Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Writings of R. Hayyim Gulevsky, Part 2

The Writings of R. Hayyim Gulevsky, part 2
By Marc B. Shapiro

Many of the stories Gulevsky tells cannot be verified, and we have to take his word that he is faithfully recording that which he heard. Thus, he tells us about R. Abraham Eliezer Alperstein, who was an early rosh yeshiva at Yeshivat R Yitzhak Elhanan and the author of the first commentary on the Talmud published in the United States. It appeared in Chicago in 1887. Gulevsky tells the story of Alperstein’s move to Chicago, where, after arriving, he supposedly gave a speech in which he said the following (Du Yovlin, p. 30):

יהודי נוי יארק הם בעלי זדון ומשוגה ואינם שומעים לקול מורים, רק לקול מורדים. אבל את יהודים יקרים בשיקאגא כי לכל העם בשגגה, ואשר את המלה בשגגה חיריק תחת השין גימל הראשון פתח וגימל השני קמוצה, וזה נקרא שיגאגא.

(Alperstein’s pun, שגגה=Chicago, is also found in the introduction to the second edition of his commentary.)
Gulevsky claims that Alperstein left New York for Chicago because the people in charge of bringing a chief rabbi to N.Y. were not interested in a great scholar but in a fine speaker and that is why they chose R. Jacob Joseph, who was the leading preacher in Vilna. Although he was also served as a dayan, he was not esteemed as a halakhic authority. Gulevsky adds that when Yeshivat R. Yitzhak Elhanan was established, they didn’t consider R. Jacob Joseph worthy of being the head rosh yeshiva. According to Gulevsky, even though he was a great talmid hakham, he was not of the level that an important community in Europe would have picked him as its rav.

With regard to R. Jacob Joseph, let me point out an error I made in an earlier post.[1] I referred to the Aderet’s responsum attacking R. Jacob Joseph and I assumed that the publishers didn’t know who R. Jacob Joseph was or they wouldn’t have allowed this to appear. It was pointed out, however, that I was wrong as in the index at the back of the volume the editors indeed identify who R. Jacob Joseph was. This makes it even more unusual that the text wasn’t censored.

While Alperstein at first was very happy in Chicago, this did not last long, As Yosef Goldman points out, “Alperstein had only praise for his congregation in Chicago in the first edition [of his talmudic commentary]; in the second edition he referred to its members as 'wild boars.’"[2]

Only a few years later R. Jacob David Wilovsky (Ridbaz) also came to Chicago and he too found a great deal of difficulty there. In particular, he was opposed by R. Zvi Simeon Album who saw Ridbaz as a threat to his own kashrut supervision. While today everyone knows the Ridbaz and no one has heard of Album, we shouldn’t let this prejudice us in this particular matter. After all, Album was also a fine talmid hakham, although obviously not at the Ridbaz’ level. He published two volumes detailing his terrible dispute with Ridbaz, in which aside from dealing with kashrut matters, he also accuses Ridbaz of plagiarism and of creating controversy where ever he goes. Here are the title pages.





While the history of kashrut supervision is a great interest of mine, I will leave that for another time. For now, let me just call attention to two interesting points he makes in his polemic against Ridbaz.

The Ridbaz’ attack on the Brisker method is well known. In the introduction to his responsa, Beit Ridbaz (Jerusalem, 1908), Ridbaz writes as follows:

A certain rabbi invented the "chemical" method of study. Those in the know now refer to it as "chemistry," but many speak of it as "logic." This proved to be of great harm to us for it is a foreign spirit from without that they have brought in to the Oral Torah. This is not the Torah delivered to us by Moses from the mouth of the Omnipresent. This method of study has spread among the yeshivah students who still hold a gemara in their hands. In no way does this type of Torah study bring men to purity. From the day this method spread abroad this kind of Torah has had no power to protect its students. . . . It is better to have no rosh yeshivah than to have one who studies with the "chemical" method.

In his ethical will, printed at the end of his responsa, Ridbaz returns to this criticism and directs his sons: "Be careful, and keep far away from the new method of study that has in recent years spread through Lithuania and Zamut. Those knowledgeable in Torah refer to it as 'chemistry.'" [Just before this post appeared, R. Eliezer Katzman sent word that in his opinion, Ridbaz is not referring to R. Hayyim and the Brisker approach, but rather to Telz and its method of talmudic analysis. I don't believe this is correct, and hope to return to this subject in a future post.]

In the first edition of Shaul Stampfer’s Ha-Yeshivah ha-Lita'it be-Hithavutah, p. 113 n. 29, he quotes Saul Lieberman's opinion that Ridbaz’ words were directed against R. Isaac Jacob Reines. This is clearly incorrect. Reines' method had no influence whatsoever, and Ridbaz is speaking about a method of study that was widespread in the yeshivot. It is obvious that he can only be referring to the method of R. Hayyim. Lieberman’s incorrect speculation was removed in the second edition of Stampfer’s book.

This new edition is of great importance for it contains the documents that reveal the true reason why Volozhin was closed. In fact, On the Main Line has recently printed a report from the Jewish Chronicle that shows that even in England they had heard that the reason for closing down the yeshiva had to do with the “nihilists.”[3] Incidentally, the report in the Jewish Chronicle’s second story (also cited by On the Main Line) that the Netziv went to Western Europe is incorrect. In fact, I found it quite strange, as it is well known that the Netziv never left Eastern Europe. I asked R. Nathan Kamenetsky about this, and he responded as follows:

They confused him with his son R’ Hayyim Berlin, who did travel to Western Europe to raise funds. In MOAG (p. 449) I quote part of a letter R’ Hayyim wrote FROM PARIS, four months after the closure of the yeshiva to the Rav of Tripoli, Libya . . . From the text of [R.] Berlin’s signature on that letter, I prove (among other proofs) that the Berlins expected the closure of the yeshiva to be temporary.[4]

He also wrote me that he finds the article on the closure significant as “this proves that even among Jews it was known that the yeshiva was closed for the actual reason that is set down in the government records that Stampfer discovered and publicized in his later edition of ‘Yeshivot Lita be’Hit’havutah’. . . . It is invaluable.”
Returning to the Ridbaz, it is not surprising that Album, Divrei Emet, vol. 2, p. 45, points to Ridbaz’ comments as proof that the latter had contempt for the Torah scholars of Eastern Europe. Ridbaz never responded to this volume, but in the introduction to Nimukei Ridbaz (Chicago, 1904), he had already given his view of Album (without mentioning him by name).[5] There was another attack on Album in the book Akhen Noda ha-Davar (n.p., n.d). This latter work is very rare and I have never seen a copy of it. Although its author is given as P. Gwirtzman, Album claims that it was really written by Ridbaz (Divrei Emet, vol. 2, pp. 3, 9, 31).

Needless to say, because of his attacks on R. Hayyim, Ridbaz did not endear himself to the Soloveitchik family. Once when a student referred to Ridbaz, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik became very angry and told the student never to mention his name again. He also said that some gedolim are always right, some are sometimes right, and some are never right, and the Ridbaz falls into the latter category![6]

Album also points to something else in order to attack Ridbaz. Here is the title page of Ridbaz’ Nimukei Ridbaz.




Look at how Ridbaz is described with such grandiose titles. Album picks up on this and writes (Divrei Emet, vol. 1, p. 34b):

עשה עטרה לעצמו בראשו וכתב על עצמו על פתח השער, ספר נימוקי הרידב"ז, מאת רבינו מאור הגולה שר התורה צדיק נשגב המפורסם בכל קצות תבל כק"ש מה' יעקב דוד נ"י המפורסם בחיבורו הגדול על הירושלמי. כן כתב הרידב"ז על עצמו – ועשה נגד הירושלמי מפורש בפ' ז' דפסחים וז"ל הירושלמי ושנא את הרבנות מלמד שלא יניח אדם עטרה לעצמו בראשו שנאמר יהללוך זרים ולא פיך

He continues by mocking Ridbaz’ learning. Here is one example, where he picks up on something Ridbaz writes in Nimukei Ridbaz (ibid., p. 35a):

וכמה דברים אשר נמצאים בתוכו הוא אפס ואין – ואין זה כי אם ראות עין. כמו למשל כתב בפ' וירא דלכך לא הכניס אברהם המלאכים לתוך האוהל משום דהצדיקים אין הקב"ה מביא תקלה על ידם, ואם הכניסם לתוך האוהל היה שרה רואה אותם, וקיי"ל דאשה נדה אסורה להביט על הס"ת ע"כ באם היו באוהל היתה בע"כ שרה רואה אותם ע"כ. והנה כל דבריו בזה דברים בטלים המה, ראשית שאין שום איסור על האשה להביט על הס"ת רק מצד מנהג וכבוד, עיין במג"א וגם אין צדיקים הקב"ה מביא תקלה על ידן לא שייך אלא במידי דאכילת איסור.

He continues the assault on this point in vol. 2, p. 39:

ומלבד שדבריו דברי ליצנות המה, ומה ענין מלאכים לס"ת, והיכן מצינו שיהי' מלאכים בגדר ס"ת.

It is very sad to read how Ridbaz and Album speak about each other, and as more than a few have quipped, “There is no hatred like the hatred between rabbis.” Another version of the comment is that “There is no hatred like the hatred between rabbis, especially when money is involved.” Yet in this case, at least, I don’t know how significant the financial angle was. Album claimed that he never received remuneration for giving his hashgachah, and this isn’t something he could have put in print if it was not true. However, Harold Gastwirt assumes that Album was upset that Ridbaz had been chosen as chief rabbi of Chicago, instead of him, and this position certainly did come with a salary.[7])

In seeking to explain the phenomenon or rabbinic hatred, R. Jacob Eskolsky gives the following insightful answer (Taryag Mitzvot [New York, 1926], vol. 1, p. 32a.

פעם אחת השבתי לבעל הבית אחד בעיר סקרענטאן, אשר הייתי שם רב איזה שנים, אשר שאלני השאלה הנושנה של העם, מדוע נשתנו הרבנים מכל בני מלאכה אחרת, אשר הם יושבים זה בצד זה ברחוב אחד או בבית חרושת אחד ואינם שונאים זה לזה, והרבנים מכיון שנמצאים שנים בעיר אינם נוחין זה לזה, אדרבה שונאים הם זה את זה ומחרפים אחד את חבירו, היש איזו סיבה לפליאה זו? והשבתי לו בפשיטות, הלא אם יבואו איש לביתו ויבשר בשורה נעימה לאשתו, כי עזרהו ה' בפרנסתו ויוכל להוסיף לה שפחה על שפחתה שתהיה עזר כנגדה ותוכל לישב בקתדרא, תגיע להגברת שמחה מזה, וגם השפחה היושבת בבית הבישול בשמעה זאת אחורי הדלת נתמלאה רצון משמועה הזאת, כי תהיה לה חברה לעבודתה ולא יפול משא כל הבית עליה. לא כן אם יבוא איש הביתה בבשורה נעימה ומספר לאשתו כי עזרהו ה' בריווח גדול יוכל לקחת עוד אשה אחת על אשתו, כי יוכל לפרנס שתי נשים, אז תמלא קנאת עזה כמוה ותשפוך כל חמתה עליו ובקול רעש גדול תחיל הזעק עליו, כי איננה שפחה בביתו להיות שמח בחברתה, כי בעלת הבית היא ואינה חפצה בשום אופן להניח שניה לצוות ולהנהיג עניני הבית ורק קולה ישמע בכל ענין הנהגת הבית, ואם לא ישמע לה ויקח אשה אחרת עליה תהיה צרה לה. כמו כן אם הרבנים מקיימים מה שנאמר בהוריות (דף י') לא שררות אני נותן לכם, עבדות אני נותן לכם, כי אז היו שמחים אם הקהל מקבל עליו עוד רב, ובקבלת עוד עבד לצרכי הקהל הוקל מעליו עבודת העיר, אך אם הרב מחשיב את עצמו לשר ושופט ונוהג נשיאותו ברמה וכל מילי דמתא יהיו נמתחים אך על פיו ובלעדו לא ירים איש את ידו, אז מביט בעין קנאה על רב השני ואינו מניחו להרים ראש. ועל זה אמרו חכמנו (יומא עא) אלו תלמידי חכמים שדומים לנשים ועושים גבורה כאנשים, כי דרך נשים להם להיות מתקנאות בירך חברתה ולהיות צרה להשניה.

Before coming to New York, Eskolsky had served as a rav in Scranton[8] and was no stranger to rabbinic disputes himself.[9]

Exalted egos from both sides also helps to explain rabbinic feuds. As the Maharal commented, this is a particular problem of Torah scholars, because they are aware of their own great scholarship (Netivot Olam: Netivot ha-Anavah, ch. 6):

כי הגאוה הוא על בעל תורה בטבע וכל זה מצד הגדולה והמעלה שיש לתורה . . . ומפני כך בעל התורה יש בו קצת גאוה שרואה עצמו ג"כ גבוה ונבדל משאר הבריות.

Sometimes these rabbinic disputes even reach the level of what R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg referred to as “murder.” Here is what he wrote in a letter to R. Joseph Apfel (Kitvei ha-Rav Weinberg, vol. 1 no. 3):

לפני שנתיים באו לכאן הרב גרוסנאס ביחד עם הפרופ' דומב להתיעץ עם הגרי"א הרצוג ז"ל ששהה כאן והם הי' גם אצלי ואני יעצתי להגריא"ה לבלי להורות הוראה בזה כי אם בהסכמת כל גדולי ירושלים כי . . . יש קנאים גדולים שאינם מודים על האמת אלא מחמירים עפ"י שיקול דעתם ורגשי לבם. ועמם אין להתוכח והם חשודים גם על שפיכת דם של המקילים וד"ל.

I published this volume as a sefer, to be used in the beit midrash, so I took out something which I didn’t think was proper to appear in such a work (as opposed to a scholarly book or blog where these considerations do not apply). In accordance with scholarly convention, I indicated this with an ellipses. Incidentally, when the late R. Joseph Apfel gave me the letters he received from R. Weinberg, there was only one place where he told me to omit a name. Other than that, he gave me permission to publish the letters in their entirety.

The complete sentence reads (and I have emphasized the deleted word):

כי אם בהסכמת כל גדולי ירושלים כי ביניהם יש קנאים גדולים שאינם מודים על האמת

In other words, R. Weinberg includes in his criticism even some people regarded as gedolim. This should not surprise us, and it doesn’t mean that these individuals are not, in fact, gedolim. Even well-meaning people can at times be led to extreme statements and “shefihut damim”. We have seen this in the last few years when rabbis, without any real knowledge of the facts, have declared that certain hashgachot are not reliable. We have seen gedolim declare that certain authors are dangerous without having even read their books (in the original or in translation) or spoken to them. I know from speaking to some of the mashgichim and the authors that they regard this as real “shefihut damim,” for they have been publicly condemned as either not reliable in matters of kashrut[10] or as destroyers of Torah society. If the accusations are true, then the rabbis have no choice but to speak out. But if the allegations are false, or even uncertain, is there any greater “shefihut damim” than this?

With regard to Weinberg’s comment, the late Yonah Emanuel wrote to me:

[תרשה] לי להתייחס לקטע הנ"ל, בו הרב ויינברג כתב שהקנאים חשודים על שפיכות דמים של המקילים. יש להביא אסמכתא מעדות אישה (!). רות בלוי בספרה "שומרי העיר" (י"ם תשל"ט) , פרק יז-יח, מתארת איך הקנאים רצו למנוע נישואי רבי עמרם בלוי איתה, בהיותה גיורת. אבל למה להביא ממרחק לחמנו? פעם הלכתי לשיעור אצל מו"ר הרב ש"ז אויערבך זצ"ל, ופתאום ראיתי במדרגות בית מו"ר זצ"ל קנאים רבים, חלק מהם דחפו עצמם לתוך הדירה, וחלק עמדו בחוץ. הם רצו ללחוץ בענין מסויים על מו"ר זצ"ל, והשיטה הבדוקה לבוא בהמונים, ללחוץ ולהפחיד. על זה התריע הרב ויינברג זצ"ל ממרחקים. על כגון זה נאמר "את בנציבין ומצודתך פרוסה בירושלים" (פסחים ג ע"ב).

Regarding rabbinic disputes, it is also worth recalling these memorable words, quoted by R. David Sperber (grandfather of Prof. Daniel Sperber)[11]:
מוטב להעמיד צלם בהיכל מלהחזיק במחלוקת

Returning to Ridbaz, all of the controversy in Chicago was too much for him and he left Chicago. Legend has it that he was locked in the freezer, in an attempt by his enemies to kill him, and upon being freed he immediately took his family and grabbed a train to New York. It was Friday night but he felt this was a case of was pikuach nefesh. I doubt that the story is true, although in a previous post I did mention a case where the mashgiach was locked in the freezer. We also have another recorded case where this happened. I refer to Rabbi Luntz of Paterson, N. J. who was locked in the icebox by one of the butchers he certified. This would have been bad enough, but Luntz also had to contend with R. Judah Leib Seltzer, who was later one of the leaders of Agudat ha-Rabbonim. He too was in Paterson and had a terrible feud with Luntz, which “climaxed by a public fight between the two rabbis in the synagogue.”[12]

Speaking of rabbis who were chased out of their communities, let me repeat what I heard from the late Rabbi Louis Jacobs.[13] This story is not documented anywhere, but is something that Jacobs no doubt heard growing up in Manchester. R. Abraham Aaron Yudelevitz was a rav in Manchester at the turn of the twentieth century. He would later come to the United States where he served as a rav in Boston and later in New York, and he was also a rosh yeshiva at Yeshivat R. Yitzhak Elhanan. As with a few others, while in N.Y. he even had the title "Rav ha-Kollel."

Yudelevitz might have been the most brilliant Torah scholar in the United States. He was also prepared to stand up to anyone (including the Rogochover),[14] and is known for one incredible pesak that created enormous controversy: He permitted a woman to appoint another woman as her shaliah to carry out the halitzah ceremony. A short discussion of Yudelevitz’ life and the controversy is found in the second volume of Yeshurun,[15] the series which continues to publish massive volumes full of important and fascinating material. The typical haredi nonsense is, of course, to be found there, but since it is not so common it is no more than an unpleasant distraction.[16]

Here is a picture of Yudelevitz. He is on the right and the other rabbi is Gavriel Zev Margulies, whom I mentioned in my last post (see also note 12).[17]



Jacobs told me that when the machers had tired of Yudelevitz, they let him know it was time to leave in the following way. When his carriage pulled up one day, inside it were a couple of prostitutes waiting for him. This was the message to Yudelevitz to get out of town! Rather than stay and fight, he set his sights on the United States.

Returning to Gulevsky, in his book Du Yovlin (New York, 1988) he focuses on American Orthodoxy and its various rabbinic leaders. Since R. Emanuel Rackman recently passed away, let me quote a little of what he says (p. 45) about R. David Rackman, who was R. Emanuel’s father. He is the author of Kiryat Hanah David (New York, 1967), published by his son, and was a Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS for a couple of years beginning in 1907.


אחד מראשוני התלמידים שבאו ללמוד בישיבה ואחרי כן הרביצו תורה בישיבה, זה היה הרה"ג רבי דוד רקמאן. כפי ששמעתי מזקנים, הרה"ג מוהר"ר דוד רקמאן בא לארצות הברית עם סמיכת חכמים בידו. הרה"ג רבי נחום דן מסלוצק היה משגיח הראשון בישיבה, והוא לא היה קשור עם תנועת המוסר לגמרי. אבל היה אביהם של כל בני הישיבה, ויותר מזה אביהם ואמם. הוא יעץ להרה"ג דוד רקמאן שימשיך ללמוד ולא לרוץ אחרי הבלי עולם הזה . . . בשנת תרס"ז כבר נתן שיעורים בישיבה קרוב לשלש שנים. היה חכם מופלג ותמך בישיבה כל ימיו. כאשר באו לישיבה מאורי ישראל רבותינו העילוי ממיטשט ואחרי כן רבי משה הלוי סאלאווייציג עזב הרה"ג רבי דוד רקמאן כל עסקיו, וממש התאבק בעפר רגליהם. פעם ראיתי אותו בסביבת החכם השלם איש האשכולות מרן חיים העליר, ויבדל לחיים טובים "הרב" שליט"א. מעולם לא ראיתי פה במדינה הזאת רב שיעמוד ביראת הכבוד כלפי גדולי ישראל אמיתיים כרבי דוד רקמאן.

Gulevsky gives descriptions of other early students at RIETS. One of those he mentions is Moses Romm, who was later a rabbi in Minneapolis. I believe he is the grandfather of Rabbi Romm who taught at BMT for many years. He also mentions Henry Guterman, who was the rav of Scranton for half a century, and has recollections of Samuel K. Mirsky, Dov Baer Abramowitz, and many others. There is so much material here, for those interested in American Orthodoxy, that I can’t even begin to summarize it.

Regarding R. Benjamin Fleischer, many of whose books are now on HebrewBooks.org, Gulevsky says the following (p. 46):

טיפוס מיוחד במינו היה הרה"ג העצום רבי בנימין שלייפער [צ"ל פליישער] שהיה רב בבית מדרש הגדול במורד העיר. היה עילוי נפלא ובקיאותו בש"ס ופוסקים היה משהו מיוחד. ובגלל שהיה עילוי בכל המובנים לכן לא נעשה הפוסק במורד העיר. היה מחמיר גדול בשאלת נשים, אפילו בדרבנן. השיטה שלו היתה שבמדינה הזאת אין חשש מאכולת, הנשים נקיות ביותר וצריכים לבטל לגמרי כל הקולות של כתמים. התרעם הרבה על כמה פסקים של הרה"ג א. ה. בניו יראק, והרה"ג ח. מ. בשיקגא, לא רק בשאלת נשים.

