Archive for the ‘Ashkenaz History’ Category

Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer zt”l Film: The Man and His Life – סרט על חיי הרב לוי יוסף ברייער זצ”ל ופעליו

January 2, 2016

Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer zt”l: A Loving Tribute RDJB

Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer zt”l: A Loving Tribute 

A fine professional film on the life of Rav Breuer and his famous kehillah in NY, prepared for a YRSRH dinner years ago, with historical footage, alongside reminiscences of family, talmidim, kehillah members, and prominent personalities.

Learn the story of the man behind “Breuer’s”.

Plain Speaking Profundity: Rav Shimon Schwab Speaks – עמקות בפשטות: רב שמעון שוואב זצ”ל דובר

December 23, 2015

A public spirited יהודי has just made available for viewing a valuable historic collection of several video clips of Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l, famed Rav of KAJ WH, and author of various renowned ספרים.

The recording consists of the following:

1) It opens with some brief, quiet clips of Rav Schwab and Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer zt”l, senior Rav and meyaseid of KAJ WH. From the 5730’s/1970’s I would guess (approximately two and a half minutes).

2) Following that quiet segment, a segment from the yovel (50th) anniversary commemoration of KAJ WH is featured. That was in approximately 5750/1990. One can see in attendance there prominent personalities of the present Torah world, שליט”א, such as R. Avrohom Ausband,  Rosh Yeshiva of Telshe Riverdale (Rav Schwab zt”l learned in Telshe in his youth), and R. Yaakov Perlow (aka Novominsker Rebbe), who served for years as a marbitz Torah with KAJ WH. Rav Schwab expounds upon the meaning of the words יובל and דרור, as stated in the Torah with regard to such a jubilee and shares appropriate Torah השקפה for the occasion. The shofar is blown as well (thirteen minutes approximately).

3) That is followed by a segment from the installation of Rav Zechariah Gelley שליט”א (he should have a רפואה שלמה במהרה בתוך שאר חולי ישראל), which I guess is from the early 5750’s/1990’s (nine minutes approximately).

It is in turn followed by video messages from Rav Schwab

4) on the occasion of the simcha of the wedding of Rav Gelley’s son (six minutes approximately),

and, concluding,

5) to a dinner of the KAJ branch in Monsey, where he expounds upon the future of the kehillah based on the words in Bereishis of ועתה הייתי לשני מחנות (six and half minutes approximately).

We are indebted to the one who has shared this great material with us, and hopefully we will be zoche to see more such treasures in the future.

In these video clips we see Rav Schwab’s combination of profundity with deceptive simplicity and straightforwardness.

I would propose to say that that might  describe his מהלך החיים, way of life, in general, not just his דרך הלימוד, and way of speaking, and that that is also a מורשת אשכנז, a way of great gedolim of אשכנז.

יהי זכרו ברוך – זכרונו לברכה לחיי העולם הבא

Fascinating, Little Known History of a Mi Shebeirach Revealed: The Hidden Story Behind A Shabbos Practice – מי שברך לחולים בשבת: הלכה, מנהג, ומציאות, נחשף, נחקר, ונברר ע”י רב המבורגר

December 24, 2014

Davening for a sick person on Shabbos?

May one daven for a sick person on Shabbos?

Not a simple matter. Recall that we don’t say the regular, weekday Shmoneh Esrei, which contains a prayer to heal our sick, on that day.

What about making a מי שברך לחולים for an ill person on Shabbos?

Were your answers to the above two questions the same? Different? If so, why?

Mi shebeirach for cholim on Shabbos today

A recent issue of a קובץ תורני (Torah journal) by the name of קובץ חצי גבורים, פליטת סופרים, from this past אלול, includes a major contribution by רבש”ה, Rav Binyomin Shlomo Hamburger, נ”י, bearing the title of מי שברך לחולים בשבת, in which these and some related topics are masterfully and comprehensively expounded upon and explicated.


In many Shuls today, the mi shebeirach lecholim on Shabbos is a drawn out affair. Some people seem to rack their brains to think of any person, with almost any kind of health issue, they could include in it (not surprising – after all, we are רחמנים בני רחמנים :). In some places, long lists are read by the mi shebeirach maker, while in others a new custom has been innovated, in which people in the congregation say names they wish to have included, while remaining in their places.

Many people do not seem to be aware that it is not a simple matter to assume that davening for a sick person is allowed on Shabbos. While there were and are decisors who ruled that such davening is allowed, a significant  body of חכמי אשכנז held that such is allowed only for a חולה שיש בו סכנה, someone who’s life is in danger, specifically בו ביום, on that very day of Shabbos.

Mi Shebeirach for Cholim on Shabbos through the ages

Rav Hamburger takes his readers on a journey through many centuries, exploring how our chachomim addressed this issue, navigating skillfully through the waters of Talmud, and pages of Midrash, Responsa, and Siddurim. The wide ranging exposition ranges far and wide through many centuries, including examinations of various nuschaos (versions) of mi shebeirach texts, as well as the emendation made by R. Avraham Gombiner, the Magen Avrohom, to the מי שברך לחולה text, the reaction to it, and instructions (or their lack) in סידורים (prayer books).

Also discussed are the meanings of enigmatic Talmudic phrases that figure in the discussion, such as שבת היא מלזעוק ורפואה קרובה לבא, and יכולה היא שתרחם.

At the end he notes that while widely accepted poskim such as Chayei Adam, Aruch Hashulchan, Mishna Berurah, Shulchan Aruch Harav, among others, said that it should be restricted to a חולה מסוכן on Shabbos, much of Eastern European Jewry (with some notable exceptions) seem to be meikil on it, conducting unrestricted mi shebeirachs for cholim. On the other hand, the older minhog was maintained among Bnei Ashkenaz (‘Yekkes’), among whom, not only was such restricted to a choleh sheyeish bo sakonoh, but also the mi shebeirach used was a regular mi shebeirach לבריא, rather than the mi shebeirach lecholeh.

Understanding the spirit behind the practice 

The gedolim and poskim that limited mi shebeirach for the ill on Shabbos, did so, not, חס ושלום, G-d forbid, out of a lack of compassion or cold heartedness, but rather, following the mesorah they received, out of concern that the special atmosphere of Shabbos, its sanctity and tranquility, not be compromised by such supplications (except for extreme cases, and even then just in a limited manner). The Shabbos itself, with its atmosphere of holiness and tranquility, is therapeutic and healing. As alluded to in the text of the מי שברך לחולה, there is a connection between רפואת הנפש, healing of the spirit, spiritual health, and רפואת הגוף, healing of the body, physical health. That special Shabbos atmosphere needs to be guarded to be properly maintained. Additionally, the zechus, the merit of keeping Shabbos properly, which, as we say in the shmoneh esrei of mincha on Shabbos, is מנוחת אהבה ונדבה, מנוחת אמת ואמונה, מנוחת שלום ושלוה והשקט ובטחת, is itself a great zechus, which accrues to the benefit of the חולה and others who guard it.

Once again, Rav Hamburger has illuminated for us, with great light, the ins and outs, as well as the roots, branches and variations of a Jewish practice forgotten and misunderstood by many.

The return of Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz (hopefully)

In addition to the great contribution and sheer enjoyment that this enthralling contribution to לימוד התורה represents, it is also very welcome for another reason. Namely that it is the first such new lengthy, Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz type exposition (it is written in a format like that used in Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz, e.g. starting from the beginning, from relevant early sources, such as Biblical and Talmudic, tracing the practice down through many generations in later sources such as halachic codes, collections of minhogim, and siddurim, followed by surveys of practice in different lands of Jewish settlement, culminating in a final review/summation section) to appear in some time. Since the four initial volumes of Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz (SMA) (as well as the accompanying small introductory volume, גדולי הדורות על משמר מנהג אשכנז), appeared between app. twenty and ten years ago, no new volumes have appeared in recent years (though a fine volume with an English synopsis of the Hebrew volumes appeared a few years ago – and now is listed at hundreds of dollars at – wow!), while Rav Hamburger was occupied with other literary endeavors, such as הישיבה הרמה בפיורטה, ירושתנו, וכו. It is hoped that this new perek (which Rav Hamburger indicated may be incorporated in a future volume of SMA) heralds the return and resumption of the highly acclaimed and very necessary series in the near future. According to the Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz website, a number of new works are awaiting sponsorship, including SMA V & VI. Hopefully הקב”ה will send discerning sponsors soon that appreciate the greatness of this work (along with other valuable MMA products), to partner with the Machon and enable the resumption of its dissemination. It is a series that has gained wide acclaim, in wide circles of cognoscenti. From Talmidei Chachomim, to Academics, to Bnei Ashkenaz, to regular Jews, who recognize something special when they see it.

יה”ר שנזכה לכך במהרה בימינו, אכי”ר

Calling A Bochur Of A Certain Age A Chosson, When He Is Not One At The Time

September 14, 2012

On pages 51-52 of the fine Yerushoseinu 5772 article on Rav Dr. Yosef Breuer z”l of KAJ by R. Yaakov Lorch שליט”א (which we drew upon here previously), there is a great story in a section about Rav Breuer’s מדת האמת (truthfulness).

It is related there that R. Yosef Schwab shlit”a, when he was a bochur, had learned shechita, and received a teudah (certificate) attesting to such from the shochet who had instructed him. However, he still needed to get kabboloh for it from a Rav. His father, Rav Shimon Schwab z”l, suggested that he go to Rav Breuer for that, which he did. When he showed Rav Breuer the teudah, which referred to him as HeChassan Yosef Schwab, Rav Breuer asked him if he was a chosson. When he replied in the negative, Rav Breuer exclaimed, No? Sheker, sheker! R. Yosef’s attempts to explain that that was a custom of people to call a bochur of certain age a chosson were to no avail. Rav Breuer was agitated, and repeated “This is sheker!”.

עד כאן the story, and now a thought that came to me.

There is a custom among some to call such bochurim for aliyos with the title chosson as well. I assume Rav Breuer z”l would strongly reject that custom, based on the above. Can anyone confirm?

In the zechus of being truthful, may we be zoche to a great new year.

Thanks to all for their support.

כתיבה וחתימה טובה – א גוט געבענטשט יאהר

Christians join hands with Rabbi to put kibosh on mixed dancing

March 27, 2011

Twentieth century America? No, eighteenth century Alsace was the setting for this riveting tale.

The other day, I came across a very interesting account of a battle royal over mixed dancing that took place approximately two hundred and fifty years ago in Alsace.

Rav Yosef Steinhart, soon after arriving in Nieder Ehnheim to assume the Rabbinate there, heard that a local custom was to have dances on Yom Tov, with young men and women dancing together. He promptly ordered on erev Yom tov that such be banned, and that violators be fined.  The reply from the dance group was that they had already received permission from the government, and that he would not be able to stop it, since the government gained revenue from the accompanying  sales of great quantities of wine to the attendees. When the Rabbi refused to back down, he was slandered to the authorities.

Whereupon the Rabbi was summoned by the government, with great respect, to explain his action. He explained that the dancing was a serious sin and against the Jewish faith. The local ruler, a devout Christian who had a Bible at hand, heard a detailed discourse from Rav Steinhart, proving from various Biblical verses that mixed dancing was not countenanced by the Torah, which won him over. However, he still wanted to consult with a colleague on the matter as well, which he proceeded to do. The colleague evidently was a philo-semite, and wrote him that the Rav’s words were true and faithful, because Jews are holy, and praised highly their faith and customs. Verdict – Rabbi wins by KO. 😉

Responsa literature (שו”ת) can be very interesting at times, but unless you are the type that goes through it a lot, it is likely that you are missing out on some very enjoyable and historically informative pieces. Sometimes we need someone else to point us to such highlights. הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא (Volume II, p.138, 140) brought this interesting tale to my attention.

More juicy details can be seen in the account in שו”ת זכרון יוסף, starting here.

Jewish usage of non-Hebrew numerical systems – History and propriety

March 24, 2011

Hebrew numerals. Roman numerals. Arabic (Indian) numerals.

What numbers can a Jew use? What numbers should he use?

How should pages in a  ספר קודש be numbered?

הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא relates (volume II, p. 116-118) that the number system that is widely used nowadays, generally referred to as Arabic numerals, came relatively late to Jewish use. Rav Yaakov Emden was a pioneer in utilizing them in a sefer kodesh, by doing so in his famed siddur, the first volume of which, עמודי שמים, was printed in 5505 (1745 C.E.) in Altona. This page in the siddur is one illustration.

Some Hungarian Rabbis opposed such usage, even going so far as to say that it was אסור, as it did not come down to us from הר סיני, as R. Shaul Brach argued.

However, the author notes, they have become widely accepted nowadays, and are seen in many seforim. He also comments in a footnote, that they can be seen at times in works of the Chasam Sofer (of חדש אסור מן התורה fame) himself.

The first sefer (ספר קודש) with modern footnotes

March 23, 2011

Another interesting historical nugget that I just came across in הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא, (Volume II, p.115), is re the first sefer (ספר קודש) to use modern, numbered footnotes.

It is stated there that modern, numbered footnotes first appeared in the writings of Western scholars in the beginning of the 1600’s C.E., but they did not appear in ספרי קודש until close to two hundred years later, when the sefer מעין החכמה, of Rav Chaim Zvi Harsch Berlin, appeared.

One can gaze at this חידוש with ease here, with a click or two of a mouse, courtesy of the great site.

So according to the above, we are only a few years away from the bi-centennial of footnotes in ספרי קודש.

Is it proper for a Rav to leave his kehillah during a time of danger (e.g. wartime ר”ל)? A historical perspective from the חתם סופר and נודע ביהודה

March 22, 2011

In recent times, especially in the wake of Churban Europe in the WWII period, a hotly debated topic has been whether it is proper for a leader, esp. a spiritual leader such as a Rav or Rebbe, to leave his kehillah in time of danger.

Interesting historical perspective can be gleaned from what I recently read in הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא, חלק ב.

In the chapter on Rav Chaim Zvi Hirsch Berlin, it is related (p.83)  that during the Napoleonic wars, when he was Rav and Rosh Yeshiva in מגנצא (Mainz), the heads of the Mainz kehillah, in concern for his safety, spirited him away to Frankfurt.

רבש”ה then cites the words of the חתם סופר discussing this question (bottom of right column in Chasam Sofer).

The Chasam Sofer says that he he heard that when Prague was under siege some sixty years earlier, the Noda biYehudah (NBY), R. Yechezkel Landau, wanted to escape, but the leaders did not allow him to do so. He continues, that  the NBY’s wanting to leave was understandable, as we know that one should not stay in a place of danger (סכנה), so that ones זכויות not be diminished (at least, if not for other reason as well). The leaders not allowing him to leave is also understandable, as they wanted their shield (the great Rav and tzaddik) with them, and so it is fitting for a leader of Yisroel, to give himself for his nation….and not leave them in danger and save himself alone.

However, he continues, many dispute this, as when Mainz was besieged a number of years ago, they sent their Rav, the Gaon Rav Chaim Harsch זצ”ל to Frankfurt, and so did the leaders of Koblenz with their Rav….as Frankfurt sent my teacher the הפלאה…(elsewhere)….as even (after being moved for safety) elsewhere (these great leaders) could daven for the kehillah and protect them as possible…so why do they need to suffer….So what emerges from this, is that there is a machlokes between the leaders of the kehillah of Prague and the other kehillos mentioned.

Interestingly, רבש”ה in the footnotes states that a friend of his brought to his attention the words of the son of the NBY (toward the bottom of the right column, ד”ה רחב לבב), who wrote that in 5517 (1756 or 1757 7 C.E.), when the city was in danger, the NBY, in contrast with many of the notables, did not leave his flock, not exactly what it reported above. As an aside, it is not clear (at least to me) if both accounts are describing the same situation, or if they pertain to different episodes.

Anyway, it seems that the חתם סופר comes down on the side of the מנהיג staying with the ציבור. However, it is not phrased as absolutely unequivocal halachic pesak, rather he uses terminology such as ראוי and נראה יותר הגון. One should also keep in mind that it appears in דרשות חת”ס and not שו”ת חת”ס.

Anyway, since no two situations are exactly the same, perhaps each case needs a separate pesak.

והשי”ת ירחם עלנו ויגן עלנו ממקרים כאלו, אכי”ר

Harsh, Hirsh, and Hersh (Harsch, Hirsch, and Hersch) – Names in הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא

March 17, 2011

Another interesting thing that I saw a short while ago in הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא (volume II, p.60).

It states that the name הירש, which is the vernacular כינוי and translation of the popular Hebrew name צבי, was actually pronounced in אשכנז as Harsh (or Harsch), as if there was a פתח under the ה. The חתם סופר felt strongly about this and stated as much. One can see in many places in his writings, in accordance with this, that he spells the name הרש, without a yud, which he felt (inclusion of) led people to pronounce it incorrectly. However, he states that in Poland, it was pronounced Hirsh (Hirsch), with a חיריק.

And nowadays there are others who pronounce it Hersh (Hersch) as well – as if the spelling was הערש, which one actually can see too. I am referring to those whose pronunciation is to say lecht instead of licht, e.g. in the term ליכט בענטשען/צינדען

That is just one elaborate example of a nice amount of material in הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא related to onomastics in general, and Jewish onomastics in particular. The author frequently uses נקודות to help the reader handle obscure and extinct names that come up in the narrative, which likely are not familiar to them.


Vying for a famous Rav – Metz and Feurth seek Rav Yonason Eibeschutz

March 14, 2011

An interesting account is brought in the beginning of הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא, חלק ב, pages 11-17, about an aborted effort to bring the famed Rav Yonason Eibeschutz to be Rav (and Rosh Yeshiva) in Feurth.

In ניסן of 5508 (1748 C.E.), elections were held for the Fuerth Rabbinate. Six candidates split one hundred and eight votes of a special committee chosen to elect a new Rav. R. Yonason Eibeschutz won the election with thirty two votes. At that time, he was serving as Rav of Metz.

However, the community of Metz didn’t want to let R. Yonason go, and they reminded him that according to the conditions he accepted upon himself when coming to Metz, he could not leave the kehillah for twelve years, unless he would pay a monetary penalty of 6,000 francs, a giant sum. They insisted upon this provision and thereby prevented R. Yonason from leaving them.

I have come across in the past other stories of Rabbonim preparing to leave kehillos and move on to new positions in days of yore, while the kehillos tried to prevent them from leaving. I was under the impression that usually the efforts to prevent such moves did not succeed.  In this case, however, they did.

My recollection of the other cases where such efforts failed was along the lines of ‘the Rav left town in the middle of the night to move to his new position’. I had the impression that the efforts to keep the Rav were along the lines of physically preventing the coaches from pulling away with him. In this case however, the means to prevent the departure were financial and legal. Perhaps that is why they had more success?