May 30, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 30, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Monumental Study of the Chazon Ish

Professor Benjamin Braun’s monumental study of the great 19th-century rabbi and scholar Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz known as the Chazon Ish is an exhaustive scholarly work treasured by people from very diverse circles (for instance, have seen this book in a chassidic shtiebel in Lakewood, although it is not common to see works by Magnes Press [in conjunction with YU Press] in such places).

Professor Braun’s study (check it out here https://www.magnespress.co.il/book/The_Hazon_Ish-2671) really gives one a comprehensive glimpse into the life of one of the greatest Jewish sages of yesteryear, someone Professor Braun refers to as “the architect of modern haredi (ultra-Othodox) society.”

Born in Kosava (modern Belarus) in 1878 (he passed away in 1953), little Avraham Yeshaya quickly gained fame as a child prodigy and a tremendously diligent and studious learner. He never attended an organized educational institution and was never granted rabbinic ordination. Even in his later life, when he would gain worldwide acclaim, he refused to assume any rabbinical position. He was a self-made person who was in many ways unwillingly cast into the role of undisputed leader of the Orthodox world.

The book, which is close to 900 pages, is jam packed with so many fascinating anecdotes and historical information, only a small portion of which I will share here:

*He wore simple clothing and gave off the appearance of a cobbler or a tailor. Once when he lived in Minsk he sat engrossed in a volume of Talmud at “Rabbi Isser’s shtiebel.” There was a regular Talmudic lecture at the shtiebel and they were looking for that specific volume of Talmud. Seeing there was a strange-looking person intently peering into the volume (he was near-sighted), one of them approached him and said, “A simple Jew should recite the Psalms; we need this volume for our learning session.” The Chazon Ish nodded and handed over the volume without saying a word. The next day when they realized who he was, the person who had previously berated him tearfully offered an apology; the Chazon Ish calmed him and said that he was completely in the right as the volume belongs first and foremost to the synagogue and its members—and that a Jew should indeed say Tehillim.

*The CI and his wife Basha were childless their whole life. He refused to divorce her and remarry, even though the halacha allows it if one is married to a barren woman. He was adamant not to cause any pain or anguish to anyone, not the least of which was his own wife, and so he was determined to live with the consequences no matter what they may be.

*The couple made aliyah in 1932 where they settled in the recently established city of Bnei Brak. They lived in a very modest tiny apartment and the CI would consistently refuse any comforts or amenities. To this day his apartment in the neighborhood of Zichron Meir (named after Rabbi Meir Shapiro) has been preserved. In one room there is a large stain on the wall, and the story behind this stain goes like this: The CI would study every single waking moment; he would not have a regular bedtime. He would study until his strength would leave him and then he would quite literally fall asleep. When he began to feel tired he would lay on his bed with his head on the adjacent wall so when he finally collapsed from exhaustion he would fall into bed. His firm head pressed against the wall left a stain that can still be seen.

*On one occasion he was at a conference where Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook was in attendance. He insisted on standing while the latter was delivering his speech, saying that when a Torah stands one cannot remain seated. In general, the book covers his attitude toward Rabbi Kook and the controversies surrounding him (specifically regarding the issue of shemitah, the sabbatical year) in great detail. Parenthetically, the book also covers the CI’s attitude toward Zionism and Religious Zionism in great depth.

*Although he was a Litvak who followed the Ashkenazi customs and mores of the Lithuanian Jews, he had a unique approach to many aspects of Judaism. Although he was no proponent of the chassidic movement, he praised them for three things: their custom of wearing long garments, their custom of wearing long, unshaved beards, and their insistence on marrying at a young age. Parenthetically, his method of Talmud study differed markedly from that which was adopted by the majority of the yeshiva world (namely the method of Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik, known as “the Brisker Method”).

*Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman who founded the Ponevezh Yeshiva was originally intent on establishing his yeshiva in Tiberias. It was only after he asked the CI for advice that he agreed to establish it in Bnei Brak. The CI wanted to attract as many Torah scholars and institutions of Torah to the burgeoning city of Bnei Brak.

*In 1952 there was a much publicized meeting between the CI and then-Prime Minister David ben Gurion. There are many apocryphal tales, half truth and outright untruths regarding that meeting and what exactly was said. Braun really breaks it down based on documentation and oral testimony.

*He was adamantly opposed to new innovations in custom that didn’t have a firm basis in halacha. One of the more famous incidents involve the controversy on establishing a fast day for the commemoration of the Holocaust. In an unusual move that united members of the more Zionist-oriented Poalei Agudat Yisrael and the far-left Hashomer Hatzair, there was a push to establish such a day but the CI was firmly against it, claiming that the time for establishing such things had long passed—since the prophets were the last who could sanction such a thing and who are we to dare innovate something of this nature. Although the State of Israel would later establish Holocaust Remembrance Day, the haredi community has adopted the approach of the CI and does not recognize it as binding in any way.

They commemorate the victims of the Shoah by studying Torah and engaging in good deeds for the elevation of their souls.

The author is the founding editor of Channeling Jewish History and can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles