession to the extent that he could prevent others from studying what he wrote?[4] Furthermore, is there any evidence that the Chazon Ish was opposed to his criticism of R. Hayyim appearing in print? (The selections of the Chazon Ish’s Emunah u-Bitahon that were embargoed for so long are now widely available, and are even included [but not translated] in the new translation of the book that just appeared.)
The problem confronting anyone who studies the Chazon Ish’s life is that there are so many contradictory stories about him and what he said that one must be skeptical of much of what is reported. For example, how many different versions are there of the famous meeting between him and Ben Gurion, with some even describing how he never looked directly at Ben Gurion so as not to state at the face of a wicked one? Yet in all the descriptions of the meeting it never mentioned that the only people in attendance were Ben Gurion, Chazon Ish, and Yitzhak Navon. In other words, many of the descriptions of what was said are based on wishful thinking and fantasies, and no doubt there are some intentional falsifications as well. For Navon’s recollection of the meeting, see Binyamin Brown’s doctoral dissertation,[5] appendix, pp. 1-5.
In my last post, I mentioned Gulevsky’s negative comments about Samuel Belkin. I have to say that, unfortunately, one also finds passages in his writings that are disrespectful of gedolim. For example, although Gulevsky sometimes refers to R. Kook as a gaon, elsewhere, in his discussion of shemitah, he writes as follows (Shabbat Shabbaton, p. 100):
והנה החכם קוק כאשר יצא להוריד קדושת דברי קבלה (כדי שזה יעזור לו להוריד החשיבות של המצוות שקבלו בשטר האמנה, שנאמרו בנחמיה).

R. Goren gets even harsher treatment (Mi-Meged Givot Olam, p. 285):

ההגהה הזאת קץ וסוף לקונטרס מהדורא קמא סתירת ההיתר של הגאון החסיד גדול הקבלה מרן נפתלי הירץ מיפו. תחילה וראש לקונטרס על קדושת הר הבית והמקדש בזמן הזה. ולהבדיל רבבות ומליונים הבדלות בין איש קדוש וטהור מיפו, ובין משוקץ ומתועב נשמה טמאה במ"ט פעם מ"ט שערי טומאה וזוהמא הצנחן והצחנן ר"ל.

R. Moshe Feinstein also does not escape unscathed (Mi-Mekor Yisrael, p. 58):

ומפני שרב ישיש אחד פה במדינה הזאת שגה ברואה ופרץ גדרו של עולם להבדיל בין ישראל לעמים מפני שאינו יודע להבדיל וכו'. ורצה להתיר להזריע זרע נכרים ברחם רחמתים בנותיו של אברהם אבינו ר"ל.

Gulevsky’s writings are full of points of historical interest, especially about the teachings of his grandfather. Just to give some examples, he reports that his grandfather refused to void the herem of R. Gershom even when dealing with a moredet, as long as all that was required to get her to agree to a divorce was a significant monetary payment (Shabbat Shabbaton, p. 294).
In Shabbat Shabbaton, p. 307, he tells us that the great rabbis of Brisk, from early days, were supporters of Torah im Derekh Eretz, not of the Hirschian variety, but that people should work for a living. They didn’t like the kollel system in Eretz Yisrael where everyone was supported by charity, as it led to corruption and thievery.
In an article on Hasidic shehitah[6] he tells us that that last two shohetim in Brisk (appointed by his grandfather) were hasidim. One was a follower of the Kotzker and the other was a Lubavitcher. Yet they were obligated to follow R. Simcha Zelig’s instructions. He also writes as follows, with reference to an earlier era:

בבריסק דליטא שחטו רק בשני צדדים. וזה היה אחת מהסיבות שחסידי קוצק יצאו במחלוקת נגד בעל בית הלוי. הלכו ועשו סעודה בעיר טערעספוליע מעבר לנהר בוג, ובגאוה וגאון לקחו שוחט מביאלא ששחט עם חלף מצד אחד ועשו סעודה גדולה. וכבר נדפס בהרבה מקומות, ואני בעצמי שמעתי את זה מהגרי"ז רבה האחרון בריסק דליטא, שכאשר התחילו לברך שיר המעלות לפני ברכת המזון, בא רץ מיוחד על סוס שנתחלפו הבשר וזה היתה טריפה.

