The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy




НазваниеThe Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy
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PART III

REVIVAL IN AMERICA


The Torah is yet destined to wander to America.


Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin

(1749-1821),

upon founding of the

Volozhin Yeshiva

in Lithuania.


CHAPTER VI

AMERICAN HAVEN FOR "YAVNEH AND ITS SAGES"


Topics of Interest


The Key to Jewish Survival

Rabbi Aharon Kotler and Lakewood

Mir to New York Via Shanghai

Telz

New York Re-Newed


The Key to Jewish Survival


The Talmud in Tractate Gittin (56a-b), relates that when Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai escaped from Jerusalem besieged by the Romans, (c.70 C.E.), he requested of Vespasian to spare the lives of leading Torah scholars in Yavneh in the Land of Israel. By saving a nucleus of sages, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai followed a time honoured principle of Jewish survival: No matter how great the extent of destruction, if Torah scholars can be saved, the Jewish people have hope of survival. The high level of Jewish learning attained by the scholars of Yavneh is attested to by the redaction of the Mishnah over a hundred years later, (c.200 C.E.), followed by the redaction of the Palestinian Talmud, (c.250 C.E.). When Jewish life diminished greatly in Palestine, the academies of Babylon ascended in scholarship, culminating with the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud, (c.500 C.E.).


M. Friedlander, writing on "The Life of Moses Maimonides", (1881), described in classical terms the process whereby the flame of Jewish scholarship was transmitted from generation to generation, and from era to era. "Before the sun of Eli had set the sun of Samuel had risen." In retrospect, before the prophets had ceased to guide the people, the Talmudists commenced their labors. Before the academies of Sura and Pumbadisa in Babylon were closed, centers of Jewish thought and learning began to flourish in the West. Friedlander states that the circumstances which led to the transference of the headquarters of Jewish learning from East to West in the tenth century are narrated in the

Sefer haKabbalah by Rabbi Avraham ben David:


After the death of Hezekiah, the head of the Academy and Prince of the Exile, the academies were closed and no new Geonim were appointed. . . . Heaven had also decreed that a ship sailing from Bari should be captured by Ibn Romahis, commander of the naval forces of Abd-er-rahman al-nasr. Four distinguished Rabbis were thus made prisoners--Rabbi Hushiel, father of Rabbi Hananel, Rabbi Moses, father of Rabbi Hanok, Rabbi Shemarjahu, son of Rabbi Elhanan, and a fourth whose name has not been recorded. They were engaged in a mission to collect subsidies in aid of the Academy in Sura. The captor sold them as slaves; . . . These slaves were ransomed by their brethren and were soon placed in important positions. When Rabbi Moses was brought to Cordova, it was supposed that he was uneducated. . . . Rabbi Nathan, renowned for his great piety, was the head of the congregation.


The members of the community used to hold meetings at which Talmud was read and discussed. One day when Rabbi Nathan was expounding the Talmud and was unable to give a satisfactory explanation of the passage under discussion, Rabbi Moses promptly removed the difficulty and at the same time answered several questions which were submitted to him. Thereupon Rabbi Nathan thus addressed the assembly: 'I am no longer your leader; that stranger in sackcloth shall henceforth be my teacher, and you shall appoint him to be your chief '.


Henceforth, continued Friedlander, the schools in the West asserted their independence and even surpassed the parent institutions:


The Caliphs, mostly opulent, gave every encouragement to philosophy and poetry; and, being generally liberal in sentiment, they entertained kindly feelings towards their Jewish subjects . . . . Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Hasdai, Judah ha-levi, Hananel, Alfasi, the Ibn Ezras, and others who flourished in that period were the ornament of their age, and the pride of the Jews at all times. The same favorable condition was maintained during the reign of the Omeyades; but when the Moravides and the Almohades came into power, the horizon darkened once more, and misfortunes threatened to destroy the fruit of several centuries. Admist this gloom there appeared a brilliant luminary which sent forth rays of light and comfort: this was Moses Maimonides. 1


At the time of Moses Maimonides (1134-1204), Central and Eastern Europe became centers of Jewish scholarship. This ascendancy was to last over a thousand years, ending

with the period of the Third Reich. William B. Helmreich in The World of the Yeshiva: An Intimate Portrait of Orthodox Jewry (1982), has written that the outbreak of the Second World War meant that one of the most productive eras in Jewish scholarship and leadership ended in the flames of Hitler's drive against the Jews. But, "the flight of the survivors and their determination to preserve their heritage meant that a long and ancient history of the yeshiva would continue in still another country." He furthermore affirms the foundations of our study, that:


The outbreak of World War II had a lasting impact on the development of Jewish education in America. With it, a thousand-year-old culture that had existed in Europe came to an abrupt and tragic end for its Jewish communities. Millions of Jews were slaughtered, especially in Eastern Europe, the home of the advanced yeshivas, and only those fortunate enough to have left in time, or lucky enough to have survived the Holocaust, remained. Among this group were the leaders of numerous European yeshivas, most of which were in Lithuania, who came to the United States and founded institutions or academies of higher learning modeled after their European predecessors.


These leaders, or rosh yeshivas, as they are commonly known, were successful beyond their wildest dreams . . . .


Today, thirty-five years later, advanced, "Lithuanian-style" yeshivas are solidly entrenched in America. . . . 2


Before the Second World War, a vast body of Jews had found a bastion of freedom in America. What was to become of that body? What style of life did it seek? What was its destiny? The historical and educational example of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai meant that for the body to continue defining itself as Jewish it must cling to the traditional educators. Jewish scholars and learning, meaning Jewish education as a totality, must be found at the heart of any attempt at Jewish survival.


The rise of Jewish education in America followed in the wake of the unsettlement of the world order. Nowhere is this clearer than in the period of the twentieth century. The unsettlement of Europe following the First World War re-defined the settled state of American life. The relative isolation of America and its unified land mass allowed for greater calm. Great projects could be carried out without the threat of cross-border conflict. Whilst Europe was in turmoil, at least nine major advanced Lithuanian-style yeshivahs were founded in America between 1926 and 1946. Looking closer, the years in which these yeshivahs were founded run parallel with the rise and fall of the Third Reich.


On November 8, 1923, at the Burgerbrau-Keller in Munich, Hitler began the abortive putsch which propelled him to "fame": "The National Revolution", he shouted, "has begun." At the end of 1926 the second part of Mein Kampf was published, 3 wherein the "national revolutionary" openly presented his future plans for the solution of the “Jewish question”. On the other side of the Atlantic, in Brooklyn, New York, the Yeshivah Torah Vodaath decided to open an advanced division in 1926. Founded as an elementary school in 1917, it appointed Rabbi S. F. Mendlowitz as its principal in 1921. The restrictive immigration laws of America from 1921 to 1925 reduced the inflow of immigrant scholars from "a trickle into almost nothing". 4 The emergency nature of the situation convinced Rabbi Mendlowitz to found a yeshivah high-school, at the very time when Germany was getting its first taste of National Socialism.


In 1933, Hitler became the Reich Chancellor of Germany, beginning the twelve-year Third Reich. In that same year, in Baltimore, Md., the Ner Israel Rabbinical Academy was founded; and in Queens, N.Y., the Rabbinical Seminary of America was established. Great barriers stood in the way of Rabbi Y. Y. Ruderman as he fought to establish his yeshivah in Baltimore. He has described to Helmreich the skepticism that greeted his efforts to recreate a yeshivah modeled after those in Lithuania:


When I first came to Baltimore in the early thirties, many non-observant Jews didn't know what a yeshiva was. They (the Jewish community) didn't believe it could be built. After all, people came here to learn English, not to attend a yeshiva.


When asked what he felt were the implications of the Holocaust, Rabbi Ruderman replied:


People think the Holocaust made the world feel sympathy for the Jews but it really didn't result in sympathy. It just showed that it could be done. There is more anti-Semitism than ever before. 5


Those who strove to rebuild in America, had clear and deeply-held views about the nature of the evil that Jewry faced. This is evident from Rabbi Ruderman's words.


The year 1939 marked the outbreak of war, but also saw the establishment of an advanced division at the Yeshivah Rabbi Chaim Berlin, with Rabbi Isaac Hutner as its Rosh Yeshivah. He too had firm beliefs about the causes of anti-Semitism, and what it entailed for Jewry. "On the subject of a Memorial to the Martyrs of the European Destruction" in The Jewish Observer (December 1981), he revealed deep-felt views on how Jews should view the history of the period:


. . . We believe with full faith that the inner source of genocide directed against Jews, the murder and the destruction, is, in the final analysis, the principle of ". . . for your sake we are killed all day long, we are considered as sheep for the slaughter" (Tehillim 4 4 : 2 3) .


