HaChodesh - 5761
"And Moshe Assembled"
VaYakhel begins, "VaYakhel Moshe
…," "And Moshe assembled all the congregation of the Children of
Israel, and said unto them, 'These are the words that the L-rd has
commanded:…" (Shemot 35:1) The
choice of word by the Torah, "VaYakhel…" is,
as always, precise. It suggests
that Moshe gathered the People into a "kehilla,"
a "community," before he
introduced them to the Laws of Shabbat,
which help define the community of Israel.
"Kehilla Kedosha," a
I'd like to discuss the meaning of the word "Kehilla" as understood and implemented by three "gedolim," giants of Israel, Rabbi Shimshon Rephoel Hirsch, who molded the Jews of Frankfurt-am-Mein into a "Kehilla," his son-in-law and successor, Rabbi Shlomo Breuer and his son and successor, Rabbi Yoseph Breuer, who in Washington Heights continued their legacy on the shores of the Hudson.
created the Kehilla known as K'hal Adas Yeshurun, "the community of the upright," where
"Yeshurun" comes from "Yashar,"
straight and upright and incorruptible,
as good a definition as any of the character of the great Rabbi who led the Kehilla.
For evidence of this I rely on the excellent work, "RAV
BREUER - His Life and His Legacy," by Dr. David Kranzler and Rabbi
Dovid Landesman. I also rely on
the fact that I too grew up in Washington Heights, but was not a member; rather an admiring observer of the Breuer Kehilla
activities and participant in a few, but
"belonging" more to the Yeshiva University component of the Jewish
community, the "first-cousin" of
the Breuer "Kehilla",
on the east side of "the Heights."
The Breuer Kehilla and YU
were not completely mutually exclusive, but unfortunately, to a large extent
What is different about the Kehilla that is known still as "Breuer's," although the late Rav Breuer retired from active participation in its affairs in 1967? One part of the answer seems to be that, from the first, it was conceived of as a full-service community, and also, because it was based on a unique philosophy of life and philosophy of education; namely, "Torah im Derech Eretz," discussed below.
offers its members a mikveh,
schools for boys and girls, Kashrus
supervision and Shechitah, still
considered by many the most reliable. It
also offers an independent Chevrah
Kadishah, free-loan funds, Beis-Din,
Shiurim, youth groups, and an accommodation, after much thought by Rav
Breuer, to the rest of the Torah world, a Kollel
and Beis Midrash Program.
the Kehilla, like any community,
rested on the shoulders not only of its great Rav,
but also on the shoulders of its great members.
As stated in Kranzler's and Landesman's book, "no history of Rav
Breuer's leadership would be complete without
mention of Moreinu Dr. Raphael
Moller, president of the Kehilla
for almost forty years…Many residents
of Washington Heights vividly recall Dr. Moller trudging through the snow to
make house calls on Shabbos
for patients who needed him…"
story is told that a chasid once
came to R. Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar rebbe,
to ask what he should do regarding a complex medical problem that he faced.
The rebbe told him that he
should consult with Dr. Moller before going to anyone else.
When the chasid complained that it took quite some time to be able to arrange
an appointment with Dr. Moller (not my
recollection - pf), the rebbe replied:
'There will be even longer lines waiting to come close to Dr. Moller
in gan eden.' "
"If Dr. Moller was 'Mr. Kehilla,' then the late Harry Levi, with Manfred Katzenstein, can only be characterized together as 'Mr. Yeshiva.' Partners in the Artus Corporation, Levi and Katzenstein devoted all of their efforts toward ensuring the viability of the Kehilla's educational programs and facilities."
in 1949 until his passing in 1990, Levi served as chairman of the board of
the yeshiva's directors, taking personal responsibility for the school's
financial well-being, frequently dipping into his own pocket to make sure
that the staff was paid on time... Indeed,
many board members recall how Levi would end discussions by flatly
declaring: 'If this is what the Rav wants,
then this is what will be.' Levi's
partner, Manfred Katzenstein, contributed enormously to the development of
all the kehilla's institutions.
His remarkable facility for transforming what seemed to be
insurmountable problems into difficulties that could be overcome made him a
valuable and trusted ally of Rav Breuer who relied upon him to bring many projects to
was Israel Rothschild, who served as head of the Kehilla's Kashrus Commission from its inception on the early 1940's.
