Torah Unity at the Top

By Rabbi Reuven Ungar

This past summer readers of Cross-Currents were priviliged to hear and view parts of the historic Chinuch Atzmai Dinner of 1956 (thanks to Rav Gordimer) and to read the message of Rav Shlomo Berman (a rebbe in Yeshivat Ponovez in Bnei Brak, son in law of the Steipler) to Rav Julius Berman of RIETS and the OU (conveyed by the latter’s nephew, Rav Ari Berman- the credit goes to to Rav Adlerstein).

The Chinuch Atzmai Dinner displayed the tremendous mutual respect and affection between Rav Aharon Kotler and Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik. The message of Rav Shlomo Berman from Bnei Brak to his relative from Queens was that Torah transcends hashkafic differences. No one group “owns” the Torah, let’s learn together.

Is this merely a thing of the past? Do contemporary leaders recognize and accept Torah from others outside of their ideological zones?

This past summer included the passing of Rosh Yeshivat Ohr Elchanan Rav Moshe Mordechai Chodosh, of blessed memory, and of Reb Shmuel Immanuel, of Kibbutz Sha’alvim, of blessed memory.

Rav Chodosh is named after his great-uncle, Rosh Yeshivat Slabodka Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein. He is the son of the legendary mashgiach, Rav Meir Chodosh, a brother of the Mirrer Mashgiach Rav Aharon Chodosh, a brother in law of Rav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateres Yisrael, and brother in law of Rav Moshe Ganz, a revered alumnus of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. On the advice of Rav Shach, Rav Simcha Wasserman appointed Rav Chodosh to lead Yeshivat Ohr Elchanan in memory of Rav Elchanan Wasserman, hyd. What began as a small yeshiva in Jerusalem became a Torah empire with branches throughout the country.

Approximately a decade ago I was on a flight to the US. As usual, the ticket was for economy class. Not as usual, I received an upgrade. This was well-received as I enjoy comfort as much as the next fellow. However, the true upgrade was of a spiritual nature. To my great privilege, I was seated next to Rav Chodosh. I timidly inquired if I was speaking with the Rosh Yeshiva and received a response in the affirmative. Attempting not to “crowd” the rav, we embarked on a variety of topics that included references to the sages of the past, including his great-grandfather, Rav Yosef Zundel Hutner, rav of Eishyshok, Lithuania.

Rav Chadash personified Slabodka. He possessed a refined, dignifed bearing in harmony with warmth and a lively nature. Greatness in Torah & Middot; Gadlut HaAdam.

The Day Yomi cycle at that time was up to Masechet Yoma. In order to gain deeper insight into the Avoda, I had with me Shiurei HaGrid (=Rav Soloveitchik) on Avodat Yom HaKippurim. The first edition was prepared for publication by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, of blessed memory, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion. The second edition was prepared by Rav Yair Kahn, a rebbe in that yeshiva. In his modest, low-key fashion, Rav Chodosh requested if he may take a look at the sefer. My pleasure, of course.

The rav devoured the sefer.

Rav Chodosh was palpably taken by the insights of the Rov (the topic of the Ketoret held special interest). He remarked what a joy it was to learn from the sefer, mentioning how he would like to obtain a copy. As one “holding” in the world of the yeshivot, he was aware of the author, and of the hesder yeshiva whose leadership prepared the volume for publication.

No matter; Torah is Torah, there is no room for politics in the Beit Midrash.

Reb Shmuel Immanuel was raised on the principles of Torah Im Derech Eretz, and is related to the family of the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Kol Torah, Rav Boruch Kunstadt. His family displayed amazing Mesirut Nefesh in Torah observance during the Shoah. Reb Shmuel survived, and merited to ascend to The Land of Israel. He studied in Yeshivat Kol Torah, raised his family in Kibbutz Sha’alvim and observed 10 Shemitah years in accordance with the directives of the Chazon Ish. He was active in promoting Torah study for young men and women (including being instrumental in the establishment of a leading high school for girls; our daughter in law is a graduate of that school). As mentioned at the moving levaya (on the home front he was an extremely devoted partiarch), the Gedolim stories that he shared with his family focused upon the Chazon Ish and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.

Reb Shmuel maintained a robust schedule of Talmud Torah, including personal study and attendence of many shiurim.

Yeshivat Sha’alvim is frequently priviliged to host Rav Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University. Many members of the yeshiva community attend, taking the opportunity to hear the illuminating words of Torah that emanate from this great talmid chacham.

But they were not alone. Ascending the hill from the kibbutz to the yeshiva, Reb Shmuel Immanuel- at least a decade older than Rav Schachter- would appear, sit in the front, and join people half and a third of his age in learning Torah from this master. This despite the fact that Rav Schachter represents an institution that projects a different weltanschauung then that of Yeshivat Kol Torah and of Poalei Agudat Yisrael.

No matter. Torah is Torah, there is no room for politics in the Beit Midrash.

May we merit to learn Torat Hashem together, jointly crowning Hashem as The Master of the World, and merit a good & sweet year.

Reuven Ungar is the Director of Alumni Relations of Yeshivat Sha’alvim and resident of Talmon.

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9 Responses

  1. dr. bill says:

    I applaud your optimism, but i fear that despite the respect that a poale agudah yeshivah like shalavim shows Rav Schechter, it is idiosyncratic as opposed to representative. sitting squarely on the left side of modern orthodoxy, i have gained reading in recent weeks halakhic works one by an early leader of the eidah hachareidah and a second by a satmar dayan, along a number of works by academic talmud scholars.  while all of those works exhibit an orientation in some measure the result of the author’s weltanschauung, they are all sources of important insight into torah.

    i avoid eating at restaurants with hashgacha from the eidah and have no respect for satmar ideology. Nonetheless, torah (particularly halakha not hashkafah) should provide a common ground.  lu yehi.

    btw, the rav ztl’s insights into avodas yom hakippurim have a long history.  if you look at the letters at the end of chidushai hagriz, they were written to his nephew who was of high school age.


    • Umm... says:

      “if you look at the letters at the end of chidushai hagriz, they were written to his nephew who was of high school age.”

      A few corrections – only the first two letters at the end of Chiddushei Maran RY”Z Halevi were written to the Rav. Only one of those two is related to Avodas Yom Hakippurim. From the dates on the letters, it appears he was in his early twenties at the time, not high school age.

    • Umm... says:

      Having checked the letters, I stand corrected. The Rav would have been 18.5 and 19 years old at the time of those letters. So not early 20s, but not high school age either.

      • dr. bill says:

        the response was 5681 is 1920.  the rav ztl was born in 1903 so he wrote the letter to his uncle when he was at most 17, high school age.

      • Umm... says:

        Wrong again.

        The date on the response is Elul 5681, which corresponds to September 1921. The rav was born February 1903. That would make him 18.5 years old, as I said. Not high school age.

      • dr. bill says:

        i was talking about when ” he wrote the letter to his uncle.”  i don’t have seforim with me, but the letter is published i believe.  in either case, not many teenagers write letters in kodshim to gedolai yisroel.  if i am not mistaken, many of the Rav ztl’s chidushim of that age and even younger have been published.

  2. lacosta says:

    halevai these exceptional stories could be the rule rather than the very rare outliers….  but then mashiach probably would have come already….

  3. David Ohsie says:

    These stories are very nice, but unfortunately seem to be the exceptions that prove the rule.   I may be biased, but I think that people quote Torah from their political “right” much more often than from their political “left” along more than one dimension of left and right regardless of the level of learning of the quoted (and that this reflects levels of respect based on politics over  Torah).

    I have to say that this very site is sometimes another good exception.

  4. Reuven Ungar says:

    David- I do admit that I have to make a greater effort to quote someone from “the left” than someone to “the right”. It does present a hurdle, but nevertheless, it must be overcome. I think that stories of this nature can encourage people to overcome such hurdles. Not a quick fix, a work in progress.
    Totally agree with your assessment of this site. A breath of fresh, civil air. At times we have to agree to disagree with respect.

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