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.
Archive for the ‘Rav Breuer זצ”ל’ Category
How To Profit From Our Prophets: Guidance from Rav Breuer On The Important Study Of Tanach – רב ברייער זצ”ל על נחיצות לימוד התנ”ך ודרכו בכךOctober 5, 2012
In the previous two posts, we wrote about Rav Breuer’s derech in learning תורה שבעל פה, the oral Torah. As important as that information is, it needs to be supplemented with Rav Breuer’s attitude regarding the study of תורה שבכתב, the written Torah, in order to get a more balanced and complete picture of the derech of this גדול בישראל, this great Jewish leader, in Torah study, לימוד התורה.
Once again, we draw upon the important article of Rabbi Yaakov Lorch in ירושתנו , to inform us about this vital matter.
Here are some choice excerpts, from pages 67-70:
“He stressed that the Sifrei HaNeviim not be regarded as mere relics of the past, but must instead be understood as sources with contemporary relevance and power: “He who reads the Prophets as they should be read receives eternally sacred messages from their mouths….Rav Breuer viewed the Neviim as Divinely inspired leaders commissioned by God to assist us in comprehending the enigma of life.” He wrote “The Books of our Prophets are the immortal sources from which flow the Jewish consciousness and Jewish strength in an inexhaustible stream.”
“Rav Breuer saw the works of the Neviim as invaluable aids to understanding the history of the Jewish people within the context of world events. He saw the prophets as the quintessential “interpreters of the guidelines to history and mankind’s growth as laid down in the early pages of the Divine Book,” and could not imagine how it was possible to develop a comprehensive view of Jewish history without a thorough knowledge of the Sifrei HaNeviim. As he once remarked, “How can one understand world history without Yeshayah and how can one understand Yeshayah without world history?”
His shiurim in Tanach were exceptional, abounding with emotion and excitement, in the words of Rav Shimon Schwab זצ”ל.
Rav Breuer was deeply troubled by the fact that most yeshivos neglected the study of Tanach.
Rav Breuer’s grandson once told him his Yeshiva schedule, whereupon the Rav asked him “And when do you learn Tanach?” His grandson responded, “The rebbeim say we should learn it by ourselves.” To which Rav Breuer, displeased, responded “Do you think Tanach is nursery rhymes that you can just read it on your own?!”
In Rav Breuer’s words, “The profound importance and lofty significance of Gemara study cannot be stressed enough. But it is wrongly appplied if this means neglect or even elimination of the vast realm of other Torah areas.” He felt that the study of all aspects of Torah “is an irreplaceable source from which we all, in every age and especially in the youthful stage, may draw an inexhaustible wealth of ideological values which form the eternal reservoir for the strong Yehudi who is proudly conscious of his Divine Judaism.”
He held that while a negative attitude toward Tanach study by Yeshivos was understandable in the past when the ‘Haskalah’ movement threatened tradition and wanted to have Tanach study supercede Gemara learning, nowadays there is no reason for such an attitude.
Rav Breuer always kept a small Tanach on his desk and referred to it often. Every time the Gemara would quote a pasuk from the Tanach, he would look it up (finding it within seconds), and learn almost the whole perek where the pasuk was found.
When Rav Breuer would come to test the bachurim of the Yeshiva who were learning Gemara and mefarshim, his first question would be, “Where is the source in Chumash for the sugya you are learning?”
His grandchildren reported “When we came across a pasuk in the Gemara he would ask us if we knew where the pasuk was. If we answered wrong, he would be very annoyed.”
Let us try to follow the guidance of Rav Breuer here, and thereby, hopefully, gain the very necessary guidance we so need in our difficult times from the pages of the Tanach.
א גוטען מועד, א גוטען שבת, און א גוטען יום טוב
Note: For full sources and info re the above, as well as previous posts based on the Yerushoseinu article, see the complete article by Rabbi Lorch there.
Obsolete Relic, or Vital, Living Legacy? —————- דרך הלימוד של הרב ברייער ז”ל בימינו (Rav Breuer’s Derech Halimud In Our Time – continuation)September 27, 2012
It was gratifying to see the interest in Rav Breuer’s derech halimud, which was described as “The Way of Old Ashkenaz”, in the wake of the previous post. ב”ה.
