How Rav Akiva Eiger got his Chassidishe son in law to put on tefillin on Chol Hamoed – מעשה רב בענין הנחת תפילין בחוה”מ ושאר דברים מהגאון רע”א

לכבוד היום, which is the first day of חוה”מ פסח in the diaspora, there is a very interesting story, which רבש”ה mentioned in a shiur, which I think is worthy of repetition, especially in view of the fact that it seemingly happened this very day (or tomorrow), the first day of חוה”מ פסח outside ארצנו הקדושה, approximately one hundred and eighty years ago.  Here it is, together with some thoughts and comments.

The great רב עקיבא איגר, mechaber of דרוש וחידוש רע”א, וכו, had a Chassidishe son in law (according to the sefer referenced below, he actually had sixteen children, listed in footnote nine here), a great תלמיד חכם by the name of Rav Chaim Shmuel Birnbaum. He was from Poland, of a Kozhnitzer Chassidic background.

רע”א took him as a son in law (I guess he aced the farher ;-), and supported the new couple for a number of years after the חתונה, during which רח”ש studied Torah in Posen, where רע”א was מרא דאתרא. Some of his תורה was later published in a sefer called שו”ת רחש לבב.

The different backgrounds of the shver and eidem (father in law and son in law) led to some interesting interactions, such as one which occurred the first חוהמ”פ the son in law spent in Posen with his great father in law, which the former recalled some forty years later.

Here is what happened, as recorded in the foreword to the aforementioned sefer.

The first חוה”מ פסח that he spent with רע”א, he relates, he did not put on תפילין, since his father and the other Chassidim had stopped doing so, as per Chassidic custom. רע”א noticed his lack of adornment and was quite disturbed by it. He objected strongly, stating that the Torah leaders of אשכנז and surrounding lands accepted on themselves and their children the pesak of the רמ”א, not to deviate from it right or left, להקל או להחמיר (see the actual words in לשון קודש to get a sense of their power), and the רמ”א had  paskened clearly that תפילין should be worn.

And the son in law’s reaction? So he says, I listened to his holy word. Even though it was difficult for me to change from what I was accustomed to doing. He listened to the holy words of his shver, from then on, and put on tefillin on חול המועד (without a ברכה however, and with a תנאי, see his words).

We see from this story how firm the great Rav Akiva Eiger was that one must follow the pesak of the רמ”א and wear tefillin on chol hamoed, עד כדי כך that he got his Chassidishe son in law to do so as well. Rav Akiva Eiger was aware of those who felt otherwise, but he insisted that the פסק of the רמ”א must be carried out. And we see the greatness of the son in law as well. זכותם תגן עלינו.

May we be zoche to learn from them and have a proper חוה”מ.

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12 Responses to “How Rav Akiva Eiger got his Chassidishe son in law to put on tefillin on Chol Hamoed – מעשה רב בענין הנחת תפילין בחוה”מ ושאר דברים מהגאון רע”א”

  1. Moshe Says:

    It is interesting to note that the son in law was willing to be חייב מיתה in order to keep the peace. The machloket is not really one of logic – rather, if the Zohar can overrule the accepted halachic custom by saying that one who wears tefillin is חייב מיתה.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Perhaps he felt that his תנאי took care of that as well, according to that opinion? Or maybe he felt, as the גדולי אשכנז, that the halachic issue should be addressed on it’s own merits, without allowing that strong statement to dominate the debate and automatically overwhelm any other arguments.

  2. joel schnur Says:

    The Gra, in spite of his adhering to minhag Ashkenaz in most instances, was also adamantly against the wearing of tefilin on chol hamoed.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      But basically, from what I understand, that מנהג was only followed in the Kloiz of the גר”א.

      Some people today, especially in the younger generation, seem to imagine that מנהגי הגר”א were followed all over and were standard practice of the masses in Lita, but that was definitely not the case.

      There is an interesting thing related to this, which I heard from רבש”ה שליט”א. He related that Rav Schach זצ”ל (who incidentally wore tefillin on Chol Hamoed, even in ארץ ישראל) related what I wrote above, namely that what some people think, that in Vilna (in general) they did not wear tefillin on Chol Hamoed in accordance with the view of the Gaon, was an error (as with other מנהגי הגר”א, that were not necessarily followed outside of his קלויז and תלמידים perhaps as well).

      He stated however, that they did make a shinui in their way of wearing tefillin on Chol Hamoed there, משום כבודו של הגאון. What שינוי? That all year they made two brochos, להניח and על מצות תפילין. However, on חוה”מ, mipnei kevodo shel HaGaon, they made only one brocho, להניח, as per the Gaon’s opinion. I never heard that before and I was surprised by it. It seems to me that if there was such a practice, it was limited, and a later development, perhaps from many years after the time of the Gaon, and perhaps it was just the practice of a small group, and not of the המון עם there. If it is not recorded and is seemingly basically unknown, it is hard to believe that it was a longstanding and widespread practice there. כנלענ”ד.

  3. Harry Katz Says:

    Simple answer = Shalom Bayit

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      However, the son in law stated that he kept doing it even after he left Posen and years after his father in law passed away. So it wasn’t just a simple שלום בית issue.

      • Harry Katz Says:

        He was still married to the daughter, wasn’t he?!

      • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

        1) Perhaps the daughter was blissfully unaware of the matter.

        2) Do you do every single thing your father in law wishes? 🙂

        3) The son in law was a significant תלמיד חכם, I could see others adamantly maintaining the practice they grew up with. It’s one thing if he did it just when living in Posen, but to do so for the rest of his life is something else.

  4. joel schnur Says:

    Minhagei HaGra were never followed by rov Lita and anyone who thinks that doesn’t know history. Even the Maaseh Rav notes that in the shul he davened in, the Gra stopped after hashkivainu while the olam said baruch Hashem l’olam amen v’amen. See Rav Moshe’s tshuva on wearing tefillin on chol hamoed about who piskei Hagra are for, aside from other comments about the gadlus of the Gaon.

  5. NN Says:

    See here in R’ Marc Shapiro article:
    where you can see the following quote (relating to Rav Simcha of Volozhin, brother of R’ Chaim):
    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 השגת אריה לא שינה שום דבר מלבד שהכשיר מכה בדופן וכו’, אולם אדונינו הגר”א, שמעו עליו שאינו מניח תפילין בחול המועד וכדומה.

  6. A.M. Says:

    I heard that the marriage was unhappy and ended in divorce. Their daughter, who married rabbi Shimon Sofer of Erlau also divorced after a short time. Putting pressure on a son-in-law to adopt minhagim is a surefire way to create an unhappy marriage.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Interesting. I will inquire about that, בלי נדר.

      The question is, though, perhaps Rav Akiva Eiger’s strong stance was related to that (tefillin on Chol Hamoed) being the minhog where he was, and since his son in law was his guest there, he felt that it was inappropriate for him to deviate from the tzibbur where they were davening, and where he was the Rav. I don’t see from the account that he generally pressured his son in law in other matters as well, which you seem to assume.

      I would be reluctant to question רע”א in such a way, even after so many years, and with proverbial 20-20 hindsight. 😉

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