Wherever a Jew is found, can be found testimony to Hashem. . . .


Wherever a faithful Jewish congregation is found, there can be found Divine inspiration (Sanhedrin 39b). The evil among the nations understand and feel this, and in pursuing their illusory goal to uproot every testimony to Hashem, they kill, they burn, they annihilate Jews . . . . 6


Helmreich describes Rabbi Hutner as "one of the most brilliant and dynamic figures ever to head an American yeshiva . . . . To the extent that successful movements often have great leadership, Rabbi Hutner exemplified this requirement." 7 Rabbi Hutner understood the nature of European, and international, anti-Semitism. He embodies the proper Jewish response: The pursuit of intense and advanced Torah education which ensured Jewish survival in the face of intense anti-Semitism.


1941 saw the establishment of the Telshe Yeshivah in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Beth Joseph Rabbinical Seminary in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was also the year Hitler declared: "I am convinced that 1941 will be the crucial year of a great New Order in Europe. The world shall open up for everyone. Privileges of individuals, the tyranny of certain nations and their financial rulers shall fall . . . . When the other world has been delivered from the Jews, Judaism will have ceased to play a part in Europe." This was in preparation for his Russian campaign: "When 'Barbarossa' begins, the world will hold its breath and make no comment." 8 The world held its breath, and America sought to sit on the sidelines. Pearl Harbor came in 1941, and America could no longer hold back its breath and refrain from commenting: It too became embroiled in the Second World War.


1943 was a year of Axis defeats in North Africa, Europe, and the Far East. But it was also the culmination of the European Jewish Tragedy. It was also the year in which Rabbi Aharon Kotler established what was to become perhaps the largest single advanced yeshivah in modern times, in Lakewood,.N.J. 1944 saw the war drag on as the Nazis resisted the Allied onslaught. In America, Orthodox Jews were already planning for the aftermath. In June 1944, the organization fostering the growth of Hebrew all-day schools in America--Torah Umesorah--was born. It was also the year that the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva founded an advanced division for Talmudic education. Thus as European Jewry succumbed to genocide, there were clear signs of revival in America.


In reviewing the literature of the war years, we find rabbinic leaders talking in the very terms of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. One example is that of Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch, Rabbi of Telz and head of its Yeshivah. In acknowledging efforts in America to rescue the yeshivah from Europe and transfer it to America he wrote to Rabbi Bernard Revel, himself a graduate of Telz, that: "I rejoiced to hear that you are attempting to transfer our yeshiva to the United States. This act resembles the deed of Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai at the time of the Temple's destruction." 9 Rabbi Avrohom Bloch died, together with his yeshivah, at the hands of the Nazis. But, his brother, and brother-in-law, escaped via Siberia to America. In Cleveland, Ohio, the two "sages of Yavneh" re-established and rebuilt Telz, making it into one of the premier Talmudical Academies. It was a pattern and formula that was repeated all over America.


Helmreich has written that the year 1941 was marked by several developments which were to have "a profound impact upon the future of advanced yeshivas in America". These were: (i) Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik was elevated to the post of rosh yeshivah at RIETS; (ii) Leaders of an important European yeshivah, Telz, came to America and re-established the school in Cleveland; (iii) Rabbi Aharon Kotler, head of the yeshivah in Kletsk, Poland, was among several scholars who arrived in America. "He was destined to transform higher Jewish learning in America." The "monumental task" of rebuilding the yeshivahs in America, "demanded men of exceptional talents and energies. That such individuals came to the fore at this time is one of the most important factors in the growth of yeshivas in America . . . . The most prominent of these extraordinary men was Rabbi Aharon Kotler." 10


Great individuals, institutions with ancient histories, time-honoured traditions of communal life, and the sweep of world events contributed to a more confident definition of Orthodox Jewish education in the post-war years. An enormous undertaking with major implications for the future of Jewish education and survival in America came into full swing.


Rabbi Aharon Kotler and Lakewood


On April 10, 1941, Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1891-1962) arrived in San Francisco, California, with the assistance of the Vaad Hatzola organization. On July 7, 1940, Rabbi Kotler had written to Rabbi Eliezer Silver, President of Vaad Hatzola: "We rejoiced to learn of the noble idea to transfer the sanctuaries of the Torah, the sacred yeshivot, to the United States. These holy intentions can be compared to the deeds of Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai at the time of the Temple's destruction." 11 Finally finding refuge in America, Rabbi Kotler emulated the example of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai almost two thousand years later.