Brisker Derech vs. Old Ashkenaz Way
In the discussion of Rav Breuer’s derech that we referenced, the words Brisk, and Brisker derech, did not appear. However, there was nevertheless a significant response in an online forum to it that came to my attention, which, if I understand it correctly, believes that Rav Breuer’s old Ashkenaz derech has been overtaken and superceded by the way of Rav Chaim of Brisk.
Is that true? If so, to what degree? Is such a development desirable? Are the two ways necessarily always at odds?
Should the old way be cast aside and treated as a fossil or relic, a quaint remnant of a pre-modern era (for those who haven’t already done so)? Placed in display in a museum? Left to the Chasidic world?
I think that the old derech is emphatically not obsolete and is vital for Yiddishkeit today. As Rav Breuer z”l strongly declared regarding תורה עם דרך ארץ, when some claimed that it was only a הוראת שעה, a temporary exigency. I think he would similarly opine regarding the derech halimud we are discussing here.
Does that mean that the old Ashkenaz derech and the way of Brisk and related ways are necessarily always at odds? I think that there can be a modus vivendi actually.
I think that the concern of some about the Brisker derech is at times more due to tendencies among some for premature and excessive utilization of it, rather than the derech itself per se. If there would be some limits on it (okay, perhaps not to the extent of requiring one to wait until the age of forty before engaging with it, as with the study of Kabbalah ;-), perhaps their worries would be eased.
Brisker Derech and Psak Halocho
As it is, the Brisker derech/revolution is a mixed bag. While it has gotten some people excited about learning, there have been great associated costs as well. For example, the Modern Orthodox historian Rabbi Aaron Rothkoff (‘Rakeffet’) has stated that the Brisker derech ‘killed the Litvak psak halocho tradition’ (while there are Litvishe poskim in our times, such as Rav Elyashiv z”l, they are usually not heavy duty Briskers). Nowadays it is not uncommon to see some in the Yeshivishe world looking to the Chasidic world for direction in psak halocho, among other things, something which is not in accordance with their mesorah, and which can introduce practices not countenanced by their ancestors. Why is that? Because they have concentrated on lomdus at the cost of ways of learning which would be more conducive to developing ability in the area of פסק הלכה, causing them to look elsewhere for such. Would Rav Chaim Brisker be happy about that? I have my doubts.
So to sum up, נלע”ד that the old Ashkenaz derech, the derech of Rav Breuer, the Chasam Sofer, and so many others, is not something to be retired, looked down upon, or shunted aside, חס ושלום. Rather it is something which is vital, enduring, and beneficial.
אמת ויציב ונכון וקים וישר ונאמן ואהוב וחביב ונחמד ונעים ואדיר ומתוקן ומקובל וטוב ויפה הדבר הזה עלינו לעולם ועד
Disclaimer: As usual, what is expressed here is the opinion of the writer, and does not represent the opinion of all his fellow Jews with the different faces (כשם שאין פרצופיהן דומין זה לזה כך אין דעותיהן שוות- מדרש רבה, פינחס).
The article on Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer, הרב לוי יוסף ברייער זצ”ל, that we have been writing about in recent postings, by Rabbi Yaakov Lorch שליט”א, also discusses his derech haLimud. Here are some excerpts from pages 41-42 to give you an idea of how Rav Breuer learned gemara and other parts of תורה שבעל פה.
“Rav Breuer followed the derech halimud of his father, Rav Shlomo Breuer, who had been a close talmid of the Ksav Sofer….Rav Shlomo Breuer belonged to the school of the Chasam Sofer in his derech halimud…striving primarily to understand thoroughly the text at hand….learned with his talmidim only ‘on the daf’. Never did the Gaon come with prepared solutions to the gemara. He never discussed only those parts of the daf where he had something to be mechadesh….he strove for clarity in the pshat of the Gemara…He would never turn to the other Rishonim until Rashi and Tosafos were clear: in particular, he would get annoyed if one went right away to the Rambam…he eschewed any attempt at pilpul, and stressed the careful understanding of an inyan rather than hasty coverage of subject matter.”
In recent times some have replaced the above with different approaches. But the old way still has much going for it, even without invoking tradition, even if it seems simple and modest and lacking the fireworks and pizzazz of some newer approaches. If more people today would follow such a derech, we would be the better for it, as a people. כנלענ”ד.
