Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak RudominCourtesy

Rav Yitzchok Hutner (1906–1980) was the Rosh HaYeshiva at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and its Kollel Gur Aryeh from the late 1930s until he passed away in 1980. He was famous for synthesizing hassidic fervor with Litvish Lomdus (scholarship). Towards the end of his life he started to wear a spodik (high fur hat), the way Gerrer hassidim do, in addition to his long silk kapotte (robe) and heavy gartel (black cord tasseled belt). He spoke and sang very emotionally in Yiddish with a cantorial type of very pleasing loud voice.

To share time with him was a special treat and to spend a Yom Tov with him was an even more special experience.

My first four years in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, from 1976 to 1980 happened to also coincide with the last four years of Rav Hutner's life. By that time he was spending considerable time in Eretz Yisroel building his new Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok in Jerusalem together with his son in law Rav Yonosan David and Rav Hutner's daughter Rebbetzin Bruria Hutner David (1938–2023) who founded and ran the Beth Jacob of Jerusalem (BJJ) seminary for young Jewish women in Israel.

Rav Hutner would return to America for Yom Tov together with Rav and Rebbetzin David. During that time, after his wife passed away and it was harder for him to walk long distances, Rav Hutner would sleep over in the yeshiva on Coney Island Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn and have his meals there as due to aging it was difficult for him to walk back and forth to his house to nearby Ocean Parkway which is where he lived when in America the last stage of his life.

Rosh Hashanah was special as Rav Hutner would say many of the Tefillos (prayers) out loud with great emotion. In particular he would cover his head with a Tallis and cry copious tears when the Lamenatzeach psalm was said seven times before Shofar blowing. He would call out the Shofar blasts blown by his trusted Gabbai Rav Shmuel Wolman. The way Rav Hutner would call out "Tekia", or "Shevarim Trua", or "Tekia Gedolah" was like listening to symphony music; it was so musical and heartrending causing shivers among the listeners.

On the first night of Rosh Hashanah he would wait until every single person in the yeshiva filed passed him and said to him: "Leshanah Tova Tikasev Vesichasem le'alter ulechaim tovim uleshalom besifran shel tzadikim gemurin" ("For a good year you should be inscribed and sealed immediately and for a good life and peace in the book of the completely righteous"), and this could take several hours until the last person filed past him. Sometimes if a person did not know what to say he would teach him the words and also take time to give some advice or a blessing to others.

During the Aseres Yemei Teshuva (the ten intermediate days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) Rav Hutner would deliver a Ma'amar or two during that time on themes of the high holy days. Rav Hutner spent a lot of time in seclusion during his lifetime and a lot of that time was devoted to his own deep learning that eventually came out in public delivered as his Ma'amorim.

The last Rosh Hashanah of his life when he was in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, he called out in a loud voice in Yiddish before Shofar blowing that "Klal Yisroel is burning! This Bais Medrash is different because Gedolei Yisroel are growing in it! Everyone should cling to the Torah with their last strength!" In retrospect this was interpreted as some kind of omen as a sort of farewell message before he was to pass away a few months later in Israel.

On Yom Kippur Rav Hutner was restrained but he became very animated during the recitation of the Kohen Gadol's Avoda. Of course he and everyone would wear a white Kittel for Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur as well as for Rosh Hashanah during the day. His main Shaliach Tzibbur and Baal Tefila was the late Rav Betzalel Reifman who had a booming raspy voice and when he was younger was taught the Nusach Hatefila (style of prayer) by Rav Hutner. There would often be men and their sons who would come from afar to spend Yom Tov to Daven with Rav Hutner and they would sometimes sleep in the dormitory.

The rest of the holidays were just as inspiring:

I spent four Pesachs in a row as a guest of Rav Hutner. Present for the meals were all the main members of the administration, such as Rav Aaron Schechter (1928–2023) and his family, Rav and Rebbetzin David, the former Mashgiach Ruchani Rav Shlomo Carlebach (1925–2022) and the next Mashgiach Ruchani Rav Shimon Groner (d. 2005) one or two more families sometimes and usually a number of bochrim, unmarried male students, as guests. All the women sat at a seperate table.

It was a magnificent sight to see Rav Hutner sitting at the head of the table with Rav Aaron Schechter to his left side, Rav Yonosan David to his right side and all the guests all dressed in their finest splendor eagerly closely looking to the Rosh Yeshiva as Rav Hutner was referred to by everyone with all listening to his every word and watching his every movement. During the meal there would be some discussions in Torah or any subject that Rav Hutner brought up between him and Rav Schechter and Rav David, but no Ma'amorim (Torah lectures) during or after the Seder. The seder ended by about 3 AM but in his younger years Rav Hutner would go on all night and eat the Afikomen with the famous "Avnei Nezer's Tnai" who calculates a way to delay eating the Afikomen after the correct time of Chatzos at about midnight.

During Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days) of Yom Tov Rav Hutner would give his famous Ma'amorim almost nightly in Yiddish that he eventually wrote up in Hebrew and got published as the famous Sefer Pachad Yitzchok. For the night meal on the Seventh Day of Pesach, Rav Hutner would wait a long time to start his meal in order to give time to his students to finish their own meals at home and wait for them to come over to the yeshiva and then there would be singing as well as a Ma'amar by Rav Hutner.

For the end meal of Acharon Shel Pesach Rav Hutner would host a long celebration that went into the night without the lights being turned on. This meal is known by hassidim as the Seuda of Eliyahu (the meal of Elijah the prophet) and there would be Matzo and wine served with lots of singing and Rav Hutner saying a Ma'amar, that would end of with dancing and by everyone singing in Yiddish "A gantz yohr freilich, a gantz yohr freilich, freilich zol men zein"! ("A whole year joyous, joyous we should be"!)

After Pesach Rav Hutner and Rav and Rebbetzin David would return to Israel on El Al airlines and the custom in yeshiva was that people would go to JFK airport to wish Rav Hutner Tzeischem LeShalom. Likewise when Rav Hutner would come back from Eretz Yisroel to America, people would go to the airport to greet him and say Shalom Aleichem to him.

On Sukkos Rav Hutner would eat in the large Sukkah that was part of the yeshiva together with the same members of the Hanholla that he ate his Pesach Seder meals. He was always in high spirits and would give Ma'amorim during Chol Hamoed (the intermediate days) to packed crowds of eager listeners.

Hoshana Rabba was especially moving and the morning prayers took a very long time as everyone followed Rav Hutner's lead going seven times around the Bais Medrash crying Hosha Na! After the Tefillos were over there was singing and dancing and people would go over to Rav Hutner to wish him a Good Yom Tov.

On Shemini Atzeres at night he would start the meal very late and would wait for his students to finish their meals and to walk over from further away. He would drink schnapps and sing special songs, then as the night went on at about 2 AM he would lead the dancing from the Sukkah to the main Bais Medrash where the Sifrei Torah would be taken out of the Aron Hakodesh and then there would be Hakofas until the early hours of the morning to be ended with Yom Tov Shacharis at dawn.

Simchas Torah at night there would first be Maariv. Then everyone would go eat their meals. After that they would return for Hakofas at night that would go on until dawn followed by Yom Tov Shacharis. Then people would return home to catch a little sleep to refresh themselves and eat the Yom Tov day meal, and then return to the Bais Medrash, put on their Taleisim for Mincha with the final Hakofas held after Mincha until nightfall when people would Daven Maariv with their Taleisim still on. The selection of Choson Torah and Choson Breishis, two prized Aliyas for Simchas Torah, was always eagerly awaited as the honors were usually given to outstanding Kollel members.

In his younger years Rav Hutner would dance with his students during the Hakofas but in his later years he would sit in his special chair and watch but when it came time for Seu Shearim, the end of Simchas Torah he would face the people dancing up front with the Torahs and sometimes would join in with forceful majestic movements of his arms as he "danced along" with the others dancing in front of him.

Purim was super special and Rav Hutner would have a multi piece band in the Bais Medrash playing as Purim day ended well into the night. There would be famous tunes and everyone would for Rav Hutner to shout out "Tosca" and the band would belt out that song as everyone sang to its tune. He would say Purim and Megilas Esther themed Ma'amorim during his Purim Tisch that was called "Hemshech Seudas Purim" ("Continuation of the Purim meal").

During Chanukah Rav Hutner would encourage the yeshiva's rabbis to host Chanukah parties for their students in their homes and he would deliver his famous Ma'amorim on Chanukah themes in the yeshiva that would often warn about the dangers of not just Yavan, meaning the Greeks but also of the Misyavnim, the Hellenizers, the Jewish sympathisers accepting and assimilating into gentile Greek culture and implying a warning to modern Jews today not do the same as the Misyavnim/Hellenizers.

This is just a tiny drop of what the legendary historic times with Rav Yitzchok Hutner were like, it was in truth a larger than life hugely grand and magnificent experience that defies mere words. Those who enjoyed their time with Rav Hutner on any Yom Tov will have indelible memories of those great times!

Previous articles about Rav Yitzchok Hutner: Remembering Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Relationships with Gedolim in America (Aug 17, 22); The Changing of an Era: Rav Yitzchok Hutner and the Gedolim in the Mandate of Palestine (Aug 29, 22); The Changing of an Era: Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Relationships with Gedolim in Israel (Sep 8, 22); The Changing of an Era, part VI: Remembering Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Legacy (Sep 20, 22).

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers CollegeColumbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 19881995, a Trustee of AJOP 19941997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 19952015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.

He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy. Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]