The need to rescue those trapped in Europe became Rabbi Kotler's overriding concern. Twenty days following his arrival in America, we find him addressing the convention of the Agudas Harabonim, the rabbinical association. His plea was urgent: "With all due gratitude to the Agudat Harabanim and the Vaad Hatzala for the past, not enough has been done. Little time is left and we must immediately act. Everyone must volunteer for this sacred task." 12 At that convention of those who aided his own rescue, he berated his listeners for not doing more. He was only an individual, what of the others who cried out for salvation? Having come out of the furnace he was alarmed at the complacency of American Jewry. His attitude did not change when meeting with the highest U.S. government officials. In a meeting with Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, he vociferously declared that “the Secretary's position (in Washington, D.C.) is not worth a single Jewish life”. 13 The effectiveness of Rabbi Kotler's tactics was testified to upon his death, when Rabbi Silver declared in a eulogy: "During the Holocaust, we accomplished much through the Vaad Hatzala. I wish to testify that the maximum was attained when we followed the viewpoint of the gaon, Rabbi Aharon Kotler. He was the dynamic spirit behind all our endeavors." 14


During the war, Rabbi Kotler had a far-flung student body to tend to. A printed letter-head, on which he wrote, in 1945 reads:


RABBINICAL COLLEGE OF KLETSK

Now in Siberia and Shanghai

BRANCH OF YESHIVAH

In Pardess-Hanna, Palestine


RABBI A. KOTLER, Dean

43 West 93RD STREET

NEW YORK 25, N.Y. 15


Kletsk, in Europe, Siberia and Shanghai in the Far East, Palestine, and America were the havens where his students were either based or had found refuge. In America he was the center of gravity for all efforts to save the remnants of these students.


Writing on "Orthodoxy After the War", Rothkoff states that when Rabbi Kotler concluded his initial work with the Vaad Hatzola, he reopened his yeshivah in the "quiescent location" of Lakewood, a small town in New Jersey. Commencing with a nucleus of fifteen students, he continued the role he cherished most: Torah scholar and Rosh Yeshivah. Given his stature as Talmudic teacher and his powerful personality, he soon attracted larger numbers of students. To them he was known as "the Rosh Yeshivah" par excellence. "Totally committed to the Lithuanian tradition of Talmudic study exclusively, the 'Rosh Yeshivah' refused to allow his disciples to pursue collegiate studies. His influence rapidly spread beyond Lakewood, and students in many American yeshivot considered Rav Aharon their mentor. Both his erudition and ethical perfection were widely admired." 16


An Agudath Israel publication, The Struggle and the Splendor (1982), claims that more than any other person, Rabbi Aharon Kotler was responsible for the dynamic growth of Torah consciousness and yeshivah education in post-war America. "Genius, sage, and tzaddik, his dedication and self sacrifice were boundless." He "laid the groundwork for an explosion of higher Torah education." Thus, the Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood was "his own institution". But, the thousands of Torah scholars and kollel, post-graduate, fellows in America at the present time are his "lasting monument". In addition, he headed other educational organization, such as Torah Umesorah in America, and Chinuch Atzmai in Israel. 17


Rabbi Kotler was therefore viewed as an embodiment of the flame of Jewish learning as it came over from Europe to America, and beyond, back to its original starting-point: the Land of Israel. It is reported that in 1940 as Torah Jewry was emitting its last "dying breath" on the European continent, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, the leader of Orthodox Jewry in Europe, told Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman: "Reb Aharon (Kotler) will build Torah in America." 18


In America, Rabbi Kotler represented an ideal in Jewish education. He maintained that only by strictly adhering to a curriculum which remained faithful to traditional Jewish education could Judaism survive. He represented it in its purest unsynthesised form. For a complacent American Jewry this was a "revolutionary" approach to Judaism. No yeshivah could have survived without acknowledging the need of its students to study secular subjects. Rabbi Kotler openly scorned this mentality viewing it as a danger to Jewish studies. In the climate that existed in the post-war era, he nurtured his yeshivah dedicated to Torah learning to the exclusion of all other secular studies be they on the secondary or tertiary level.


Rabbi Kotler stated his educational principles, as reported by Helmreich quoting from the 1977-1978 Bulletin of Beth Medrash Govoha, as follows:

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