The New York rabbi he alludes to is undoubtedly R. Joseph Elijah Henkin but I don’t know who the Chicago rabbi is. Maybe one of the readers can help out here. As mentioned before, Gulevsky uses this type of code throughout his works. With regard to his categorization of Fleischer as an “illui,” it is worth recalling R. Moshe Feinstein’s comment that: אין לנו הרבה נחת מהעילויים.[18

In the previous post I quoted the very harsh things Gulevsky had to say about YU. Yet Du Yovlin was written while he was still employed there, and from this book we get an entirely different picture. YU is referred to as “yeshivatenu ha-kedoshah”, and on p. 1 Dr. Norman Lamm is described as follows:

ידידי ורב חביבי וכו', החכם השלם איש האשכולות כליל המדעים וכו' וכו' וכו' הרה"ג נחום לאם שליט"א

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that Gulevsky is descended from both R. Hayyim of Volozhin and his brother R. Simcha. While everyone knows that R. Hayyim became the student of the Vilna Gaon, Gulevsky tells us the following about his forefather, R. Simcha, which is amazing in that it testifies to Lithuanian opposition to the Vilna Gaon (Du Yovlin, p. 2):

אאמו"ז רבינו שמחה התנגד לנסוע אל אדונינו הגר"א כפי שרמז מר זקני הגאון החסיד קדוש ישראל זצוק"ל הי"ד. זקנינו רבינו שמחה בתמימותו הכנה חשב שהגר"א הולך לשנות מנהגן של ישראל, והתנגד לזה הרבה. אדונינו בעל השאגת אריה לא שינה שום דבר מלבד שהכשיר מכה בדופן וכו', אולם אדונינו הגר"א, שמעו עליו שאינו מניח תפילין בחול המועד וכדומה.

With regard to the Vilna Gaon, and why he never made it to the Land of Israel, Gulevsky writes as follows (Shabbat Shabbaton, p. 134):

ושמעתי מאאמו"ז הגאון החסיד קדוש ישראל עמוד ההוראה ואביר הרועים מרנא שמחה זעליג זצוק"ל הי"ד, ששמע ממרא דמתיבתא עלאה הגה"ח המובהק מרן רפאל מוואלאזשין ששמע מאביו רבינו אריה ליב שאפירא מקאוונא, היו הרבה טעמים שהגר"א חזר מדרכו לארץ ישראל. אבל רבינו אריה ליב סבר שאחד מהטעמים בנגלה היה שהגר"א סבר העיקר כהמבי"ט נגד הבית יוסף וכל חכמי הדור ההוא.

According to the Mabit all produce grown in the Land of Israel in the Sabbatical year, even on non-Jewish land, has sanctity and must be given special treatment. I assume that Gulevsky’s report means that the Gaon did not want to come to the land of Israel and create controversy by adopting a practice in opposition to R. Joseph Karo’s view, which was minhag Eretz Yisrael.[19] (In the twentieth century the Chazon Ish had no compunctions in advocating the Mabit’s opinion, especially as there are reports – hotly disputed, to be sure – that before his death R. Joseph Karo abandoned his position.[20])

An interesting comment which is not of a historical nature is found in Shabbat Shabbaton. p. 96. R. Moshe Feinstein states that anytime Rabad doesn’t express his disagreement with the Rambam, this shows that he agrees with him. R. Moshe is hardly the first to argue in this fashion,[21] yet Gulevsky points out that this is a methodological error and that there are numerous times that Rabad disagrees in his other works and doesn’t record this disagreement in his hassagot. R. Yaakov Hayyim Sofer, who has a bekiut unlike that of anyone alive today, has a very long list of such disagreements, and if all we had were the hassagot we would know nothing of this.[22] We can conclude, therefore, that Rabad’s hassagot were never intended to be a comprehensive list of all of his criticisms, but were written in an ad hoc fashion.

Quite apart from what appears in his books, there are some other interesting tidbits he told me which as far as I know do not appear in print.

1. The grandfather of the famous bibliographer, E. R. Malachi, was named Engleman, and he emigrated from Brisk to the Land of Israel in 1837.

2. R. Simcha Zelig Rieger was head of a kollel le-hora’ah in Volozhin. This kollel focused on practical halakhah.

3. R. Hayyim Soloveitchik and R. Velvel never preached to the community, not even on Shabbat ha-Gadol and Shabbat Shuvah.[23]

4. Although R. Velvel was officially rav of Brisk for twenty years, he only resided in the city for six and a half of these years. He was often ill and had to spend much of his time in places more congenial to his health. He was not living there during the 1937 pogrom, but after this event he returned to the city for two weeks.

5. In Kelm “they held of” Wessely’s Yein ha-Levanon.(I include this because I think Gulevsky meant the yeshiva as a whole, not simply R. Simcha Zissel. R. David Zvi Hillman has seen the manuscript essays of R. Simcha Zissel, and they contain references to Wessely. When these were published in Hokhmah u-Mussar [New York, 1957], Wessely’s name was deleted.[24])

6. Rabbi Rakefet has asserted on numerous occasions that as a young man R. Shneur Kotler attended R. Soloveitchik’s shiurim at YU. Gulevsky denies this. According to him, R. Shneur only went to hear the Rav at Moriah.[25]

7. R. Joseph Zekhariah Stern, Zekher Yehosef, Orah Hayyim no. 177, has a responsum addressed to ר' מנחם שרגא רעוויל. This is Bernard Revel’s father (The first name was actually Nahum, not Menahem.)

I would be remiss in not mentioning that one has to question many of the stories Gulevsky tells, simply because they don’t agree with what we know from other sources. While he tries to be careful in his facts, some of his reports are no different than the typical “frum history” in which all sorts of stories get repeated as if they were facts. There are a number of examples of this but let me note one that doesn’t appear in his books, but which he told me. According to Gulevsky, the reason Yeshiva College did not offer a job to Saul Lieberman is because his father-in-law, Meir Bar-Ilan, almost bankrupted the institution when he served as temporary president during Bernard Revel’s leave of absence. Yet this is completely false. There are also times when Gulevsky writes things that are not merely incorrect, but downright foolish. See e.g., here.

The link just given refers to Gulevsky’s stringent view of eruvin. In this he is following not only the Brisker tradition but also that of his grandfather, who did not believe that an eruv could be established in the typical town. Yet Gulevsky has also noted that despite this opposition, there was an eruv in Brisk and his grandfather checked it every week.[26] (When the young Joseph Baer visited Brisk he checked it together with R. Simcha Zelig.[27] He also used to check the eruv in Chaslovitz, where his father was the rav.) Originally I thought that the presence of an eruv in Brisk was an example of R. Hayyim not wishing to force the community to adopt his stringent position. Yet from R. Moshe Sternbuch’s recently published Teshuvot ve-Hanhagot, vol. 5, no. 101, we see that this was not the case. He heard from R. Velvel that R. Hayyim wanted to forbid the eruv, and even publicized this, but the people refused to listen to him. (You see, it is not only Modern Orthodox Jews who ignore what the rabbis tell them!) The people must have thought that if other cities with great rabbis can have an eruv, then why should they suffer because of R. Hayyim’s humra. Faced with this rejection, R. Hayyim told R. Simcha Zelig that the kashrut of the eruv was to be his responsibility. R. Hayyim wanted nothing to do with it. R. Velvel himself would only check the eruv once a year, before Rosh Hashanah, and it bothered him greatly that his own city was relying on what he regarded to be unacceptable leniencies.[28]

In Boston, as long as R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik was active, there was no eruv. The Rav publicly declared:
I am opposed to the establishment of eruvin. An eruv in American means the abolishment of the prohibition of carrying on Shabbat. Aside from certain [meta-halakhic] reasons, I also have halakhic reasons why I can’t give my approval to the establishment of eruvin. [29]
As soon as the Rav was no longer able to protest, an eruv was established in Brookline. I was in the Bostoner Rebbe’s shul when he spoke about how important the eruv was and that everyone should rely on it. He insisted that there must be no distinction between the “frum,” who don’t carry, and everyone else. It is interesting that the Modern Orthodox world, which places the Rav on such a pedestal, has not accepted one of his few public halakhic pronouncements.


[1] See here
[2] Hebrew Printing in America, p. 501.
[3] See here.
[4] In his e-mail to me Kamenetsky mistakenly wrote R. Meir Berlin. I have corrected it.
[5] The introduction to this book and also his Beit Ridbaz (Jerusalem, 1908), are fascinating, because he describes in detail many of the communal problems he saw. One wonders if he was writing his book today, which problems he would identify. I don’t think English sermons would still be an issue for him, although I think it is fair to say that advertising a “Pretty Woman” sheitl would definitely outrage hiim. After all, the sheitl is supposed to represent modesty, and Julia Roberts’ profession in that particular movie was not exactly tzniusdik. See here (Unfortunately, some of the comments to this post are inappropriate.)
[6] I heard this from an eyewitness. The event took place in the 1950s.
[7] See Fraud, Corruption, and Holiness (Port Washington, 1974), p. 91.
[8] Quiz question: Which contemporary gadol be-Yisrael was born in Scranton?
[9] See Gastwirt, Fraud, p. 145, that Eskolsky was expelled from Agudat ha-Rabbanim for giving a hekhsher on a plant that produced both kosher and non-kosher meat. This was in violation of the Agudat ha-Rabbanim takkanah. Those rabbis who opposed Agudat ha-Rabbanim’s policy formed the competing Kenesset ha-Rabbonim, which was led by R. Gavriel Zev Margulies.
[10] Experience has shown that a rabbi who is financially corrupt can easily win back his reputation (and in some circles financial corruption doesn’t affect his reputation to begin with). Yet if a rabbi is accused of not being reliable in matters of kashrut, even if the accusation is false, it is almost impossible for him to turn this around. Unfortunately, when it comes to kashrut supervision, American Orthodoxy has distorted our tradition. People are constantly told that if they see a hashgachah on a product or restaurant, that they cannot rely on it without investigating who the rav ha-machshir is. This is completely mistaken. According to halakhah every rav is regarded as trustworthy unless you have been reliably informed otherwise. Without receiving negative information, one should always assume that a rav is reliable. This is no different than if you arrive in a new city and go to shul on Shabbat and you are invited to someone's house for lunch. One should assume, unless he has reason to think otherwise, that the person inviting him keeps kosher, as religious Jews have a hezkat kashrut. Certainly, if the rabbi invites you to his house you must assume this. The notion that is currently rampant, that we don't trust a rav until we investigate him, is the exact opposite of what the tradition has always held. Rather, we are supposed to trust the rav unless we are given reason to think otherwise. Every rav, even a rav ha-machshir, has a hezkat kashrut and is assumed to be doing his job reliably.