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
One of the most common and prominent traits, as well as stereotypes, of Yekkishe Yidden (Jews from German lands), is related to punctuality. That they are/do things on time, and are not late. And that that is very important to them. There is, lehavdil, a similar stereotype about non-Jewish Germans (just like the being cold/reserved/unemotional stereotype is similarly shared). As Rav Dessler wrote in מכתב מאליהו (cited by רבש”ה at the beginning of page three here), Jews in various places can share certain traits with, להבדיל, other residents of those locales.
Origins: Minhag Ashkenaz or Menschlichkeit?
Let us stop a minute and think. Where does this association of Yekkishe Yidden and punctuality come from? Is it an ancient minhag Ashkenaz to be exactly on time, from gedolei Ashkenaz of yore, such as the מהר”ם מרוטנברג, מרדכי, מהרי”ל? As far as I know they don’t mention any minhag or halocho about carrying around a watch and making sure to be punctual to the minute. It appears to be of relatively recent origin, perhaps from the last few centuries or so, related to changes as the world modernized and new technology entered into lives.
It seems to be related to the spread of modern timepieces, especially personal ones, such as watches, among the populace. As a magazine issue on on the influence of inventions upon civilization stated over a century ago, before the general use of clocks and watches, punctuality, as it is now understood among business-men, could hardly have been reckoned as a duty. German areas were advanced technologically, so presumably they were early adopters of new timepiece technology and attendant punctuality.
Religious Aspects of Punctuality
But there are religious aspects with regard to being on time as well. For example, if someone has a meeting, appointment, or chassunah scheduled, and it is not on time, and people are kept waiting unnecessarily, it would be seem to be a major issue בין אדם לחבירו, of ‘wasting’ people’s time. Okay, sometimes unexpected things come up which cause delays, but to wantonly waste other people’s time is a serious matter. I will not get into the related issues of the importance of zemanim in halocho, such as zemanei kerias Shema, tefilloh, Shabbos and Yom tov, which are well known here, beyond saying that if people know the importance of being on time from them, they should understand the importance of it in other cases as well.
If a wedding invitation, for example, says that the chupah will be at seven o’clock, how could it considered acceptable to actually have it one or two hours later, in good conscience? I realize that in some places people understand that such times are not to be taken literally, that they are לאו דווקא, loose, suggested, general ballpark figures, but 1) not everyone knows that, 2) even if they know it, they may not know if the ‘custom’ in that place is to be one hour late or two, and 3) there is another problem of writing a time which you know will not be adhered to, namely that of למדו לשונם דבר שקר.
So it seems that there are issues of wasting (or theft) of people’s time, as well as sheker. גנבה\גזילה along with שקר – sounds scary!
Not Just A Yekke Thing
It should be noted that there are others who are known to be makpid on punctuality as well, such as some Litvaks (Telz being one prominent example), and Oberlander Yidden, among conscientious fine people from other groups as well.
מעשה רב – Lessons On Punctuality From מורנו הרב לוי יוסף ברייער זצ”ל, Rabbi Dr. Joseph Breuer z”l
In the recently released issue of ירושתנו, there are a number of stories in the great English section article by Rabbi Yaakov Lorch שליט”א on Rav Breuer z”l, relating to punctuality, which can help us see how a great Jewish leader, a גדול בישראל, dealt with it.
First, of course, let us mention perhaps his most famous teaching on the matter, namely, the famous statement that just like being late is not on time, being early is not considered on time either (cited on p.54 of the article, see there for more info).
Additionally, we learn the following –
1) “He ignored the clock when it came to learning”. He learned overtime, not stopping, even when the time for lunch arrived and was announced. So Torah was docheh punktlichkeit for lunch (p.42-3) (I assume he wasn’t too late, just that he didn’t feel obligated to stop on a dime, when he was in the middle of an important piece of learning לכאורה).
2) How he handled a talmid suspected of sleeping late and missing davening (p.30, top).
3) His criticism of lack of punctuality and general disorder at chassunahs (p.33, top).
4) His practice was not to be mesader kiddushin in Brooklyn, after an incident in which he got lost/delayed en route to a wedding there (p.71), and how embarrassed/uncomfortable he was when he walked in late then.
So we see that punctuality was very important to him. But he realized that it had to be combined with שכל and חכמה as well.
א גוטען שבת און א גוטען חודש