Under Rothschild's dedicated leadership, the KAJ hechsher
became the most trusted name in kashrus
in the United States, reflecting the integrity of Rav Breuer, whose name
appeared as the supervising authority."
Orthodox world moved to the right, there came a demand for only Glatt Kosher meat.
At first, Rav Breuer resisted this change, for a number of reasons;
mainly, "he expressed his suspicions that those who insisted on glatt
meats might somehow be incognizant of the fact that there were many parts of
Shulchan Aruch - especially in Choshen
Mishpat - where prevailing practices were anything but stringent.
In one of his most famous essays - entitled Glatt Kosher - Glatt Yoshor - he wrote:
'Kosher is intimately related to yoshor.
G-d's Torah not only
demands the observance of kashruth
and the sanctification of our physical enjoyment, it also insists on the
sanctification of our social relationships.
This requires the strict application of the tenets of justice and
righteousness which avoid even the slightest trace of dishonesty in our
business dealings and personal life.'
welcome a campaign to link a drive for glatt
kosher with an equally intensive one for glatt
yoshor. This objective is
given hopeful expression by the Prophet Zephaniah (3:13): "The remnants of Israel will do no iniquity, nor speak lies,
neither will a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth.' "
"Torah im Derech
philosophical system, or the Torah perspective that goes by this name, is
somewhat ambiguous. And it was
interpreted slightly differently by its various advocates, as is seen in the
following excerpt from the Kranzler-Landesman book.
Here the topic is the attitude of the Hirsch family towards Rav
Shlomo's dedication to the pure Hirschian concept of Torah
im Derech Eretz was also somewhat suspect in the eyes of the Hirsch
family. Although his
father-in-law had never finished his university studies while R. Breuer had
a doctorate, by his own admission R. Breuer never opened a secular work
after receiving his degree. His
concept of Torah im Derech Eretz
was much more pragmatic than that of the Hirsch sons; secular
studies had no intrinsic value of their own. They were primarily to be undertaken as a means of augmenting
one's understanding of the Torah, to enable one to function within the world
and to provide one with the means of earning a living. It is hard to imagine R. Shlomo Breuer using his office as a
dais to praise Schiller as R. Hirsch had done…" (Rav Breuer - His
Life and His Legacy; Chapter Six, Pages 82-83)
context, not found in this book, but in an essay about Chanukah, Rav
Shimshon Rephoel Hirsch makes clear his appreciation of the pure
Greek attitude toward beauty, unpolluted by arrogance and idolatry.
understanding of the concept, Torah im Derech Eretz seems to me to be at
least a "first-cousin" to Torah
U'Mada, "Torah and
philosophy that underlies Yeshiva University.)
Kranzler and Landesman report that "The last words that Rav Joseph Breuer heard from his father were, 'I am fully convinced that Rav Hirsch's way will be m'karev ha-geulah - bring the redemption closer.' This too would be the motif of his (Rav Joseph's) life."
"Torah im Derech Eretz" was discussed by Rav Yoseph Breuer in a 1954 essay
in the Kehilla's bulletin,
strives ceaselessly to live up to this great precept in the life of its
members and in the education of its youth.
For it is the heritage of the great Rabbinical leaders in
"Generally, the superficial student deduces from the "Torah im Derech Eretz" precept, as expounded by the great Rabbinical leaders in Germany, the necessity of acquiring secular knowledge, i.e. the training and proficiency in worldly cultures and professions. Actually, "Torah im Derech Eretz" implies infinitely more than a mere synthesis between Torah and secular knowledge. It views the Divine Torah as G-d's gift of mercy to His people, whose very existence is shaped and completely dominated by it."
a Jew thus means to chart one's course of life in purity before G-d, i.e. to
conceive of life as possible only under the rulership of the Divine Will and
to be ready at all times to subordinate family and social life to its
purifying and satisfying guidance. The
Jewish man must submit all his thoughts and actions, all phenomena of life,
all that serves to enrich his sphere of knowledge and perception before the
tribunal of Torah in order to
accept from its hand that which may stand up before its truth and
"Admittedly, "Torah im Derech Eretz" is also concerned with "Parnassa" and the preparation for it. Yet it is in this area of economic sustenance, that G-d's Torah aims at the domination of the prevailing Derech Eretz in order to turn it into a Kiddush HaShem. Consequently in a broader sense, Derech Eretz embraces the "earth way" of the Yehudi who must seek self-perfection in all his actions and strivings under the rulership of the Will of G-d."