To show how far this idiocy has gone, let me share something that happened a couple of years ago when I was visiting a city that shall remain nameless. Someone was eating with us and mentioned that he was going to be travelling to Elizabeth, New Jersey. He asked me if I knew about kosher food in the area. I told him that Elizabeth has a very nice Jewish community, with plenty of kosher food. He then asked who gave the hashgachah, and I replied that it is Rabbi Teitz. The man wasn't happy with my answer, which troubled me since I had never heard of anyone question R. Teitz. In fact, in speaking to him it was apparent that he had never even heard of R. Teitz. Yet he announced for everyone that his family would have to avoid visiting any of the kosher eateries when he was in Elizabeth. I was really shocked and I asked him, "Why? What is wrong with R. Teitz?" I further asked him where he thinks the people he will be visiting in Elizabeth get their food. Yet he would only reply: "We only eat at places under the supervision of a Vaad." I told him that I didn't think that there was a Vaad in Elizabeth, and why in any case does he need a Vaad? A Vaad might be a good idea from a practical standpoint, in order to create one communal standard, yet there is nothing in the Shulhan Arukh about a Vaad, and R. Teitz is as reliable as anyone. Yet all I got from him was the same nonsense about how without a Vaad a hashgachah cannot be trusted. (I never asked him what he would do in a one-rabbi town.)
[11] Afarkasta de-Anya, vol. 1, no. 165:3. While Sperber later became a mainstream haredi posek, in his youth he was also exposed to Haskalah. See Joseph Ibn Kaspi, Asarah Kelei Kesef ed. Last (Pressburg, 1903), vol. 2, pp. 190ff. (Hebrewbooks.org for some reason splits up Asarah Kelei Kesef into separate volumes. If you search hebrewbooks.org under נקדות כסף you will find the Sperber letters.) Sperber, p. 193, asks Last, when he publishes his letters, to describe him as a hasid. His reason is incredible:
נא לתארינו [צ"ל לתאריני] בשם "חסיד" והיה אם לא ייטבו דברי בעיניהם ידינני לכ"ז, ויאמרו כי חסיד הוא וחכמה מה לו, ואם אולי ימצאו דברי נכונים, אז ירומם שם חסיד תחת לשונם ויאמרו הגם חסיד יודע ומבין דבר.
[12] See Gastwirt, Fraud, p. 93. Cf. Jenna Weissman Joselit, New York’s Jewish Jews (Bloomington, 1990), p. 62, regarding R. Moses Z. Margolies and his kashrut battles: “Determined to teach the Ramaz a lesson, a band of disgruntled butchers alledgedly banded together to poison the meat at his daughter’s wedding supper, sickening some 2000 guests, including the bride.” During his great dispute with R. Shalom Elhanan Jaffe, R. Gavriel Zev Margulies was physically attacked by shohatim who supported Jaffe. See Gastwirt, Fraud, p. 121.
[13] Since I mention Jacobs, I must also note the following. In a recent AJS Review (vol. 32, 2008), pp. 450-452, I reviewed Miri Freud-Kandel’s history of Orthodox Judaism in Britain. I mentioned the “Jacob’s Affair” and there is a note explaining what this was.
"The term 'Jacobs Affair' refers to the controversy surrounding the potential appointment of Rabbi Louis Jacobs as chief rabbi of England. In 1961, Rabbi Louis Jacobs, z”l, was nominated as the principal of Jews’ College, a position considered a potential way station for the chief rabbinate of the British Commonwealth. That appointment, however, was blocked by the then-chief rabbi Israel Brodie because of his published views. Brodie then prohibited Louis from returning to his post at the New West End synagogue in London, upon which a new congregation was established for him."
This was added by the editor. I never would have referred to Jacobs as “Louis.” I have, incidentally, many letters from Jacobs that I hope to publish. Although we only met three times, we corresponded for almost twenty years. Only now do I realize how lucky I was, that this world-renowned scholar took the time from his busy life to correspond with a young student, especially a student who had no compunctions telling Jacobs when he disagreed with him. Occasionally, I would send Jacob's material that I thought would interest him. One time I sent him R. Joseph Messas' Mayim Hayim, and was surprised to later see that he cited this work in Beyond Reasonable Doubt (London, 1999), pp. 216-217. He showed great insight in describing Messas as follows: "As is evident from his responsa, Mashash, for a rabbi of the old school, was something of a modernist. But his historical sense was sufficiently acute not to allow him to read modern ideas into the sayings of the ancient rabbis." I also sent him Haym Soloveitchik's famous article, "Religious Law and Change," AJS Review 12 (1987), pp. 203-221, which surprisingly he had never seen. When A Tree of Life was reprinted in 2000, he added a new introduction and cited this article as further support for the thesis of his book.


Regarding editors adding material to an author’s work without asking, see the recent comment by Haym Soloveitchik in “Mishneh Torah: Polemic and Art,” in Jay M. Harris, ed., Maimonides After 800 Years (Cambridge, 2007), p. 333 n. 25. (This is a truly wonderful article.) In referring to an entry he wrote for the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, Soloveitchik notes: "The editors, wishing to improve upon my scant bibliography, added Shemuel Argaman, The Captivity of the Maharam: A Narrative of the Events Surrounding the Arrest and Captivity of the Maharam of Rothenburg (New York, 1990)—a children’s storybook published by the Lakewood Heder."
[14] See here. This source does not give the book and page no. that is excerpted: It is Av be-Hokhmah (New York, 1927), pp. 85-86.
[15] R. Moshe Zvi Berger, “Av le-Hakhamim: Ha-Gaon R. Avraham Aharon Yudelevitz,” Yeshurun 2 (1997)), pp. 686-691.
[16] For an example from the most recent volume, see Yeshurun 21 (Nisan 5769) p. 417, where in discussing “Ha-Gaon R. Moses Aaron Poleyeff” we are told that he שימש אז כראש ישיבה באחד מהישיבות שבאמריקה. If this was someone who taught at RIETS for a short period of time, I might understand it, but Poleyeff spent his entire adult life teaching there. (He began teaching at RIETS in 1920.) He was also widely regarded as Yeshiva’s most beloved teacher. Poleyeff, more than anyone else, would be offended at this attempt to “kasher” him by hiding the fact that he taught at RIETS. (An outstanding talmid hakham recently commented to me that in his opinion Poleyeff was a greater lamdan than R. Moshe Feinstein!)
[17] I found the picture here.
[18] R. Michel Shurkin, Meged Giv’ot Olam ( Jerusalem, 2005), vol. 2, p. 23. He also quotes R. Leib Malin as saying that it is not good to be an illui.
[19] Eliezer Brodt called my attention to the fact that R. David Luria offered this reason as well. See Dov Eliach, Ha-Gaon (Jerusalem, 2002), vol. 3, p. 1286.
[20] See Dayan I. Grunfeld, The Dietary Laws (London, 1972), vol. 2, pp. 180-181
[21] R. Yitzhak Yosef, in his new work, Einei Yitzhak (Jerusalem, 2009), vol. 3, p. 439, also accepts this methodological rule.
[22] Keneset Hayyim (Jerusalem, 1993), pp. 9-12. See also Isadore Twersky, Rabad of Posquieres (Cambridge, 1962), pp. 175-176.
[23] In the recently published Kol Brisk (Jerusalem, 2009), p. 20, it refers to R. Hayyim delivering words of Mussar on Shabat Shuvah. Gulevsky strongly denies this. The most that he would acknowledge is that perhaps in his first year or two he gave derashot, but never after that. (R. Chaim’s and the Brisker Rav’s way of “rabbinating” did not find favor in the eyes of all of Brisk’s citizens, ואכמ"ל.) In general, there are historical points in this book that are doubtful, leading me to question its reliability in such matters. Even if the historical information came from R. Aaron Soloveichik, it was not uncommon for R. Aaron to err in such matters, and again אכמ"ל. (Kol Brisk is authored by one of R. Aaron Soloveichik’s son. He doesn’t give his name on the title page so I will respect this.)
Let me give one example of the questionable material in this book. On p. 33 there is a whole story, seemingly legendary, to explain how R. David Feinsten, R. Moshe's father, received the name Feinstein, since the family’s original name was not this. Yet in the introduction to vol. 8 of Iggerot Moshe, p. 6, the children of R. Moshe state that Feinstein was indeed the family name.
Perhaps in another post I will return to this book, as it has a number of what are certain to be controversial statements. For example, on p. 656 it blasts the OU for naming its Israel center after someone who, we are told, caused R. Aaron Soloveichik so much trouble:
בפעולה זו הם מבזים גדול בתורה שכל ימיו הרביץ תורה לאלפים.
[24] See Naftali Hertz Wessely, Yein ha-Levanon (Rishon le-Tzion, 2003), p. 28.
[25] Regarding R. Shneur, a recent article in Ha-Ma’ayan reveals that in the mid-1940’s he was involved in founding the first yeshiva in Palestine that taught secular studies. See R. Yoel Amital, “Sabi ha-Rav Zvi Yehudah Meltzer,” Ha-Ma’ayan 49 (Tamuz, 5769), p. 66.
[26] See R. Menasheh Klein, Mishneh Halakhot, vol. 8, no. 128, vol. 15, no. 127 (responsum to Gulevsky; this last source quotes R. Moshe Feinstein as stating that there was also an eruv in Karlin, despite the fact that R. Yaakov of Karlin was the leading opponent of city eruvin). In his responsum to Gulevsky, Klein says some of the strangest things imaginable, which raise questions as to how he can be taken seriously as a posek in matters of eruvin. According to his calculations, and this is directly related to his halakhic understanding, in Second Temple days there were billions (!) of Jews in the Land of Israel, and roughly thirty million of them would descend on Jerusalem for the holidays. He concludes (vol. 15 p. 201):
והבוליווארדיס והמעטראפאליטין של קווינס וגרענד סענטאראל אף לא הגיעו לקרסולי ירושלים עיה"ק וזה לפענ"ד פשוט
In another responsum to Gulevsky dealing with eruvin (Mishneh Halakhot, vol. 8, no. 168), he says something equally strange:
גם מרן הח"ס נחשב מתלמידי בעש"ט שהי' תלמיד מובהק של מרן בעל הפלאה
[27] Schachter, Nefesh ha-Rav, p. 170.
[28] R. Sternbuch adds:
ומאמר היה בפיו בשם אביו הגר"ח זצ"ל, "קשה למצוא עירוב כשר וקשה למצוא מקוה פסול", וכוונתו שבעירוב נכנסים לדחוקים ומכשירים, ובמקוה אף שמדינא יש להקל מחמירים.
[29] Ha-Pardes (January, 1979), p. 26.

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