With regard to hasidim, it is quite unusual that a Litvak like Gulevsky has such knowledge of the hasidic world and its personalities. A number of his articles dealing with the Ruzhin dynasty have appeared in the journal Mesilot. As with most such studies, there is a great deal of oral history (including from R. Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Kapitchenetzer Rebbe,[7] and R. Yohanan Perlow, the Karlin-Stolin Rebbe.[8]).

Gulevsky states that R Simcha Zelig ruled that if a child has a fever of 39 degrees Celsius (which equals 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit) one should immediately violate Shabbat to do whatever needs to be done (Nishmat Hayyim, p. 60). This is very much in line with how R. Hayyim ruled in similar cases. The Rav himself told the following story: As a child he was visiting R. Hayyim and on Friday night there was a problem with his throat. A doctor was summoned and little Joseph Baer opened his mouth. R. Hayyim asked the doctor if he needed more light to see better. The doctor replied “that is not a bad idea.” Immediately R. Hayyim ordered the Rav’s father, R. Moshe, to raise the flame on the light. R. Moshe hesitated. After all, it was Shabbat and the doctor didn’t actually say that he needed more light. R. Hayyim turned to R. Simcha Zelig and said, about R. Moshe, “He is an am ha-aretz.” R. Hayyim asked R. Simcha Zelig to turn up the flame, and he did so without hesitation.[9]

Gulevsky also tells the following story of his grandfather and R. Velvel (Nishmat Hayyim, p. 144):

זכורני שאאזמו"ר הגאון החסיד קדוש ישראל אביר הרועים בכל גלילותינו ועמוד ההראה מרן שמחה זליג זצוק"ל הי"ד היה מספר, שהרופא ומנתח המפורסם דר. אהרן סאלובייציג שאל את רבינו הגדול מרן אור החיים מבריסק דליטא, כיצד מותר לאכול כל הדברים החמוצים כחלב חמוץ וחומץ, הלוא ידוע שתהליך של החמצה, זהו על ידי תולעים שקצים ורמשים שרואים אותם במיקרוסקופ. והשיב לו רבינו הגדול שהתורה אסרה רק שקצים ורמשים שנראים בעינים. ואאזמו"ר זצוק"ל הי"ד הוסיף באותו מעמד, שאסור להתחשב במראות דמים עם המיקרוסקופ, והסכים לזה רבינו הגדול. שוב זכורני שמרן הגרי"ז הלוי הביא מיקרוסקופ עם מודד, שמדדו את הרבוע של תפילין. הגרי"ז שאל את אאזמו"ר זצוק"ל הי"ד מה דעתו על זה. והשיב לו אאזמו"ר זצוק"ל הי"ד שרבוע של תפילין צריך להיות נראה לעינים, ומה שפחות מזה אינו מעלה ואינו מוריד.

Let me quote at length the following, which is also mentioned by the Rav. Interestingly, the Rav is more sympathetic to the gedolim who opposed R. Hayyim. He states that “from a political and practical perspective, and as an emergency measure, no doubt the majority was correct.”[10] Gulevsky completely disagrees with this evaluation. Also, notice how the Habad rabbi responded to R. Hayyim – how times have changed! (Mi-Mekor Yisrael, p. 33):

ושמעתי מאאזמו"ר הגאון החסיד זצוק"ל הי"ד, שבשנת תר"ע באסיפה הגדולה שהיתה בעיר הבירה פטרבורג, שר הפנים הרוסי רצה שהיהודים יתקנו תקנות לעצמם. ועמדה שאלה על הפרק שרצו לתקן מי שלא נמול בין שאביו לא מל אותו ובין שהוא לא מל את עצמו, שאינו שייך לעם ישראל ואסור לקבור אותו בקבר ישראל. והרבה מגדולי ישראל (ואני חושב שהיום פשוט חרפה ובושה להזכיר את שמם, כי זו היתה מזימה מהממשלה הרוסית, ששכבה הקטנה של המתבוללים ביותר, והרבה מהם היו אינטלקטואלים, שפשוט ימירו את דתם כי אין להם בית הקברות בין היהודים. אולם רבינו הגדול שהיה חכם החכמים ונבון הנבונים עמד על זה גם מצד ההלכה וגם מצד פקחות) תמכו בזה. ורבינו הגדול לחם נגדם כארי, ולא נתן בשום אופן לבצע את זה. ואחד מרבני חב"ד טען לרבינו הגדול הלא הערלים רובם דרובם מחללי שבתות בפרהסיא ודינם כנכרים בין כה ובין כה. והשיב לו רבינו הגדול במקרה שמחללי שבתות בפרהסיא רוצים להמיר את דתם או שמסיתים למחללי שבתות להמיר את דתם, אנחנו חייבים למסור את נפשנו כדי למנוע את זה. ודבריו פשוטים שמחלל שבתות בפרהסיא עוד אינו מומר לכל דיני תורה, וכן מין גמור וכופר בעיקר ר"ל.

              והנה לפני מלחמת העולם השניה ראש הבונדיסטים בפולין מר וו. א. שם רשעים ירקב, התחתן עם יהודיה נתינת צרפת ולא רצה למול את בנו והקהילה קדושה בווארשא לחמו בכל כוחותיהם שלא להכיר בבן הערל כחלק מהקהל היהודית, והטעם שפחדו שמאות בונדיסטים חס ושלום יפסיקו למול את בניהו. . . והשיב לו אאזמו"ר זצוק"ל הי"ד, שאנחנו חייבים למסור את נפשנו גם בזה שמינים וכופרים בעיקר לא יפסיקו חס ושלום למול את בניהם.

Here is his description of Shanghai, which I don't think will appear in any of the popular histories designed to appeal to the haredi world (Perah Shoshanah Adumah, p. 186):

ובשנות ראינו רעה בזמן המלחמה, בני הישיבות נצלו ממות ר"ל, על ידי שהוגלו בדיוטא התחתונה של הטומאה בגלות שאנגחיי ר"ל. עיר הזאת היתה שיא וראש הפסגה של ניאוף וטומאה ר"ל. ובכלל לא היה שם חוקי משפחה, בבחינת איש כל הישר בעיניו יעשה. וזה כפי הנראה היה הגלות מכפרת עלינו ר"ל.

He then describes an unusual case that came up:

פעם אחת מאוחר בליל מוצאי שבת, לפתע פתאום, האמריקאים חדרו יותר מאלף וחמש מאות קילאמטר באויר, וזרקו פצצה חזקה מאד, והפציצו באי מעבר השני של הנהר, ונהרגו הרבה אנשים. אחד מהאברכים, שהיה תלמיד חכם, וזה היה אחרי חצות, היה עם אשתו לקיים מצוה עונה. הפצצה הזאת נפלה לפתע פתאום, והפציצה מחסן נשק עצום באי מעבר הנהר ממולנו. וכבין רגע נשמע התפוצצות איומה. מרוב פחד אשתו נעשית נדה מיד, והבעל התבלבל לגמרי, וכפי הנראה עבר באונס על עשה שבנדה, שפרש באבר מקושה ר"ל. אשתו מרוב פחד ומהרגשת האיסור התעלפה כמה פעמים. מחוגי הליטאים והרב מ"ר[11] שהיה מלפנים אב"ד דסיניי, פסק בפשיטות, שלא עברו על שום נדנוד איסור, כי אונס כזה ברור שרחמנא פטריה. אבל מחוגי הקבלה והחסידים, ראו בזה שירדנו לעומק הקליפה ר"ל בכל המשורים ח"ו.

There are lots of other interesting comments strewn throughout his book. For example, in Shabbat Shabbaton, p. 110, he characterizes R. Ben Zion Sternfeld of Bielsk as הפוסק הזקן בכל מדינת ליטא. I believe that this is an exaggeration, but I call attention to it since I daresay that most people, including those who have learnt for many years in yeshiva, have never even heard of R. Ben Zion. This is a good example of how great figures in one era can become unknowns in a future generation. Rare indeed is the scholar whose books are still studied one hundred years after his death. As to R. Ben Zion, in a German article by R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg he records a conversation he had with him. This article has not yet appeared in English (or Hebrew) and translating it is one of my future projects. (For another example of how a great scholar can be forgotten, I vividly recall how I once mentioned R. Joseph Zechariah Stern to my havruta, a man who had learnt for many years in Lakewood. He had never heard of Stern, and because he never heard of him, he simply did not believe me when I told him that Stern wasn't some average rabbi, and not even a "regular" gadol. Rather, he should be regarded as a gadol she-bi-gedolim.)

When reading Gulevsky I often wonder whom he thinks he is writing for when he goes off on his historical tangents. For example, how many people today really care that R. Abraham Bornstein of Sochachev (the Avnei Nezer) שנא בתכלית the rabbi of Radom (Shabbat Shabbaton, p. 136). In Shabbat Shabbaton, pp. 81-82, Gulevsky goes into detail about R. Jonathan Abelman. Abelman was another great scholar yet today who has even heard of him? He was a dayan in Bialystok and author of the responsa work Zikhron Yehonatan (Vilna 1905). Tragically, he died at the age of 49 in 1903. He was also among those who defended the halakhic permissibility of the heter mekhirah. (See his Torat Yehonatan [Vilna, 1889]). Zikhron Yehonatan has a nice introduction where Abelman’s sons describe their father, and from this one would assume that he was a great talmid hakham, like so many similar talmidei hakhamim in Lithuania. (Incidentally, Abelman's wife was R. Israel Salanter's niece.) Zikhron Yehonatan was recently reprinted and the publisher informs us that the Chazon Ish “held of it,” as did R. Hayyim Shmulevitz who was an expert in the book.[12] So what could possibly be wrong about this great Torah scholar of a previous generation? Gulevsky tells us.

According to Gulevsky, Abelman served the maskilim and the rich people. Gulevsky even refers to him as השופר הגדול של הסטרא אחרא, and tells us that his house was a center for Haskalah and that daughters studied in Russian schools and even went to Berlin! (As far as I know, Gulevsky is the only source for all this, as well as for many of the other stories he tells, which obviously creates a problem of reliability. [More about this in part 2 of the post.] Yet in terms of Abelman having a "modern" house, this was not unique, even among the great rabbis. To give one example, R. Avraham Shapiro of Kovno also had a "modern" house, and because of this some of the yeshiva world looked upon him as a quasi-Maskil.)
Gulevsky then tells us about a Chabad chasid named Shabsai Berman from Bendery, Bessarabia, who was very rich and whose house was “a university in the full sense of the word.” Berman’s daughter married Abelman’s son (this is also mentioned in the introduction to Zikhron Yehonatan.) Another of Berman's daughters married R. Menahem Mendel Chen, soon to become rav of Nezhin. The future rebbe, R. Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, was the shadchan. Chen is described as being the right-hand man of his rebbe, R. Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn, and he was also close with R. Chaim Soloveitchik. See Moriah, Sivan-Tamuz 5732, p. 9. Unfortunately, he was killed in 1919 by members of the anti-Soviet White Army. See Bitaon Habad, Tamuz-Elul 5724, pp. 16ff. His grandson is R. David Zvi Hillman, whom we have discussed in the past (and will return to in the future).
Although Berman was Chabad, he was also a Zionist, and R. Yehudah Leib Fishman and Eliezer Steinman spent time with him in Bendery. Gulevsky writes:

למרות שרבי שבתי בערמאן היה "חבדנק" ובי"ט כסלו היו משתכרים הרבה, אבל "השלטון של ספרי כפירה היה גובר על התניא וליקוטי תורה". בנו של רבי שבתי, משה ברמאן, עלה לארץ ישראל. אנשי מזרחי שמו אותו בין הקבלנים לבניני בתים . . . "זכה רבי שבתי ברמאן" שבנו היה ראש וראשון לבניני אוניברסיטה בר אילן. הי' תומך ביד רחבה כל אנשי התיאטרו, והסופרים והכופרים של הסאראדים, למרות שרבי משה ברמאן היה נוסע לליובאוויץ הרבה פעמים, וגם פה אצל הריי"צ, גם משפחת אשתו מרבנים ואדמורי"ם גדולים. אבל רבי משה ברמאן רצה להיות קבור אצל החכם פ.ח. ושם קברו.

Who is פ.ח.? None other than Pinchas Churgin, first president of Bar-Ilan University. I love this sort of story, which reveals a past that would have remained lost forever, as I don’t think there is anyone else in the world who can tell us the things that Gulevsky’s books are full of. Gulevsky has obviously collected these stories since his youth, and unless I have reason to doubt them, I assume that what he tells us is fairly accurate. But I wonder, isn't it a lot of “weariness of flesh” (Eccl. 12:12) on Gulevsky’s part to record all this? Other than me and a few others, does anyone really care? Since not many have even heard of Abelman, do even a handful want to hear about his mechutan, or his mechutan’s son and where he was buried. Gulevsky is no doubt reflecting controversies that were still in the air when he was growing up. Yet today when people see Abelman’s seforim they assume that he was just another one of the gedolim (which I am sure he was), without knowing anything about the controversies he was involved in, much like future generations will forget about most of the controversies we know well.

If you read on in Gulevsky you can see what I think is really driving him. When Abelman wrote about the status of shemitah in contemporary times, he disputed with the Beit ha-Levi.  The two of them actually had a back-and-forth on the topic, all of which is reprinted in the new edition of Torat Yehonatan, published in 2007. This, I believe, is Abelman’s great sin, since for Gulevsky Brisk and its rabbis are basically “untouchable.”
Despite Gulevsky's strong criticism, it be must be noted that Abelman's support for the heter mekhirah was really only theoretical. He made it clear that land in Eretz Yisrael can only be sold to a ger toshav, and Muslims don't have this status (Torat Yehonatan, ch. 8). It was only after R. Yitzhak Elhanan ruled that the land could be sold to Muslims that Abelman backed off his contrary opinion. (ibid., end of ch. 10).
What about the Chazon Ish, who while opposed to the heter mekhirah nevertheless quoted from Abelman’s sefer and held it in high regard? To this, Gulevsky writes (p. 82):

מה עשה בעל חזון איש? הוא בתמימותו ובכנותו שלא ידע מה זה האיש הזה, ואיזה סם המות בסיר שלו ר"ל, שתה בעל חזון איש ממים המרים המאררים מים הרעים האלו. ובענותינו הרבים כמו שנותנים סוכריה או גלידה לתינוק והוא מלקק את זה ונהנה בתכלית ההנאה, כך בעונותינו הרבים נהנה בעל חזון איש "מסברותיו, מידיותיו ומלומדות" שלו, וברך ברכת הנהנין ר"ל. אולם תכלית הספר הזה להתרחק מן האמת . .  ושמעתי שהגאון המובהק רבי חיים הערץ אמר להתרחק ממנו [מאבעלמאן], וכן החסידים שבעירו התרחקו ממנו. ואם בארז הגדול נפלה שלהבת, עד כמה אנחנו צריכים להזהר ולההתרחק מדברי שקר ומאנשי שקר ר"ל.
Gulevsky's allegiance to Brisk is seen in how he relates to the Rav. While Gulevsky can be harsh in his descriptions of Torah scholars with whom he disagrees, he describes the Rav in grandiose terms. See e.g., Du Yovlin, p. 36:

שמעתי מידיד נפשי וידיד אבותי קדישי עליון מרנא ורבנא יוסף דובער הלוי מבאסטאן שליט"א . . . עוד הסביר לי רב הונא ורב יהודה שבדורינו, מרן הגאון האדיר גאון הגאונים מבאסטאן שליט"א . . . רוב רובם של הדברים האלו שמעתי מרב רבנן הגאון המובהק והמופלג בחכמה ותבונה ודעת הגאון שליט"א מבאסטאן.

Let me give another example of the arcane stuff Gulevsky writes about. While reading it, ask yourself who, today, knows enough about the Lithuanian Torah world that he can make sense of the following story that Gulevsky tells in the name of his grandfather? Supposedly, the Netziv said as follows to R. Simcha Zelig (Shabbat Shabbaton, p. 79):

אחד מהתלמידים הקרובים אלי שלחמו במסירת נפש וכו', היה הרב מהעיר ט. ראיתי עכשיו את הקונטרס שלו בספר עדות ביהוסף בענין תרומות ומעשרות בזמן הזה שהדפיס לפני עשרים שנה, ונעשה לי ממש שחור בעינים, באיזה קלות ראש הוא מביא ראיות שכל הראשונים סוברים כהרמב"ם שתרומות ומעשרות אפילו בזמן עזרא היו מדרבנן. איך שהוא מפרש דברי רבי יוסי וכו'. עיינתי בקונטרסים אחרים, ונעשה לי שחור ר"ל. אחר כן אמר לכן זה לחתן וכו'. השיב לו אאמו"ז החתן שלו בטח יביא כל מיני ראיות על השמיטה בעוד שנה ושליש, שזה היתר גמור.

In this case Gulevsky makes it easier to break his code because he gives us the name of a book. The author is R. Joseph Raisin who was rav of ט, namely, Telz, and the kuntres referred to appears as responsum no. 14. His son-in-law was none other than R. Isaac Jacob Reines. There is something quite strange about speaking in this sort of code about events that happened at least one hundred twenty years ago, and yet throughout Gulevsky’s writings one find similar things, a number of which I haven’t been able to figure out. The only way I could decipher this story was because he gives the name of the book, but he often isn’t so generous in dropping clues.
Here is another example from Shabbat Shabbaton, p. 74. In speaking about the first heter mekhirah (and speaking very negatively about it!) Gulevsky describes how the rav of Bialystok (R. Samuel Mohilever) organized it:

ועכשיו נבוא לרב השני שכתבנו לעיל, שנפל בפח בידי הרב מביאליסטאק. הרב ש.ז.ק. היה עילוי עצום, והיה תלמיד מובהק של בעל זית רענן. אחרי זה מטעם הנגידים העשירים נעשה מו"צ בווארשא. ובגלל זה הוא נעשה המנהיג ולא הרבה אחרים שהיו גדולים וטובים ממנו בכל המסורים. . . . הבית של המו"צ ש.ז.ק. היה מודערני מאד, עם העינים אל תרבות פוילן וגם גרמנית, לרבות תרבות הרוסית.

How many people today will know that this refers to R. Samuel Zanvil Klepfish. How many people have even heard of Klepfish? Would it have been so terrible to spell out the name? As for Gulevsky’s criticism of Klepfish for being too “modern,” let me simply remind him to open up the beginning of the Mishneh Berurah, because there one will find a haskamah from Klepfish. If he was good enough for the Chafetz Chaim, I think he should be good enough for all of us.
On the same page Gulevsky tells a story he heard from R. Chaim Heller that elaborates on how the heter mekhirah,, later signed by R. Yitzhak Elhanan, came about. One point added by Gulevsky, which I don’t know if it is true, is that R. Yitzchak Elhanan insisted that the heter not be made public until the sages of the Land of Israel were consulted. Yet this condition was not kept, and as soon as the heter was signed by four gedolim, with R. Yitzhak Elhanan the most significant, the heter was publicized. Gulevsky notes that after the heter was made public, R. Yitzhak Elhanan refused to discuss his reasoning with other gedolim or debate his decision. In Gulevsky’s words:

הוא פשוט לא השיב כלום, ולא רצה לדון בזה כלל עם שום אדם בעולם. כמעט אותו הדבר עשה הגאון רשכבה"ג מקוטנא, וזה צועק עד לשמים דורשני.

Gulevsky assumes, and I think he is correct, that two particular points in the reports R. Yitzhak Elhanan got from those who supported the heter moved him. 1) The rabbis in Jerusalem who opposed the heter had little concern with the farmers and the difficulties they faced. 2). These rabbis, who were supported by donations from the Diaspora, felt threatened by the creation of the settlements, and as such were nogea be-davar and could not deal with the halakhic issues of the heter mekhirah in a fair manner.
One question that a number of people have asked is why R. Yitzhak Elhanan never published his responsum in support of the heter. (This responsum, referred to as a kuntres by R. Yitzhak Elhanan, is mentioned in his letter to Abelman, Torat Yehonatan, end of ch. 10) The answer is found in a letter from R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg to R. Yitzhak Unna. This letter deals with R. Hayyim Ozer’s pressure on Weinberg not to publish his lenient opinion regarding stunning animals before shehitah.[13] (The letter appears in my doctoral dissertation, p. 307):

במשך הדברים אמר לי שאין לי להדפיס את קונטרסי הנ"ל כדי שלא ילמדו מתוכו להתיר, וסיפר לי שהגאון ר' יצחק אלחנן ז"ל כשכתב בשעתו תשובה ארוכה ע"ד ההיתר לחרוש ולזרוע בשביעית בא"י ע"י מכירה לעכו"ם לא הכניס תשובתו זו בספרו שו"ת שפירסם אח"כ בדפוס.

In other words, R. Yitzhak Elhanan’s heter was an emergency measure, designed for that time alone. If he put it in his volume of responsa it would have assumed a more permanent significance, and he wished to avoid this. Along these lines Gulevsky states (p. 75):

חז"ל הקדושים אמרו איזהו חכם הרואה את הנולד. ההיתר הזה, שבפירוש חכמי ירושלים פה אחד התנגדו לזה במסירת נפש, ומהיתר "חד פעמי" משתמשים בהיתר אחרי שממדינת ישראל מוכרים חקלאות תבואות ופירות מאות מיליונים דולרים לשנה. מי יגלה עפר מעיניכם רבינו יצחק אלחנן ורבינו י' מקוטנא וכו', מי ראה את הנולד, חכמי ירושלים ובריסק וואלאזשין וכו' ראו את הנולד.

In discussing the heter mekhirah, Gulevsky apparently believes that he has a form of clairvoyance. Thus, he writes as follows in Shabbat Shabbaton, p. 115:

ואין שום ספק בדבר [!], שבגלל שמיפו פתחה הרעה להתיר חניה לנכרים ר"ל, משם פתחה הרעה עם פוגרומים עצומים ר"ל, "מגרי תושב" של החכם קוק, ומפני שהוציאו קול על בעל שמן המור שהתיר בחברון וכו', "זכינו בשנת תרפ"ט לשחיטת 'גרי תושב' ששחטו יהודים בחברון" ר"ל.

With regard to shemitah and R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, there has been a lot written recently, including on this blog, because there is now an attempt to entirely rewrite the history of R. Shlomo Zalman’s relationship to the heter mekhirah. Gulevsky, however, sees matters clearly when he writes, Shabbat Shabbaton, p. 124, that according to R. Shlomo Zalman:

דברי הגאון קוק והגאון פראנק "כמו ששאלו באורים ותומים".

[1] For more on his genealogy see his “Al Toldot ha-Gaon Ba’al Semikhat Hakhamim,” Beit Aharon ve-Yisrael (Tamuz 5765), p. 168.
[2] A. Bernstein, et al., eds., Yeshivat Mir: ha-Zerihah be-Faʾatei Kedem (Bnei Brak, 1999), vol. 2, p. 609. All information about Gulevsky’s life for which no source is given comes from Gulevsky himself. When he was in Japan, before travelling to Shanghai, Gulevsky followed his grandfather's pesak and observed Shabbat on Sunday while on Saturday he avoided melakhot de-oraita.
[3] See here.
[4] Meshiv Davar, vol. 1, no. 24.
[5] “Ha-Hazon Ish: Halakhah Emunah ve-Hevrah bi-Pesakav ha-Boltim be-Eretz Yisrael (5693-5714),” (Hebrew University, 2003). The title does not reflect all that is in this work, which will be a real blockbuster when it finally appears in print.
[6] Yagdil Torah (5741), pp. 114-117.
[7] See “Ke-Tzet ha-Shemesh bi-Gevurato,” Mesilot, Nisan 5758, pp. 13ff.
[8] See “Hityahasuto shel ha-Saba Kadisha Me-Ruzhin la-Memshalto shel ha-Czar Nikolai ha-Rishon (2),” Mesilot, Nisan-Iyar 5758), pp. 30ff.
[9] R. Herschel Schachter, Nefesh ha-Rav (Jerusalem, 1994), p. 27.
[10] Halakhic Man, tr. Lawrence Kaplan (Philadelphia, 1983), p. 90.
[11] This is R. Mordechai Rogov, who would later teach in Skokie.
[12] See here
[13] Regarding this issue, R. Herschel Schachter writes as follows (Mi-Peninei ha-Rav [Brooklyn, 2001], p. 151):

בנידון הימים הבהמות קודם השחיטה, אשר האריך בזה טובא בחלק א' משו"ת שרידי אש, ויש שמה תשובות מכמה מגדולי ישראל, שאלו פעם את רבנו האם דיבר אתו הגרי"י וויינברג, ז"ל, בזה, כי הלא באותה בתקופה היה רבנו בברלין, והשיב רבנו שבודאי דיברו יחד בנושה הזה, ושזאת היתה העצה שלו להגרי"י וויינברג, שהוא צריך לקבל הסכמת גדולי ישראל מכל המקומות בכל מאי דאפשר, כי דבר שכזה אי אפשר להניחו לכל רב עיר ומורה הוראה לפסוק לעצמו לקהילתו, כי השאלה כל כך גדולה היא, היא נוגעת לכלל ישראל כולו בבת אחת (שמעתי)

This type of report (שמעתי) that R. Schachter sometimes depends upon is often very unreliable. In this case, it is absolutely false. The Rav left Berlin before the Nazis came to power and before Weinberg or anyone else could even imagine that shehitah would be banned.


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