"On all your ways perceive Him" (Mishle 3) - "Have Him before your eyes and analyze yourself whether you are able to stand up before Him." This great Jewish maxim of life mirrors most exactly the reflection of the "Torah im Derech Eretz" precept." (Rav Breuer - His Life and His Legacy; Essay Section, "Our Way;" Pages 225-226)
In a 1965
essay in the same publication, Rav Yoseph Breuer argues against the idea
that "Torah im Derech Eretz"
was ever meant as a "Horo'as
Sho'oh," which claims
that "its validity…is limited to the conditions of life
prevailing," in this case, "in the time of Rav Hirsch."
"Anyone who has but a fleeting insight into the life and work of Rav Hirsch will realize that his Torah im Derech Eretz formula was never intended by him as a Horo'as Sho'oh. 'Our school must be governed by the spirit of Torah im Derech Eretz; at no time and circumstances may it give up these principles (of Torah im Derech Eretz education),' thus he states firmly in a draft of by-laws for his Kehilla.' "
"Or shall we listen to Rav Hirsch in his famed polemical essay against the Breslau Seminary (Coll. Writings, Vol. VI, p. 392-3): 'Ever since we have begun to make our modest contribution to the Jewish cause by speech, pen and deed, it was and is our wholehearted endeavor to present and advocate the most intimate union between Judaism, total, unadulterated Judaism, and the spirit of all true science and knowledge…we maintain that our whole future, with all ideological and social problems the solution of which is eagerly awaited by mankind, belongs to Judaism, full, unabridged Judaism…because we can view the welfare and future of Judaism only in the framework of the most intimate union with the spirit of true science and knowledge, of every age, we are the most outspoken foes of all false science and knowledge, foes of every attempt, in the guise of science, to lay the ax to the roots of our Jewish Sanctuary…for if there were no alternative and we had only the choice between Judaism and Science, then there simply would be no choice and every Jew would unhesitatingly make his decision…rather to be a Jew without Science than Science without Judaism. But, thank G-d, this is not the case…' "
"Does this Hirschian demand for Torah im Derech Eretz bear the slightest resemblance to a Horo'as Sho'oh?" (Rav Breuer - His Life and His Legacy; Essay Section; Essay 1, Part 2; Pages 218-219)
To Recite the Shehecheyanu?
"Rav Breuer addressed this very question on the occasion of the dedication of the Kehilla's permanent synagogue facilities on Bennett Avenue on the 24th of Elul, 1952. In his remarks on that historic occasion, Rav Breuer noted that one can only recite Shehecheyanu if one had reached the point where the edifice could be described as being the Heichal HaShem - the fortress of G-d."
from the Prophet Zecharyah (8:9), Rav Breuer pointed out that there is a
clear distinction between what the prophet referred to as Beis HaShem - the house of G-d - which relates to the
physical plant - and the Heichal
HaShem - the sanctuary where the Shechinah
rests and manifests itself
within the lives of the people."
with this direct quote from the Rav on
that great occasion, and this quote sums up as well as any other his
essential characteristics, modesty, a youthful attitude toward life that
always left him with the desire to grow, and holiness of spirit:
recall in this hour that brachah
b'shem u'malchus (a full blessing that mentions G-d's Name and His Kingdom)
is pronounced when a building is finished.
The construction [of our Kehilla
is far from being completed. With
G-d's help we shall continue to build and continue that which our previous
beis ha-k'nesses helped us
attain…With G-d's help this building will rise in beauty when the light of
Torah - for which we kindled the ner
tamid in this festive hour - shines ever brighter in all of our
houses; when all our houses consider themselves as centers of Torah
living and dedicate themselves to the full realization of the Torah precepts; when in all our houses limud ha-Torah is treated as the
highest, holiest task for young and old, when G-d's holy Shabbos
spreads its sacred glow over all of our houses, over all our lives."
this, our social relationships, our daily work, must be lived under the
dominance of mishpat (justice) and
tzedakah (charitable concern for
our fellow human beings), must be able to stand before G-d in honesty and
love. The requirements of kashrus,
of taharah and tznius must
elevate our houses as the requirements of kedushah
and taharah must inspire and
sanctify our married lives. The
beis ha-midrash of our school must
play the essential role in preparing our children to mature into proud,
strong, uncompromising Yehudim.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel